Boston got out to a quick 10-2 lead thanks to a nice start from Al Horford and Jaylen Brown. Horford did a good job of facilitating early, as he’s done so often in the past. The Celtics offense didn’t slow down, as they jumped out to a 25-12 run from the 11:02 mark of the first quarter on. With 4 minutes remaining in the quarter, they held a 27-14 lead thanks to shooting 70.6 percent from the floor. Through those 8 minutes, Horford had 4 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals. Also of note in the early going, only 4 of their initial 17 shots were three pointers – a noticeable change from their recent offensive trends.
If not for Murray, the first quarter would have been rather ugly for Denver. The guard had 14 points to keep the Nuggets in it early, but Boston held a 34-19 lead after one. Coming into tonight, Brad Stevens put an emphasis on driving, cutting, and getting to the rim, and it was very evident from the get-go. The Celtics assisted on 12 of their first 15 made field goals.
The Nuggets opened the second quarter on a 7-0, but the game quickly turned into a Kyrie Irving – Jamal Murray duel. The two went back and forth at a rapid pace mid-quarter to carry their respective teams. Irving had 16 first half points on 7/9 shooting, while Murray posted 23 points on 10/14 FG. Boston led 56-54 at the break.
Despite the focus of getting to the hole, the Celtics still only had 3 free throw attempts in the first half. They finished with 20 first half points in the paint, but many of those were on fast-break run outs. Plenty of their twos were still mid-range jumpers, which Stevens would rather have as at-the-rim looks. Something to keep an eye on moving forward.
The third quarter saw a lot of the Celtics’ ball movement disappear. Much of the offensive production turned into Kyrie Irving creating his own shot, which kept Boston in this one thanks to his insane ability to do so. While the Celtics were searching for any offensive rhythm, Denver was thriving. From the moment Boston took an 18-point lead until the end of the third quarter, the Nuggets outscored the Celtics 72-47. After assisting on 12 of their first 15 buckets, Boston would manage just 4 on the next 18. These trends are, what some people would call, bad.
Irving would re-enter the game with 9:55 remaining in the fourth quarter with the Celtics trailing 91-85, but Murray would not back down. The Nuggets guard took over mid-way through the fourth, finding ways to score in every possible manner. Murray looked like he was running out of steam down the stretch, but still managed to score nearly every time he’d get the ball in his hands. The 21-year-old was 8/12 FG for 19 points in the fourth quarter. He was too much for the Celtics, as Denver would come away with the 8-point win.
Irving led Boston with 31 points (13/17 FG) and 5 assists, while Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each had 15. The Celtics shot just 12 free throws tonight compared to Denver’s 28 and finished 9/31 from beyond the arc.
Boston returns to action on Thursday night in Phoenix.