Posted on January 30, 2018, by Travis Pulver
The Boston Celtics have been on top of the Eastern Conference for much of the season. However, in recent weeks, they haven’t looked like what a No. 1 seed is expected to look like. The struggle has been all too real. But Monday night against the Denver Nuggets, they were able to overcome the struggle.
It may have taken some late-game heroics to do it, but they did.
The Nuggets jumped out to a quick, early lead to start the game, 5-0. But the Celtics were able to overcome the early deficit and take an 11-point lead into the second quarter, 32-21, after hitting seven of 11 three-pointers.
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Boston’s hot hand continued in the second quarter and led the Celtics stretched the lead out to 44-25 at one point. But the Nuggets were able to stage a rally and trim the deficit back down to 11 before halftime, 56-45.
While it looked like it was going to be an easy Celtics win for much of the first half, the third quarter told a different story. Denver chipped away at Boston’s lead throughout the quarter. When Nuggets guard Jamal Murray hit a three-pointer at the 4:11 mark, the Nuggets took the lead, 69-68. But it was Will Barton’s layup with two seconds left that gave Denver an 82-80 lead going into the fourth.
The Celtics lost Kyrie Irving briefly after he took a hit to his right knee, but he was able to return to the game in the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets extended their lead out to six early in the fourth before seeing it evaporate. The game remained close the rest of the way, but say Boston take a 108-102 after Al Horford hit a three-pointer with 2:12 left to play. Gary Harris, Trey Lyles, and Jamal Murray made quick work of that lead.
Denver tied the game up at 108-108 following Murray’s nine-footer with 43 seconds to play. But Jaylen Brown’s three-pointer with 34 seconds to play put the Celtics up 111-108 and sealed the win. Brown had been 0-4 from three-point range before hitting that shot.
“I was like, no way I’m missing this one,” Brown said after the game (ESPN). “I was open. Everything that happened before didn’t matter. I had to make the shot.”
Jamal Murray hit a three-footer to make the score 111-110. Kyrie Irving missed a nine-footer that would have iced the win. Will Barton was able to get off a desperation shot at the buzzer but missed.
The win is Boston’s fourth one-point victory of the season. Irving led the way for the Celtics with 27 points on the night, ten of which came in the fourth quarter. Jayson Tatum chipped in 20, and Marcus Morris added 14 off the bench.
All five Denver starters scored in double-figures with Nikola Jokic leading the way with 24.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens sounded like he may have been concerned about his team’s conditioning after the game (ESPN):
“I thought we were gassed at the end of the game. We missed some defensive assignments, and I thought we missed some good opportunities on offense, but they found a way.”
The win is only Boston’s second in their last seven. But they still hold a 1.5 game advantage over the Toronto Raptors in the East. The Celtics will have another challenge on their hands when they face the New York Knicks at home Wednesday night.
Denver will try to get back on the right side of the scoreboard when they travel to San Antonio to face the Spurs Tuesday night.