Did Kevin Garnett come back too soon? Maybe not, but the Big Ticket was not his normal self Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center.
Garnett played just 21 minutes and scored only four points on 2-7 shooting. While he showed no noticeable signs of being injured, KG was not nearly as aggressive or enthusiastic as he's been all season.
The Nuggets seemed to be able to get to the rim fairly easily against Boston, scoring 124 points against the top defensive team in the league. What else though can we learn from the Nuggets 124-118 victory?
1. The Nuggets' defense is still awful
Denver gives up 104 points per game, which is fourth worst in the NBA. Even though the Nuggets hold their opponents to 44percent shooting (sixth in the league), they give up far too many offensive rebounds allowing teams to convert easy buckets.
It's one thing to stop the first attempt, it's another to make sure the team goes scoreless on its possession. The Celtics had 14 offensive rebounds, including key putbacks by Rajon Rondo on a huge dunk and Leon Powe converting a lay-up.
2. Garnett keys the Celtics D
Without Garnett being in dominant defensive form, Boston allowed 124 points, easily the most they have given up this season. Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson seemed to have their way on the offensive end, scoring 29 and 28 points respectively. Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe, and Glen Davis did little to counter the Nuggets attack.
3. The referees were terrible
As a Nuggets fan, I'm not even saying that too many calls went Boston's way (which they did), but the calls were terrible on both sides all night long.
In 48 minutes of action, we saw 59 fouls...that's more than a foul a minute.Rajon Rondo fouled out, and Ray Allen and James Posey each had five for the Celtics, possibly causing them to be less aggressive defensively.
For Denver, Kenyon Martin fouled out, and Marcus Camby and Carmelo Anthony finished with five fouls apiece. Since so many fouls were called, the game really never had a great flow. But the worst call of the game was when Ray Allen chucked up three when the score was 121-115. The air ball had already descended underneath the rim before Anthony grabbed it, and then was inexplicably called for goaltending. I've never seen the Nuggets coaching staff so irate over a call.
4. Passing wins games
The Nuggets had 29 assists on 41 made field goals (70 percent). Boston, on the other hand, had just 19 assists on 44 made shots, under 50 percent.
The Celtics took too many one-on-one jump shots, and failed to move the ball effectively. Denver, a team noted for its two scorers playing a lot of one-on-one ball, was the unselfish team on Tuesday night, finding the open man, including a key stretch in the fourth quarter where Linas Kleiza hit two big threes, extending the lead to 101-91 and giving the Nuggets some breathing room.
5. If Denver plays with intensity, they might be unstoppable
The Nuggets this season have at times, looked lackadaisical. That was not at all the case on Tuesday.
The Pepsi Center was rocking, with nearly 20,000 fans in attendance, the largest home crowd ever for a Denver basketball game. Kenyon Martin and Allen Iverson showed grit down the stretch, converting big plays. The entire team seemed energized and just wanted it more than the Celtics. The Nuggets did not want a repeat of November 7, when they got manhandled in Boston 119-93.
Iverson immediately circled February 19 on his calendar, knowing they had to get one back. Camby had nine blocks, and Carmelo Anthony and Martin had several emphatic dunks to get the crowd into the game.
If the Nuggets want to finally make it past the first round of the playoffs, they will need that kind of energy every night. In a 7-game series against any of the tough western contenders, there's no room for a night off. Maybe you don't shoot well some nights, and maybe the game isn't going your way, but there is no excuse for a lack of intensity when it comes playoff time.