The Celtics continue their Western road trip in Denver as they take on the Nuggets. This is the final game between these two teams. The Celtics beat the Nuggets 108-102 when they met in Boston on February 11. The Celtics were without Theis in that game as it was just after the trade deadline. Denver was without Porter, Morris, Murray and Cancar.
The Celtics won the series last season 2-0 with each team winning on the road. The Celtics are 56-37 all time overall against the Nuggets. They are 19-28 all time when playing in Denver. The Celtics have won their last 4 games against the Nuggets. Denver has won 12 out of their last 16 games while the Celtics have won 20 of their last 24 games.
Both teams have the same starting fives as they did in the game in Boston with the exception of Monte Morris starting at point guard for the Nuggets. Morris was out with a concussion in Boston and Bones Hyland started for him. The Celtics are playing on the first night of back to back games. They are 6-6 in the first of back to back games and they are 3-3 when both games are on the road. They have 2 back to back sets left after this one.
The Celtics are playing in the 3rd game of a 4 game Western road trip. They are 2-0 so far with wins over the Warriors and the Kings. They will finish the trip on Monday in Oklahoma City. They have 5 road games and 5 home games left after this game. These games include important games that could determine their playoff position including 3 on the road against Toronto, Chicago and Milwaukee and one at home against the Heat.
The Nuggets just finished a 3 game road trip on which they went 2-1. They won at Philadelphia and Washington and lost in Cleveland on Friday. This is the first of a 4 game home stand for the Nuggets. After the Celtics, they will host the Clippers, Suns , and the Thunder. They have 8 home games and 3 games on the road remaining this season.
Aaron Nesmith has missed about 2 weeks with an ankle injury. He is expected to be available to play in this game. Even if he is available, he will likely be on a minutes restriction and even when healthy, he didn’t play big minutes. The Nuggets will be without Vlatko Cancar (foot), Jamal Murray (knee), Michael Porter, Jr. (back) and Zeke Nnaji (knee).
Probable Celtics Starters
Aaron Nesmith (ankle) probable
Probable Nuggets Starters
- Jamal Murray Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
- Michael Porter, Jr Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
- Aaron Gordon Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
- C: Nikola Jokic Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Vlatko Cancar (foot) out
Jamal Murray (knee) out
Michael Porter, Jr (back) out
Zeke Nnaji (knee) questionable
Robert Williams III vs Nikola Jokic
Jokic is impossible to stop but the Celtics must try to slow him down. He is averaging 26.0 points, 13.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists. He is shooting 57.5% from the field and 34.8% from beyond the arc. He had 23 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists in the first game between these two teams. He is coming off a 32 point, 10 rebound, 8 assist game against the Cavs on Friday night. Robert Williams needs a big game defensively for the Celtics to have a chance in this one.
Jaylen Brown vs Will Barton
Barton is averaging 14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. He is shooting 43.5% from the field and 35.7% from beyond the arc. He is the longest tenured Nugget with 8 seasons with the team. He is the team’s all time leader in 3 pointers. The Celtics will need another big game from Jaylen Brown on both ends of the court.
Jayson Tatum vs Aaron Gordon
Gordon is averaging 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. He is shooting 51.1% from the field and 31.0% from beyond the arc. Gordon is capable of putting up points in a hurry and Jayson needs to play well on both ends of the court once again for the Celtics to get this win.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to every game. The Celtics are tops in the league with a defensive rating of 105.4 and they have turned into the defense first team that we had hoped they would. The Nuggets have a defensive rating of 110.0, which is 13th. The Celtics average 109.7 points per game while the Nuggets average 111.4 points per game. The Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority.
Rebound - Rebounding is another key to winning every game. The Celtics are 5th in the league, averaging 46.4 rebounds per game. The Nuggets are 18th in the league with 44.2 rebounds per game. Rebounding takes effort and the Celtics have to work harder to grab rebounds to limit the Nuggets second chance points and fast breaks. The Celtics can’t allow the Nuggets to outwork them on the boards.
Effort and Energy - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to fight for loose balls, defend aggressively, be aggressive in driving to the basket, and just play harder than the Nuggets for the entire game. The Celtics have been winning games with extra effort and high energy. They have to be the team that wants it more and play like it. They especially have to begin the game with energy and not allow the Nuggets to get an early lead. The Celtics need to control the game right from the beginning and play hard right up until the final buzzer.
Move the Ball - The Celtics are at their best when they move the ball and get the best shot on each possession. They are 15-2 when they have 28 or more assists per game. They have to play as a team and share the ball, trusting their teammates to make the right play. They need to be careful when moving the ball though and not turn it over as the Nuggets average 15.6 points off turnovers per game.
Altitude - It’s tough to win in Denver because of the altitude that the teams are playing at. Denver is called the Mile High City because it is 5,280 feet above sea level. Nuggets players are used to the altitude but visiting teams often struggle with playing there and often are fatigued before the end of the game. It is a very unique home court advantage.
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating can always be an x-factor. Every crew calls the game differently whether they call every little ticky tack foul or they let a lot of contact go and let the teams play. Some refs are quick to call technical fouls for little or nothing. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called and not let the calls affect their focus or their play. They also need to keep their minds on the game and not constantly complain about the calls.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are 2.5-points underdogs in Denver tonight. If Boston’s turnaround and rise up the Eastern Conference has been impressive, so has the Nuggets’ ability all year to weather injuries to their best players (Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr.) and still be one of the West’s best teams. Like the Celtics, they’ve been playing their best basketball since the new year and are an impressive 11-4 over their last fifteen, including a big win in Philadelphia on Monday.
Obviously, everything revolves around Jokic. A month ago at TD Garden, the Celtics came back from a nine-point halftime deficit to grab a 108-102 win, in part to Boston’s swarming defense generating 21 turnovers on the night. Jokic registered a 23-point, 16-rebound, and 11-assist triple-double, but his nine turnovers plagued Denver. For Boston to steal a game at Mile High, they’ll again need Robert Williams to simultaneously be the free safety defender that’s flying all over the court and be disciplined with his one-on-one defense on the MVP.
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