Nuggets fall to 7th in the West after loss to Celtics

Feb 11, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) dives for a loose ball against Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland (3) during the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics went on a 28-5 run to take a 68-43 halftime lead and the Denver Nuggets just couldn’t recover from the deficit. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown scored 30 points a piece to beat Denver 124-104.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “We’re 2-4 in our last six games now and not even close to playing the quality of basketball we’re capable of… Tonight I can’t point to one thing we did well and that’s a sad thing to say. After a 48-minute game you can’t say, ‘oh we did this well.’”

The Nuggets were outscored 35-16 in the second quarter and shot 22% from the field while the Celtics shot 68% and hit seven 3-pointers. Payton Pritchard scored 12 of his 17 points in the quarter, going a perfect 4 of 4 from the field. 

It didn’t help Denver much that there were more Boston fans at Ball Arena than Nuggets fans. It was like a home game for the Celtics and Bones Hyland wished Nuggets fans would’ve shown a little more support. 

“I don’t even understand how those Celtics fans are even louder than our fans,” Hyland said. “They probably felt like it was a home game for them with so many Celtics fans in there. I should’ve heard Nuggets fans try to compete to be loud or even if we’re down ten still make some noise to try to give us some juice just to keep fighting but that was unacceptable to me as well just to hear so many Boston fans be louder than our fans.”

In hindsight, Malone was relieved that Celtics fans were there to drown out the noise of Nuggets’ fans booing. The loss was bad enough but would’ve been even worse if everyone in Ball Arena was booing. 

“I told them at halftime that they were lucky this was a Celtics home game because if it wasn’t the boos would’ve been, rightfully so, really really loud,” Malone said. “But all the cheering and MVP chants for the Celtics kind of drowned those boos out.” 

Nikola Jokic struggled offensively and shot 8 of 23 from the field for just 23 points. He only had eight rebounds and four assists which marked his seventh game without a double-double this season. The reigning MVP blamed himself for Denver’s loss. 

“In today’s game we lost because of me,” Jokic said. “It is pretty simple. Maybe I forced it or maybe I thought that I was going to have easy scores but I didn’t. They guarded me really well and defensively I was not where I was supposed to be and that’s why we lost the game.” 

As a team the Nuggets went 35 of 87 from the field and 14 of 39 from beyond the arc. They were also outscored 44-36 in the paint but did try making a comeback in the second half. It opened the third quarter on 7-2 run and beat Boston in the final two quarters but a 28-point deficit was too much to overcome. 

With this loss, the Nuggets are no longer in sixth place in the Western Conference standings. The Timberwolves leap frogged them for the six seed after going on a four-game winning streak. This is significant because if the Nuggets finish in seventh place they will have to compete in the play-in tournament which means instead of resting before the playoffs (which they desperately need) they will have to play two games and win one of them in order to earn a playoff spot but if they lose both it could cost them a trip to the playoffs. 

Thankfully for the Nuggets, they know what they need to do to close out the rest of the regular season on a high-note and it starts with their effort. 

“It’s more than easy to fix,” Hyland said. “It’s really just effort. Just going out there with the will to win, the will to play, the will to fight, the will to rebound, the will to defend, and the will to get the 50/50 balls. Just everything. To go out there and play with a lot of heart.”

Hyland said DeMarcus Cousins was very vocal in the locker room and let his teammates know that the way they’ve been playing and their current habits are unacceptable and they need to get it together for the final ten games. 

Denver will be at home for the next three games against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Phoenix Suns and the Oklahoma City Thunder, respectively.

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