The Denver Nuggets defeated the Boston Celtics 123-111 on New Year’s Day. Two top seeds in each conference matching up, and the home team found a way to win.

Even in the midst of a 34-minute stoppage to fix one of the rims, the Nuggets kept their composure, shooting 57% from the field, 57% from three, and 89% from the free throw line to keep the Celtics’ powerful offense at bay. Nikola Jokić had a 30-point triple double. Five Nuggets scored at least 15 points. The entire team played reasonably well, even without starting point guard Jamal Murray, who sat the front end of a back-to-back to manage his knee.

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum each found ways to score, but the Celtics defense had no answer for the Nuggets’ versatile offensive attack. The Nuggets limited their turnovers, attacked the paint, hit outside shots, and played with purpose all night. It was one of their best performances of the season.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Celtics on New Year’s Day:

Joker takes matters into his own hands

The Nuggets knew that without Jamal Murray, they would have to trust Nikola Jokić completely, handling the basketball, making plays from the post, and taking the shots he needed to take. There’s never any doubt that Jokić should take those plays, but Denver needed even more aggressiveness tonight against a tough matchup.

Jokić absolutely delivered, scoring 30 points on 10-of-13 from the field and making both of his three-point attempts. He was also a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. The shooting touch he displayed tonight was perhaps even better than his customary shot attempts, destroying Al Horford, Grant Williams, and every other Celtic that tried to guard him. Joker also had 12 assists, 12 rebounds, and zero turnovers on the evening, highlighting just how in control he was.

“I actually said to the players today…oh by the way, Nikola got his 90th triple double today. Big deal,” Michael Malone joked postgame. “Guys were cracking up because we’ve all becoming so accustomed to it.”

Jokić just put together another strong performance against an elite team. He’s averaging 25.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game while shooting 62% from the field. It’s a matter of time before the MVP calls come in full force. Bruce Brown voiced his full support for him postgame:

“For sure. My MVP. Should be the league MVP. Three times in a row. He’s doing everything for us. Without Jok, I don’t know where we’d be to be honest. That’s my guy, for sure.”

Celtics go dry from three-point line

The expectation for this game was that both teams would have difficulty stopping the other from getting great shots. They’re built like oil and water with different strengths and weaknesses, and the Nuggets held up their end of the bargain tonight.

The Celtics didn’t. They had some good possessions and found ways to get to the rim consistently, but they didn’t make threes. The Celtics went just 9-of-33 from three-point range tonight, good for 27.3%. There were several possessions when they generated open shots and simply airballed the three or bricked badly.

“I felt our defense for the most part against the number one offense in the NBA was very good,” Malone emphasized. “Most importantly within that, three-point defense. That team is second in makes and attempts per game.”

Perhaps it was the altitude, or the New Year celebration that surely took place, but no matter what, it’s difficult to win games when the other team hits eight more three-pointers than you, shooting nearly 30% better from beyond the arc.

A stoppage from hell

At the 6:43 mark in the fourth quarter, an official timeout was called, bringing attention to a stoppage. The rim the Celtics were shooting on in the fourth quarter was apparently uneven following a Robert Williams dunk, and there were multiple ladders that were produced, as well as a level, in order to fix the rim.

The stoppage went on for 34 minutes, an inordinately long time, especially toward the end of a game nearly decided. Nikola Jokić was dancing along to the dance cam. DeAndre Jordan was playing Rock-Paper-Scissors with a fan. Marcus Smart was sitting on the middle of the floor for roughly 20 minutes. Game operations went through every single entertainment item it had and was finally resorting to the wave.

Right at that moment, the ladders finally went down, and the two teams began to warm up again for the final 6:43. The Nuggets were up by 13 points, and though the Celtics cut the deficit to single digits at one point, the Nuggets held them at bay. Denver won the war of attrition following the stoppage.

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