BOSTON — The search for consistency continues for the Boston Celtics.
Entering Monday night having won their last two games, both against non-playoff teams, the Celtics faced a nice challenge in the Denver Nuggets, who entered the contest one game back of the top seed in the Western Conference.
Though Boston played mostly well, it was the Nuggets that claimed the 114-105 victory in what was a back-and-forth affair.
Neither team led by double digits until the back half of the fourth quarter, and the game featured 11 lead changes and four more ties.
Kyrie Irving led all players with 30 points. Al Horford (20 points), Marcus Morris (13) and Marcus Smart (10) also scored in double figures.
Nikola Jokic had 21 points and 13 rebounds, and was one of seven Nuggets in double figures.
With the loss, the Celtics fall to 43-28, while the Nuggets climb to 47-22 with the win.
Here’s how it all went down.
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Marcus Morris Sr.
C: Al Horford
IT STEALS SHOW
Though Thomas didn’t make many on-court contributions, the first quarter was all about him.
During the first timeout, Thomas received a tribute video from the Celtics, which was met with a huge ovation.
The point guard checked in with 2:42 left to play in the quarter, which also resulted in him getting a thunderous applause from the crowd.
Thomas didn’t make either of his two shot attempts in the first.
As for the game, each team put together a nice run during the opening quarter. After the Celtics scored the game’s first four points, Denver proceeded to score 13 unanswered. But just beyond the midway point, the Celtics went on a 12-5 run to cut the lead down to a pair.
The Nuggets ultimately finished the first 12 minutes up 24-22. Horford led all players with eight points.
Much like the first quarter, the second was level-pegging, with the Nuggets outscoring the C’s 31-30 to take a 55-52 lead into the half.
Just past the halfway point, a poor decision by Smart allowed the Nuggets to build some momentum. With the Celtics leading 36-35 and the Nuggets in transition, Irving stole the ball and quickly found Smart. The guard was at the 3-point line and had a 2-on-1, but elected to shoot a 3-pointer, which he missed. Denver got the ball in and proceeded to score a layup, which kicked off a 9-2 run to put the visitors ahead six with 3:58 left in the half.
The Celtics showed some decent resolve in the final minutes of the frame though, chipping the deficit down to a pair at one point.
Some nice ball movement from Irving to Horford allowed the Celtics to start getting back on track.
Horford, Jokic and Will Barton all had 13 first-half points.
TRADING CHANCES … STILL
The back-and-forth trend continued into the second half, with the Celtics outscoring Denver 28-25 in the third to finish the quarter in an 80-80 deadlock.
Boston quickly gained control by scoring seven of the third’s first nine points. From there, both sides wouldn’t let the other build any sort of momentum pretty much the rest of the quarter.
The Celtics owned a five-point lead in the final seconds of the third, but a triple by Torrey Craig with 1.1 seconds pulled Denver back within one possession. C’s head coach Brad Stevens called a timeout to draw up a play before the buzzer, but on the inbound, Morris threw the ball three-quarters the length of the floor out of bounds, giving Denver the ball back under their own basket. Paul Millsap caught Daniel Theis ball watching on the inbound, hitting Craig right beneath the hoop, and Craig hit the game-tying dunk at the buzzer.
Irving led all players with 11 third-quarter points.
NUGGETS PUT IT AWAY
A quick run to kick off the fourth quarter gave Denver all the cushion it would need. It outscored the Celtics 32-25 in the final stanza to earn the victory.
The Nuggets gave themselves a little separation with an 11-2 run to kick off the first 2:19 of the fourth. The Celtics did cut the lead down as few as three at one point, but timely shooting by Denver allowed it to keep the hosts at arm’s reach.
A Gary Harris trey with 4:01 left in the game put the Nuggets up 104-94, the first double-digit lead for either team all game. That 3-pointer essentially was the nail in the coffin, as the Celtics never made brought the game closer than five the rest of the way.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The Celtics will hit the road for a tilt with the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. Tip from Wells Fargo Center is set for 7 p.m. ET.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images