It’s not how you start, except when it is.
The Celtics started tonight’s game with perhaps their best 10-minute stretch of the season, then backed into a win with mediocre play the rest of the way, defeating the Denver Nuggets 105-89 at TD Garden.
The Nuggets were playing without Carmelo Anthony, but even so it’s hard to overstate the dominance the Celtics displayed early. Mechanically efficient on both offense and defense, the Celtics shot 68 percent from the floor on the way to a 35-21 lead after one. They made their first seven shots from the field and forced Denver to rush into bad shots and turnovers. But the margin could have been bigger, the Celtics leading 30-11 with 2:47 remaining in the 1st. With Boston’s second unit in the game, the Nuggets ended the 1st with a 10-5 run.
Denver took the momentum from that burst into the 2d quarter, where Ty Lawson carved up the Celtics defense for 11 points and 4 assists. While the size of Chauncey Billups seemed likely to bother Rondo (it has in the past), Lawson’s quickness presented real issues for Rondo tonight. Lawson got to the basket whenever he wanted against Rondo, a possible sign that Rondo’s foot/hamstring might be bothering him. Denver got the lead as close as 51-50, but the Celtics maintained the lead at halftime. Ray Allen paced the Celtics in the first half with 18 points.
The Celtics were more effective than pretty in the third quarter in pushing the lead back to double-digits. After allowing the Nuggets to hit five three-pointers in the first half, the Celtics held Denver to 1-of-5 shooting on threes in the third. Meanwhile, Lawson played all 12 minutes in the third but was limited to 2 points and 2 assists. George Karl obviously kept his most effective player in the game for a reason, but the Celtics keyed in on Lawson after halftime and won the matchup.
The absence of Anthony might not have been so bad for Denver had Billups not had a dismal night. Billups was 1 of 9 from the floor and finished with three points. On the second night of a back-to-back and without contributions from their two stars, the Nuggets faded in the fourth quarter. Only a skirmish between Nene and Glen Davis with 2:32 left in the game kept the crowd’s interest.
Allen finished with 28 points, while Pierce and Garnett finished with 17 points apiece. The win moves the Celtics to 17- 4 on the season. They travel to Philadelphia tonight and face the Sixers tomorrow night at 8 p.m.
5:01 4th quarter, Celtics 91-75: Nate Robinson takes it coast-to-coast and draws the fifth foul on Billups. Bad game for Chauncey.
8:58 4th quarter, Celtics 84-69: The Nuggets seem to be running out of firepower. You wonder if Billups has it in him to go on a tear and get his team back in it. That’s always the fear, but Denver may be wiped out after playing last night.
End 3d quarter, Celtics 80-69: The Celtics are going to have to grind this one out. J.R. Smith’s buzzer-beater, the last shot of the half, is a reminder that this Nuggets team can get back into every game with long-distance shooting.
1:14 3d quarter, Celtics 79-67: Great finish by Semih Erden on the feed from Rondo.
4:38 3d quarter, Celtics 73-65: If you told me Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t play, Chauncey Billups would have three points to this point, and the Nuggets would still be in this, I’d call you a liar. Billups just fouled Ray Allen shooting a three-pointer. Off night so far for Mr. Big Shot.
7:54 3d quarter, Celtics 67-61: Rajon Rondo takes it to the basket against Ty Lawson and gets a layup and a foul. That’s four points for Rondo to go along with 11 assists. Rondo clearly seems bothered on defense by his feet/hamstring. Either that, or Ty Lawson is significantly faster than him.
Halftime, Celtics 59-52: The Nuggets got as close as 51-50, but the Celtics finished the quarter well, the starters coming back into the game to sustain a lead at the half. Didn’t expect it after the first quarter, but it should be an interesting second half.
3:45 2d quarter, Celtics 51-48: The Nuggets have now hit 5 of 8 three-pointers and are almost all the way back.
5:51 2d quarter, Celtics 46-39: Ty Lawson, not Billups, is the point guard killing the Celtics. Lawson has 11 points and 3 assists and has essentially gotten to any spot he’s wanted to on the floor.
8:11 2d quarter, Celtics 40-31: The Nuggets are taking advantage of bad offense by the Celtics to start the second quarter. A breakdown in transition just led to a three-pointer by J.R. Smith, who has 12 points.
9:16 2d quarter, Celtics 39-24:The game has slowed down considerably with both benches on the floor. Paul Pierce is headed back into the game after the timeout, the most recent of 42 timeouts so far this game.
END 1st quarter, Celtics 35-21: Doc Rivers can’t be pleased with the way his team finished out that quarter. J.R. Smith got the Nuggets back into the game with 4-of-7 shooting.
2:42 1st quarter, Celtics 30-11:The Celtics are putting on a clinic on both ends. They’re getting easy looks and hitting on 75-percent of them. On defense, they’re making Denver rush into bad shots, and the Nuggets are 4 of 17. Billups is 0 for 4 with 1 assist and has yet to find anything even resembling a one-on-one matchup with Rondo in the post.
5:17 1st quarter, Celtics 21-8:Glen Davis is in for Shaq. That position bears watching as Doc Rivers said both players could be limited tonight.
8:40 1st quarter, Celtics 16-4:Paul Pierce converts on a three-point play and then a layup, and the shot clocks are back up and running. Pierce and Ray Allen have 5 points and Kevin Garnett has 6 as the Celtics are off to a fast start. The Celtics are 7 for 7 from the floor.
11:15 1st quarter, Celtics 3-2:And we’re playing without shot clocks. The one closest tot he Nuggets bench was malfunctioning. Now both are turned off.
Pregame: No Carmelo. Early start. George Karl going for 1,000 wins.