Friday, March 8, 2024

Nuggets 115, Celtics 109: Jaylen Brown's 41 points not enough to overcome Nikola Jokic's triple-double

Hoping to avenge their fourth-quarter meltdown against the Cavaliers from earlier in the week, the Celtics suffered their 14th defeat of the season to the defending champion Denver Nuggets (43-20) Thursday night, losing 115-109 at Ball Arena.

In a thriller down the stretch, Boston couldn't overcome Nikola Jokic's 32-point triple-double despite Jaylen Brown's dominant 41-point performance while Jayson Tatum struggled offensively.

Brown led all scorers with a season-high in points on 16-of-29 from the field to go along with a game-high 14 rebounds while Kristaps Porzingis added 24 points and 12 rebounds. Tatum only scored 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting and dished out eight assists. 

Jokic's 32 points led the Nuggets on 11-of-19 from the floor plus, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists for his final stat line, while Jamal Murray finished with 19 points (7-of-18) and eight assists.

After another tough loss, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla understood the importance of valuing each possession from limiting turnovers, and making their free throws (Boston hit 16-of-25), to closing out quarters strong -- both areas Boston will need to improve upon going forward to bounce back.
"Every detail matters there when you're playing against another great team and they were able to take advantage of some of those margins there. So that's the stuff we'll learn from," Mazzulla said postgame.
Boston's faithful traveled well, as from the opening tip, you could hear "Let's Go Celtics" chants. The C's, hoping to improve to 20-10 on the road this season, got into a rhythm behind their defense.

After Jrue Holiday (12 points) mishandled a backdoor pass from Derrick White, Boston got it right back with White not giving up on the play, stripping Jamal Murray and throwing up an electrifying lob to Jaylen Brown, who brought the intensity early. 

Scoring seven points in less than six minutes to start the first quarter, Brown led Boston's offensive attack. While the Celtics had a strong opening frame behind their two stars, Denver matched their production, led by Jokic's five assists.

Brown continued his aggressiveness, taking full control of Boston's offense, scoring 15 of his 41 points in the second -- including the team's first 10 points of the quarter. Brown carried the load, and that translated to crashing the boards with purpose, getting three offensive rebounds on one possession, and finishing a tough contested layup for an and-one play. 

The Nuggets continued to apply pressure however as Jokic's 13 points in the second gave Denver an eight-point advantage (62-54) after his buzzer-beating mid-range shot going into the break.

Porzingis started the second half on a high note, knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to cut the Celtics' deficit down to only two. Brown continued to build off his strong start, adding 12 more points to his total in the third quarter, with Porzingis taking some pressure off, by scoring nine points, but Tatum's ineffectiveness on offense (2 points and five turnovers) through the third period proved problematic.

Jokic continued to target Porzingis in the post, adding another six points, while the Nuggets put their foot on the gas to end the quarter with a 22-12 run -- giving them a 90-80 lead heading into the final frame.

Just when it looked like Denver could pull away late, Boston responded with an 8-2 scoring spurt with three minutes to play and crawled back into the game. But the Nuggets stayed tough throughout as Aaron Gordon (16 points, nine rebounds) had a series of highlight plays in the final minutes, finishing a thunderous one-handed slam off a Jokic miss with two minutes to play. 

Boston in desperate need of some baskets down six, Jrue Holiday stepped up, knocking down a huge step-back 3-pointer. He then followed that up with another step back 3 on Jokic in the corner to cut the deficit down to two (111-109).

With 45 seconds left, Boston's great ball movement in transition on a steal gave Tatum an open three, but he was unable to knock it down from the right-hand corner. Denver would take advantage and close the game out with another Gordon lob -- sealing the Celtics' fate and forcing them to suffer their second-straight defeat for the first time since November. 
"We had our chances, and when you play against another good team, those things get magnified," said Mazzulla on his club simply not being good enough in the clucth against one of the league's top teams.
Boston (48-14) hopes to get back on track against the Phoenix Suns (37-26) Saturday night at 8:30 pm ET on ABC.

Game Notes:

Boston knocked down 11-of-38 (28.9%) 3-pointers compared to Denver, who only made 4-of-21 (19%)from long distance. The Celtics outrebounded the Nuggets 47-45 but made only 64% of their free throws compared to the home team who made 21-of-22 free throws. Denver forced 12 Boston turnovers, while only turning the ball over seven times. 

Ian Carrano

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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