Nuggets’ bench implodes as Denver falls to Celtics in Boston

Dec 13, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye (37) tries to wrestle the ball away from Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) during the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets’ star center Nikola Jokic was active, but did not play at all on Wednesday night against the Boston Celtics. Will Barton sat out as well as Denver dropped the second-half of a back-to-back versus Boston on the road. The starters turned in an excellent performance, but Denver’s bench imploded as the Celtics came out on top with a final score of 124-118.

The Nuggets came out of the gate firing as they hit all six of their field goal attempts to start the game. Trey Lyles — who drew the start with Barton out — set the tone early by driving and dunking all over Boston’s prized rookie, Jayson Tatum. Everyone was hot and the Nuggets bench was up and active as the Nuggets jumped out to an early 14-8 lead.

Boston then found their own offensive groove as Denver experienced their usual struggles following their first substitutions of the game. The bench went 1-9 from the field to close out the quarter as Denver quickly lost their lead. Despite the hot start, and despite 11 quick points for Gary Harris on 5-7 from the field, Denver trailed 31-30 after the first quarter.

Boston jumped out to a 9-5 run to start the second quarter and grabbed the lead thanks to some strong play from Tatum. Shane Larkin then began to torch Emmanuel Mudiay by hitting his first four shots off the bench, including a 25-foot heat-check to stretch the lead to 10 points with 6:22 remaining in the first half.

The Nuggets weathered the storm as best they could but they couldn’t keep the Celtics from getting out of transition. Boston held a 13-2 advantage in fast-break points and led by nine points at the half. The Celtics shot 62 percent from the field and three Boston starters were in double figures as Jaylen Brown and Aaron Baynes combined for 25 points on 10-12 shooting. Irving paced Boston with 15 points and five assists. Harris led the way with 15 points at the half for Denver and Mason Plumlee added 12 points of his own on a perfect 6-6 from the field.

On the second half of a back-to-back — and on the road against one of the best teams in basketball — Denver had all of the reasons in the world to fold in the second half, but the Nuggets didn’t fold. Irving hit all three of his first shots of the quarter, dropping seven points in four and half minutes, and the Nuggets still trailed by nine with seven minutes remaining. Thankfully, Denver weathered the storm and engineered an 11-2 run, — spearheaded by Harris and Murray — to tie the game at 85 with 3:39 remaining. Denver eventually went into the final frame trailing 97-92 after three-quarters of high-scoring basketball.

The Nuggets’ bench woes continued to rear their ugly head in the fourth quarter. Larkin checked back in and dropped five more points in just two minutes on Mudiay. A game that was once tied quickly devolved into a 12-point lead for Boston with nine minutes remaining. The starters fought valiantly, but they couldn’t overcome the brutal performance of a depleted second unit. The Nuggets starters outscored their bench 102 to 16 in the game which doomed the Nuggets. Emmanuel Mudiay was the biggest culprit, finishing as a -20 in just 17 minutes.

Gary Harris turned in a career-high 36 points, but it was all for naught as the Nuggets dropped to 15-13 on the year and 5-11 on the road. They will now return home to Denver for a Friday-night matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans.