Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Celtics 104 - Nuggets 100: Young C's make it two-in-a-row

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Boston - Still riding the wave of the New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory parade from earlier in the day, the TD Garden faithful packed the arena in the best of moods on Wednesday night. Meanwhile the Celtics were looking to win their season series over the Nuggets, and keep the celebration going before plans of another advertised snow storm hits the city.

With some of the champion Patriots in attendance, including owner Bob Kraft and last Sunday night's hero; Malcolm Butler, who were all honored during a timeout in the first quarter, the C's not disappoint. The Celtics came away with a 104-100 victory to keep the party going throughout Boston.

Avery Bradley (7-of-15) continued his hot shooting, as he led five Celtics players in double-figures with 17 points. Marcus Thornton also finished with 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field (including going 4-of-5 from deep) in 20 minutes off the bench. Jae Crowder added 14 points in his recent role as a sixth-man.

Jared Sullinger was pulled from the starting-lineup for the second time in four-days, after arriving late to afternoon shootaround. The third year forward was benched for the entire first quarter, and when Sullinger checked in, he missed his first five shots. Eventually he got it together, chipping in 14 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists.

Tyler Zeller started in Sullinger's place for the first time in a few weeks, also finished with 14 points and 5 rebounds in the C's second straight win.

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Ty Lawson had a game-high 23 points for the Nuggets. Arron Afflalo added 18, and Kenneth Faried contributed with 17 points in Denver's fourth consecutive loss to go 19-31 on the season.

The Nuggets were looking to avenge a Celtics loss from just 12 days prior, when they jumped to an early 29-26 first quarter lead. Boston would go on a surge in the second, outscoring the Nuggets 35-22, to take a 61-51 lead into the break, while shooting 53-percent for the half.

Denver cut into the C's lead in the third only to be down 83-78 going into the final frame. Trailing by 10, the Nuggets went on a 14-4 run to tie it up at 92 with six minutes to play. The two teams would exchange baskets over the next few possessions, until Avery Bradley's left-corner jumper with 1:25 remaining had the Celtics up 100-98.

With 41 seconds left in regulations and two made free-throws by Danilo Gallinari, the game was tied again at 100. While driving to the hoop, Jared Sullinger got fouled and probably redeemed himself for being late by sinking both freebies. On Denver's inbound pass and 22.8 seconds still on the clock, Jae Crowder channeled his inner 'Malcolm Butler' and intercepted the ball for the steal and Bradley was fouled and sealed the game at the line.

"I thought [one of] the biggest plays of the game was Jae's steal," said Brad Stevens. "Those are momentum-shifters in critical junctures. We always talk about the game has a way of honoring plays like that. Jae made a great play on the inbounds D."

These young Celtics look better on second nights of back-to-backs lately shooting great in the first half. It seemed like they were on cruise control before they got back to some old habits in the third. Forcing up shots and not moving the ball, which created turnovers and letting the Nuggets back into the game. Stevens electing to go with a small Turner, Bass and Sully lineup got the offense going again.

Boston (18-30) will try to go for the trifecta after their day off before returning to the TD Garden to face the 11-39 76ers on Friday night.
Tip-off is at 7:30

Game Notes:

The C's won the battle of the assists over the Nuggets 27-18. Marcus Smart got a second straight start at the one and took only six shots making two of them, but what was more impressive was his 10 boards, 8 assists (2 turnovers) and 3 steals in 41 minutes of action. James Young also saw significant court time, adding 8 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. Tayshaun Prince missed his third straight game with a sore hip.

Joel Pavón
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