Denver is the kind of team that gives the Celtics trouble. The Nuggets are skilled and fairly athletic up front, and get-to-the-rim minded all around.
Toss in such factors as the Denver altitude, the absence of Marcus Smart, and the natural letdown after a high-profile game against Golden State — and you have most of the ingredients for a trap game.
Taking apart the numbers from Monday, you can see the Celtics didn’t outright win the battle in many of these potential problem areas. Still, they held their own enough to get past the Nuggets in Denver (now 19-7 at home.)
(For a larger view of our official box score markup, just right-click the image.)
Boston’s bench (85 minutes) out-scored Denver’s bench (58 minutes) 39-22. More important, the Celtics reserves out-performed the starters in plus-minus. (The same thing happened in a recent win over the Clippers.)
In fact, Daniel Theis, who tossed in three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in just 20 minutes of action, led the Celtics in plus-minus with a +16.
Marcus Morris scored 14 efficient points in 20 minutes.
Rebounding & rim protection
Denver won the battle of the boards, but only slightly, 47-40. How vital is that? The Celtics are now 25-1 when out-rebounding their opponent. When they don’t, i.e. when they lose the battle of the boards or the rebound total is even, they’re 11-14.
Terry Rozier led the effort with nine (count ’em, 9) rebounds as the Celtic guards came down to help against Denver’s twin towers, Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee. Rozier also tied for the team lead in assists, with six.
Once again, the Celtics lost on points in the paint (54-40) and second-chance points (14-7). But a slight advantage in fast-break points (14-10) helped mitigate. Denver’s formidable starting front line outscored Boston’s 59-36.
More than anything else, hot shooting from 3-point land bailed the Celtics out in a game that otherwise fit the statistical profile for most of Boston’s losses. The Cs knocked down 17 of 36 from three, a Tatum-esque 47 percent for the game.
The Celtics enjoyed a slight 15-14 slight edge in our proprietary HustlePlays stat, just one indication that Marcus Smart was missed.
Another: Denver’s second half strength. The Nuggets took the second half, 65-55. Often that’s when Smart and Rozier are wearing down opposing guards.
Jayson Tatum broke through the rookie wall, shooting 8 of 13 for 20 points, to go with 6 rebounds an 4 assists.