The Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics were both 8-3 heading into their Friday night matchup at TD Garden in Boston. Both teams have championship aspirations and expect to be challengers for best team in the NBA when it’s all said and done.

Unfortunately for Denver, Boston looked far closer to that goal on Friday night. The Celtics beat the Nuggets 131-112, showcasing some gaping holes in Denver’s defense. The Celtics shot 64% on two-pointers, 43% on three-pointers, and turned the ball over just seven times. Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 31 points on 10-of-21 shooting. Jaylen Brown made his first 10 shots, taking both contested and uncontested jumpers on his way to 25 points on just 14 shots.

Nikola Jokić once again dealt with foul trouble, exiting five minutes into the third quarter with four fouls. It didn’t preclude him from scoring 29 points of his own though, shooting 12-of-20 in the process. He navigated Boston’s defense extremely well, generating good shots for himself and his teammates throughout the evening.

Unfortunately, Jokić finished with just eight rebounds and three assists. The Celtics did a good job of limiting easy assist opportunities for much of the game, and though the Nuggets shot 41% from three themselves, it didn’t feel like it for much of the game. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot 5-of-7 from three-point range and was very good. The rest of the team shot 7-of-22 and were mostly subpar.

Here are my primary takeaways from Denver’s performance against the Boston Celtics:

Pick-and-pop to death

The Celtics, for the most part, ran high pick and roll the entire game. There were some actions they built into the flow of the offense, but it almost always surrounded high pick and roll with Brown and Tatum. The Nuggets expected those guys to be great, and they were.

What they may not have expected was the “pop” end of that pick-and-pop. Al Horford set the majority of the screens when out there, especially when Jokić was defending him. Horford was set up for several open shots and made just about all of them. He finished with 21 points, hitting 6-of-8 from three-point range. Grant Williams also had a couple of those opportunities and capitalized himself.

Jokić’s biggest weakness in pick and roll defense is his drop coverage. He was forced to cover Tatum and Brown driving downhill before rushing back out to the three-point line to contest a shot above the break. It’s a lot of ground to cover, and it’s something he’s always struggled with.

The Celtics spammed that action, and it worked to perfect. 131 points allowed, many of them out of the pick-and-pop.

Murray and Porter both struggle

Tonight was always going to be a big test for both Murray and Porter coming back from injury. The Celtics’ entire offense is predicated on targeting mismatches, and when they were targeting Jokić in drop, they went at Murray and Porter. Both struggled on the defensive end to force tough shots. It wasn’t the biggest deal in the grand scheme of things, but it stood out.

What stood out even more was the offensive end. Murray finished with 14 points and 10 assists on 6-of-17 from the field. The assists were great to see, but the shooting efficiency wasn’t there on shots he normally hits at a higher clip. The Celtics have plenty of long, rangy athletes to throw at him and bother him, and it did tonight.

Porter finished with just seven points on 3-of-10 from the field and 1-of-6 from three. It was his worst shooting night of the season and brought back some reminders of the last time he played in Boston (didn’t make a basket). The Celtics knew the game plan to stop him and challenged his shots, with Derrick White even blocking a side step jumper from behind.

Both Murray and Porter will be better going forward, even against the Celtics. This was a tough matchup though.

DeAndre Jordan needs a wake-up call

DeAndre Jordan has been mostly positive for the Nuggets this season up until tonight. He has rebounded, played solid drop coverage, and even played decent switch defense. He also screens hard and becomes available for lobs and dump-offs.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t excuse this level of effort and intensity.

The Nuggets are trying to win a championship. Michael Malone has discussed holding players accountable, being “about it” rather than just talking. This doesn’t send that message.

Jordan played just nine minutes tonight and finished with two points and zero rebounds. Not having Bones Hyland (OUT with health and safety protocols) to run pick and rolls with can make the offensive end difficult for Jordan, but that doesn’t excuse the effort on the defensive glass. That’s what the Nuggets brought Jordan in to do. If he doesn’t do that, it’s hard to justify playing time.

Final Rotations