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Denver - The Celtics were still riding an emotional wave from Portland into the Pepsi Center less than 24 hours later, and looking to win two in a row. This time it was Avery Bradley who hit a clutch jumper to keep the C's up for good in a 100-99 win over the Nuggets.
Bradley made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 left then went on to pull-up and connect on a 20-footer with 25 seconds remaining in the game. The shot ended up being the game winner, as the guard finished with a team high 18 points to go along with 6 rebounds.
"He hit two big ones," Brad Stevens said. "The 3 he hit in the corner was a really tough shot. When he gets that rhythm, step-in shot, he's usually pretty good at it."
Brandon Bass, in his second straight start, scored 17 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, while Jared Sullinger added 14 points and 8 rebounds as the Celtics finished with five players in double figures. Tyler Zeller chipped in 11 points and six rebounds off the bench.
The Nuggets, playing without Ty Lawson (arrested on Thursday morning, allegedly for a DUI), inserted former Celtic; Jameer Nelson (traded for Nate Robinson on January 13) to start in his place. Nelson led all scorers with 23 points and 7 assists in 42 minutes of playing time.
Arron Afflalo scored 20 points and J.J. Hickson added 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Nuggets in their fifth straight loss.
After leading for most of the second quarter, the Celtics were down 48-42 at halftime. The Nuggets would continue to step on the gas in the third, leading by as many as 12 before Boston shot their way back to take a 75-74 lead going into the final frame.
In the fourth, with the score 86-80 in favor of the Celtics, the Nuggets went on a 7-0 run to take back their lead with 6:24 left to play. It was a back and forth down the stretch before Bradley hit a 3-pointer with 1:24 left for the C's to go up, 98-96. After a Wilson Chandler made free-throw, the Celtics went back to Bradley as he hit another jumper near the top of the key to keep Boston up by three with 25 seconds left.
The Nuggets got within one on a Hickson layup with 14.7 seconds to go. Evan Turner (10 points, 6 assists) was fouled and missed both free-throws, setting up Denver with a potential last shot to win the game. Without calling a timeout, Nelson brought the ball up and let most of the clock run-out before he stepped back for a mid-range jumper at the buzzer and missed the game winner.
"Tayshaun is known as a good defender his entire career," Nelson said. "He forced me to take a tough shot. Could I have gotten a better one? Maybe. It was a good look. I got the separation that I need. I've just got to make the shot, make the play. I felt good. It looked good. You just make some and you miss some. Move on to the next game."
The Celtics are now 2-1 on their six-game western road trip and are on a two-game winning streak. They are now 15-26 and two-games out of the last playoff spot, while shooting the ball extremely well at 49.3-percent for the night and 43-percent from behind the arc.
"It's great from a progress standpoint," Stevens said. "They both close games, they're one-point games. They both came down to the last shot. As history suggests, this is a difficult game to get on the second of a back-to-back."
Boston will have a day to rest before they travel to Oakland to pay a visit to the best team in the league on Sunday night. Tip-off against the 35-6 Warriors is at 8.
Speaking of Golden State, as I was writing this recap I received a notification through my cell that Klay Thompson scored 37-points (13-13 from the field including nine 3-pointers) in the third quarter of the Warriors' 126-101 win over the Kings, breaking an NBA record for most points in a quarter. Thompson finished with 52 points on the night.
Kelly Olynyk did not play on Friday night because of a sprained right ankle he sustained on Thursday night against the Trail Blazers. It is the same injury that caused him to miss significant time last season (10 games). It's been reported the second-year forward could possibly be out until after the all-star break.
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