Ray Allen rubs salt in the Nuggets' wounds with one last 3-pointer, polishing off a decisive victory for the Celtics and clinching a playoff spot with 11 games still to play in the 2009-10 season. With 27 points from Paul Pierce and a triple-double (11 points, 15 assists, 11 rebounds) from Rajon Rondo, the Celtics coast to victory at the TD Garden, making it five wins in their last six. They're starting to find their rhythm with the playoffs looming.
Fourth quarter, 3:47, Celtics 105-90: After nearly a four-minute scoring drought, the Nuggets get a bucket when J.R. Smith finds Joey Graham in the corner for a 3-ball with 4:43 left. But for the Nuggets, it's far too little and far too late. A Tony Allen free throw puts the lead back up to 15, and that should be more than enough in what's been a largely defense-oriented fourth quarter for both teams.
Fourth quarter, 5:30, Celtics 104-87: This is what happens when the Nuggets get desperate. They start pushing things way too hard, forcing shots, forcing drives into the lane, trying to make things happen against a defense that's far too good to let them. The Nuggets are in disarray, frantically trying to put together a 17-0 run from out of nowhere. (Not gonna happen.) The Celtics just need to slow the game down and let the final minutes tick away … they're in position to polish off this win and an East playoff berth with it.
Fourth quarter, 9:13, Celtics 96-85: It's been a quiet night for Rajon Rondo the scorer — we've seen a lot more of Rajon the distributor and Rajon the defender. But the slasher in him comes to life to begin the fourth quarter, getting a couple of driving layups to move the Celtics' lead back to double digits and keep the Nuggets from getting any kind of momentum to sneak back into this game. With 10 points and 13 assists, Rondo's the only man on the floor with a double-double.
End of third quarter, Celtics 87-80: The Nuggets aren't going away easy. Rajon Rondo is on the Celtics' bench with one ice pack on his hand and another strapped to his shoulder — he's beat up, the rest of the C's starting five is fatigued, and Carmelo Anthony is having a field day with the second unit defending him. Fourteen points for Carmelo in one quarter, a 3 at the buzzer from J.R. Smith, and the Nuggets are back in this thing. No one's dying quietly in this one.
Third quarter, 3:03, Celtics 83-68: A look at this game as it pertains to the playoff picture for each team: The Celtics have a magic number of one to clinch a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, meaning if they finish this one off and send the Nuggets home, they're in. As for the Nuggets, they've got a magic number of 3 in the West — so even if they don't take care of business in this game, any combination of wins and Memphis losses over the next few days could do the trick. Suffice to say, you'll probably be seeing both of these teams still standing in late April. Possibly even later.
Third quarter, 6:38, Celtics 76-56: A quick 10-0 run for the Celtics might be enough to put this game away for good. Who'd have thought that the Nuggets, even without Kenyon Martin and their coach George Karl, would come out to the Garden and find themselves down 20 points in the third quarter? At this point in the season, with postseason implications hinging on every game, it's inexcusable for the Nuggets to come out this flat. As for the Celtics, well … they'll take it.
Third quarter, 9:24, Celtics 70-56: Paul Pierce is back on the floor with three fouls, and he continues to pace the Celtics offensively. The captain now has 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and the C's have come out strong in the second half to build a whopping 14-point lead over the Western Conference heavyweights from Denver. This could be a big statement win for the Celtics if they take care of business and close things out. No collapsing like they did Monday in Utah.
Halftime, Celtics 61-51: Tony Allen has put together a monster first half as Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels each sit with three fouls. T.A. has 10 points on perfect shooting, 4-of-4 from the field and 2-of-2 from the stripe. It's a good night to be a small forward — Paul Pierce has 16 points, Carmelo Anthony has 14 for Denver, and then there's T.A. off the bench. The Celtics have a double-digit lead at the half and are in control of this game as they head to the locker room.
Second quarter, 3:14, Celtics 51-44: Talk about another quiet night for the two younger members of the Celtics' starting five. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins have combined for just six points — it's been all Big Three for Boston offensively since Nate Robinson hit the bench. The C's older guys can still put the ball in the hole, and they're proving it here.
Second quarter, 6:17, Celtics 42-36: And now Nate springs to life. The Celtics' diminutive combo guard knocks down a 3 from the top of the key to cap off a 9-2 Celtics run, reclaiming the lead midway through the second quarter. Suddenly the Celtics' second unit can get stops! Who knew? Sure helps that Dantley has had Joey Graham in the game for Carmelo for much of this second quarter.
Second quarter, 9:13, Nuggets 34-33: The second unit is on the floor, and collectively, they seem to lack much scoring punch. The offense has consisted mainly of Michael Finley and Rasheed Wallace throwing up jumpers, and no one seems to be willing to drive to the basket and score. The Nuggets have maintained their consistent play on both ends of the floor and have snuck into the lead.
End of first quarter, Celtics 30-27: Key stat for the Celtics in the first quarter: They're outscoring the Nuggets on points in the paint by a ridiculous margin, 20-8 after one. Key stat for the Nuggets: Carmelo continues to get into the paint and draw contact, and he's 5-for-5 from the charity stripe already. Both teams are finding ways to pile on the scoring, and we could be in for a close one.
First quarter, 3:14, 20-20: The Celtics are doing fine defensively, applying ball pressure and keeping the Nuggets' offense from getting any easy looks. Doesn't matter — the shots keep falling. The youngster Arron Affalo knocks down a couple jumpers from outside, and Carmelo Anthony is Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets' MVP candidate has been slashing, scoring, getting to the line, and just generally doing everything in his power to keep Denver in this game. We're all tied up, and acting Nuggets coach Adrian Dantley has called for a full timeout.
First quarter, 5:48, Celtics 14-11: The scoring rampage continues for Paul Pierce. What a week this has been. After the Nuggets grab their first lead at 11-10, the Celtics' captain quickly gets back-to-back buckets to put the C's back in front, knocking down a long two and then driving the lane for a layup 30 seconds later. Pierce has six points on 3-of-4 shooting, a rebound and a steal. Can't complain about that start.
First quarter, 9:11, Celtics 8-5: So far, the Celtics have had a clear advantage inside, with Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins both getting into the paint for dunks virtually uncontested. You have to wonder — how much is this team missing Kenyon Martin's presence in the paint defensively? This is a very different Nuggets squad with Nene and Johan Petro manning the paint without K-Mart.
7:32 a.m.: Remember this past weekend, when the Celtics hit the road to take on three straight Western Conference playoff contenders? Well, they're home now, but they're not done yet.
The Western heavyweights keep coming. The C's return to the TD Garden on Wednesday night to take on a Denver Nuggets team that's eyeing the No. 2 seed in the conference. The Nuggets made a run to the Western finals last May, and they could easily do it again. Carmelo Anthony just keeps getting better, and the Nuggets will go as far as he takes them.
The Celtics have already proven they can hang with the West's big boys. On the road, they beat Houston and Dallas before falling in the second half against Utah to finish their road trip 2-1. We'll see what they've got on their own home floor.