They like their team, Danny Ainge and Kevin Garnett.
KG really likes them. If you were watching tonight, you understand why.
Avery Bradley scored 17 points and actually intensified his defensive effort, making a statement to management what hethinks of his team. Jeff Green got into the act with athletic defense – crashing the boards, blocking shots and stepping outside to drain long jumpers…
…which unfortunately wasn’t enough on this night, as the Celtics wilted late to take a 97-90 loss on the first night of their 5 games in seven nights western conference road trip.
Danilo Gallinari – yes, him again – scored 26 points, none bigger than his clutch trey with just over five minutes remaining to respond to Bradley’s three just seconds earlier that tied the game at 84. Gallinari’s shot ignited a breathtaking stretch run for the Nuggets who outscored the Celtics 13-6 to win going away, snapping a three game losing streak.
Point guard Ty Lawson scored 26 as well and wily veteran Andre Miller came off the bench to score 10 for the Nuggets, who improved to 34-21 with the victory while Boston dropped to 28-25.
The Celtics lost their second in three tries since beating Denver in triple overtime nine days ago,
Green scored 20 and Courtney Lee chipped in with 15 for Boston while Garnett added 12 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Paul Pierce only managed 10 points on a horrific 2 of 14 shooting night, but hung tough with six boards and 6 dimes and also hit all five of his free throws.
After leading by one at halftime, the Celtics owned the same margin at 63-62 with 5:17 left in the third quarter when Bradley was taken out after committing his 3rd foul – and Lawson subsequently and immediately just went off.
Without Bradley dogging his every move, Lawson drove the lane and got to the free throw line on three consecutive possessions, ultimately opening up the floor enough for the Nuggets to finish the quarter on an 11-4 run and taking control of the game with an 8 point lead going into the final frame.
But with Bradley back on the floor to start the 4th quarter, the Celtics went on a run of their own.
Being aggressive on both ends of the floor, Boston went on a 14-6 run to start the quarter, tying the score at 84 on Avery’s three from the wing with just under six minutes to play. But Gallinari nailed the answering trey just 20 seconds later which appeared to deflate the Celtics.
Coming off a Pierce three point attempt that missed badly and up by five, Kenneth Faried, who grabbed a game high 16 boards, delivered the dagger – sneaking in behind Garnett and hauling down the rebound of Miller’s missed layup attempt and easily laying back in for a 93-86 lead.
Denver plays three of their next five on the road, starting Friday in Washington to take on the Wizards, then down to Charlotte to take on the Bobcats before returning home to host the Lakers on Monday before hitting Portland on Wednesday…not exactly the Murderer’s Row of schedules…
…meanwhile the five-game roadie continues for the Celtics tomorrow night as they visit the Staples Center for a rematch with the Los Angeles Lakers, who will probably be far from accommodating or shedding tears for a Celtics team that took them behind the woodshed two weeks ago in Boston, handing the Lakers their worst loss of the season.
If there is a time that this team would really miss a Rajon Rondo, it was both games against the Nuggets. His ball handling would have taken a lot of pressure off of Pierce – whose game on Tuesday night may have been his worst of the season.
And it’s not just the fact that he’s shooting 2 of 14, it’s that many of the misses were flat and clanging hard off of the back of the rim – he seems to have no fluidity to his shots and it hurt the team Tuesday night.
It was clear from the beginning of the game that Celtics’ Coach Doc Rivers wanted the guard combination of Bradley and Lee to do the majority of the ball handling. leaving Pierce to create. The first half they were aggressive and frequently ended up at the rim, but the Nuggets came out of the locker room at halftime and shut the lane down defensively and took control of the pace of the game.
And Pierce kept putting up shots, but never found a touch, never finding any air to put underneath ball….but Rivers is keeping his charges thinking team-first
“We trust each other. We’ve been great,” Rivers said after the game. “We just didn’t do it tonight. We were doing it in the first half and we just got away from it.”
Credit the Nuggets and their halftime adjustments, but Rivers also thought a singular focus for the team wasn’t possible tonight because everyone was pushing to hard. “I thought everybody came into this game really wanting to win it and that may have gotten in our way, quite honestly. I thought each guy wanted to win it instead of trusting the team.”
That may be true, and if so there is a lot to like about this team and they are far from done – and it’s obvious that Celtics management is going to stick with this group and go as far as they can get with three aging warriors and a handful of lunch-pail toting overachievers…and if you’re going to go toe to toe with them, packing yourself a lunch isn’t a bad idea.
Because win or lose, you’ll know you were in a scrap…and that’s the best reason of all to like this Celtics’ team.