The Celtics begin their 4 game Western road trip with a stop in Denver to take on the Nuggets. Denver is a tough place to play due to the altitude, although the Celtics have had success there recently. The Celtics won the series 2-0 last season and have won the last 6 meetings between these two teams and 7 of the last 10 games between them.
This is the 2nd and final meeting between these two teams this season. The Celtics beat the Nuggets 131-112 in Boston on November 11. The Nuggets have a 7 game home win streak going and would love to avenge that 19 point loss to the Celtics with a win in this game. The Celtics are 58-39 all time overall against the Nuggets and 19-29 all time in games played in Denver.
The Celtics are first in the East, 2 games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets and 2.5 games ahead of the 3rd place Milwaukee Bucks. They are 4 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland. The Celtics are 11-5 on the road and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They have won their last 4 games (all at home). The Celtics are 11-2 against Western Conference opponents.
The Nuggets are in first place in the West, half a game ahead of New Orleans, who are in 2nd place. They are 1 game ahead of 3rd place Memphis. The Nuggets are 13-3 at home and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They had won 5 straight before a loss to the Kings and then a win over the Heat. They are 5-4 against Eastern Conference opponents.
Coach Joe Mazzulla has missed the last 2 Celtics games with an eye injury and is questionable for this game. Damon Stoudamire will likely coach again if he can’t coach. Malcolm Brogdon and Blake Griffin both missed Thursday’s game with an illness but are expected to play in this one. Danilo Gallinari remains out with the torn ACL.
For the Nuggets, former Celtic Jeff Green is out with a hand injury. Jamal Murray is questionable due to injury management due to this being the first of back to back games. He may play in this game, however and sit on Monday against the Timberwolves. If he is out, Bones Hyland will likely get the start. Aaron Gordon (shoulder) and Bruce Brown (ankle) are both probable for this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Joe Mazzulla (eye) questionable
Head Coach (Interim)
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
2 Way Players
Jeff Green (hand) out
Collin Gillespie (leg) out
Jamal Murray (knee) questionable
Aaron Gordon (shoulder) probable
Bruce Brown (ankle) probable
Al Horford vs Nikola Jokic
Jokic is has won back to back MVP’s for a reason. He is averaging 25.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 9.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He is shooting 61.6% from the field and 33.8% from beyond the arc. He has led his team in points, rebounds and assists 85 times, which is the most by any center in NBA history. He is a handful and the Celtics need to try to slow him down by any means necessary.
Marcus Smart vs Jamal Murray
Murray is averaging 18.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists. He is shooting 43.8% from the field and 35.8% from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart has been playing very well with 33 assists and just 5 turnovers over the past 4 games. He will need to continue to get his teammates involved along with playing his trademark tough defense on Murray.
Jayson Tatum vs Aaron Gordon
Gordon is averaging 17.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. He is shooting 60.8% from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc. Gordon is capable of putting up points in a hurry both in the paint and on the perimeter. 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 7th with a defensive rating of 110.4 The Nuggets have a defensive rating of 112.0, which is 20th. The Celtics average 118.7 points per game (2nd), while the Nuggets average 114.4 points per game (24th). The Nuggets, are shooting 50.8% from the field as a team 2nd and 39.4% from beyond the arc as a team (1st). The Celtics need to especially defend the paint where the Nuggets are 5th with 55.1 points in the paint per game. The Celtics will need to win this game on the defensive end.
Rebound - Rebounding is another key to winning every game. The Celtics are 11th in the league, averaging 43.9 rebounds per game. The Nuggets are 19th in the league with 42.8 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 because the Nuggets are 19-4 when they out rebound their opponents and 2-7 when they are out-rebounded.
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. 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 race out to a big lead. And, if the Celtics get a lead, they need to play smart and continue to be aggressive and not let up.
Move the Ball - The Celtics are at their best when they move the ball and get the best shot on each possession. 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 16.1 points off turnovers per game. Most importantly, they can’t lapse into hero ball with one player trying to do too much.
Mile High on the Road- 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. The Celtics also have to shake off the distractions of travel and playing in front of a hostile crowd.
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 crews favor the home team and the Celtics need to be ready for that. 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 as that does little to change the calls and only irritates the referees.