The Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets, two of the hottest teams in the NBA, clashed Sunday in Boston in an epic three-overtime battle. The Celtics prevailed, winning their seventh consecutive game and ending Denver's nine-game winning streak. The following details the good, the bad, and the ugly of Boston's performance.
Boston got off to an impressive start, with heads-up team defense led by Kevin Garnett down low. The Celtics had seven steals just in the first quarter, and they made the most of their fast break opportunities coming off takeaways. They pushed the ball up the floor, moving it around on fast breaks and in the half-court offense while making few mistakes.
Additionally, their first-half transition defense against a speedy and up-tempo Nuggets squad was commendable. Boston's players both young and old got back on defense and rarely saw numbers disadvantages on fast breaks.
Offensively, Paul Pierce knocked down three three-pointers in the first half, and created opportunities for his teammates along the way. He's established a good rapport with Avery Bradley, whom he loves driving and kicking out to on the wing or in the corner.
Bradley, who continues to improve his jump shot since his woeful return from injury, showed his growing confidence and made the most of his open chances.
Pierce spaced himself on the perimeter, moving well without the ball. He finished the half with nine points, five rebounds and four assists. He seems to continually evolve as a multifaceted player. Once defenders started playing him tight from distance, he took it strong to the hoop and got to the line (making eight straight free throws at one point).
The Truth also found KG on a beautiful entry pass around the basket for an and-one, and closed the third quarter out with a nice pass to Leandro Barbosa for a three.
Speaking of Barbosa, Leandro had one of his most productive games in a while. He made a couple shots, disrupted a couple Nuggets shooters and had open-court hustle plays. If he can continue to play effectively, it would really help soften the blow caused by Courtney Lee's occasional struggles.
KG had a rough night shooting save for a heroic third overtime period, but he stayed aggressive on the boards (18 rebounds, seven in the first half). He battled down low on both sides of the floor, at one point converting a nice and-one, then moments later delivering a monster rejection (with emphatic obscenities to boot!).
He finished with three blocks and two steals to go with his 20 points and six assists.
Perhaps best of all, Jeff Green continues to step up when his team needs him the most. He has increasingly incorporated a great jump-hook, which he should go to even more if it continues to fall. He also hit some big jumpers from the corner, and had a couple big shots off the dribble.
Green played great defense against Danilo Gallinari, Denver's leading scorer. Gallinari was held to 7-of-20 from the field, including 2-of-8 from three-point land (both threes came when KG was guarding him).
Green even had a Paul Pierce playoff moment, returning from an unreported injury to hit a huge shot off a fake-and-dribble. When the team couldn't buy a bucket, he came through.
And then in overtime, he delivered again. A huge three in the corner tied it with 24 seconds left, marking the third time he stepped up when seemingly nobody else in green and white could make anything happen. He also had a crucial steal and a slashing drive to the hoop for two. Green finished with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
Pierce had an intensely clutch three-point shot at the end of double overtime, igniting the crowd and forcing five more minutes. He finished with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists while shooting 5-of-9 from three.
Does anyone really want him traded out of Boston?
Jason Terry knocked in five three-pointers and registered 26 total points. But his biggest play came in triple overtime. After KG did some damage offensively, Terry stole the ball from Andre Miller to seal the deal.
Denver point guard Ty Lawson took matters into his own hands to get Denver going after a 9-0 Boston start, and really did whatever he wanted the whole game. He shot 13-of-22 from the field, finishing with 29 points, including the crucial bucket on a drive that forced the initial overtime.
Colorful Fox Sports New England commentator Tommy Heinsohn noted that Rajon Rondo would have played Lawson tighter, and brought the ball straight to him to get him in foul trouble. He's probably right. Lawson had way too much freedom with the ball, and far too little defense to worry about.
The Nuggets scored 62 points in the paint, and out-rebounded Boston 65-51. Denver had 15 offensive rebounds. At one point, they had four offensive rebounds in one possession. On the boards, nobody besides KG (18) and Pierce (14) had more than five total (Bradley).
That brings us to Brandon Bass. The starting power forward continues to struggle. He's in the wrong place much of the time, he front-rims open shots and he's playing flat and without confidence.
Coach Doc Rivers tried getting Bass in the post versus smaller defenders like Wilson Chandler, but he only got to the line once, missing one of two free throws. Bass finished 2-of-7 for five points and four rebounds.
Despite some clutch threes, Jason Terry does not have the offense working as efficiently as Bradley. He's still more worried about his own shots than the team game. It's never a good sign when each member of the front court (Pierce, Garnett and Bass) has more assists than Jason Terry (one total in 43 minutes).
Terry needs to get more into a team mindset and stop obsessing with the three-pointers. He launched 14 attempts from deep Sunday. Yes, he hit five, and finished 10-of-22 from the floor. But he just looks like he's becoming Boston's new Eddie House—exciting for the fair-weather fan at the Garden, but frustrating for true fans looking for quality team basketball.
Boston had complete control of the first quarter, and unfortunately started playing sloppily in the second. They did not value the basketball in all situations, at one point even turning the ball over on an in-bounds pass after Denver made a shot. The only one pressing, mind you, was Denver forward Kenneth Faried.
The Celtics had nine turnovers total in the second quarter, partly due to Terry's inability to lead the offense. They allowed Denver to creep back in with an 8-2 run, squandering their 10-point first quarter lead and going into halftime up by only four.
The Nuggets kept it a nail-biter the rest of the game, mostly because they completely embarrassed Boston down low. Everyone looked lost when Garnett came out to rest, allowing for easy penetration to the hoop and rarely switching up or providing help defense. And of course, there's the rebound issue.
Height disadvantages are one thing—not boxing out is just unacceptable. At one point, Andre Miller had a chance to tie by tipping in a rebound off of a free-throw miss. Miller, 6'2”, was coming in from behind the free-throw shooter. Luckily, he missed.
Miller's counterpart, Courtney Lee, could not get anything going Sunday. His shot was off (1-of-5), and he had four turnovers and only three assists. His inconsistency on the offensive end has started to really affect his overall play, not to mention bog down the rest of the squad when he's on the floor.
Off the bench, Chris Wilcox was similarly disappointing, missing all three shots he took, a couple of which were wide open. What's worse, he missed three of his six free throws.
But the ugliest of all is the fact that Pierce played an exasperating 54 minutes Sunday. KG logged 47, Avery Bradley 46 and Jason Terry 43. And they play tomorrow night.
At least it's just the Bobcats. MJ's squad will be a sight for sore eyes (and tired legs) Monday evening.