Observations: Nuggets 98, Celtics 91
Rapid Reaction following the Boston Celtics' 98-91 loss Saturday night to the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center:
HOW THE GAME WAS LOST: The Nuggets took control early and staved off a Boston rally in the fourth quarter to get the win. Denver dominated the glass (46-27), had a big advantage in fast-break points (21-6) and scored 20 points off Celtics turnovers. You can't go on the road and expect to win with numbers like those. "We got outworked. That's what bothered me," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. Denver got 20 points from Danilo Gallinari but the real killer was rookie Kenneth Faried, who was an absolute beast inside with 18 points and 16 rebounds in only 24 minutes. It also didn't help the Celtics' cause that Paul Pierce, who had 22 points, fouled out with 3:51 to play. Kevin Garnett also had 22 points for the Celtics despite not taking a shot for the first 11-plus minutes of the game.
TURNING POINT: You could almost say the turning point for this game was on Dec. 6, the day the NBA released its schedule. Playing in Denver is tough enough. Playing in Denver after having played the night before in Sacramento is close to diabolical. There's an hour time change; an airport that is more than 24 miles from the nearest team hotel; the altitude; Denver had not played the night before. Throw into this equation the fact that the Nuggets love to run, love to shoot, love to score and you have the makings for that old favorite, a "schedule loss." Predictably, the Celtics played much of the game at a double-digit deficit before making a run in the fourth and getting to within two points on two occasions. But Faried -- more on him later -- scored six of the Nuggets' last 11 points. The Celtics also were killed by turnovers. They committed 16, which led to the 20 Nuggets points. They cut the Denver lead to 10 early in the fourth and then turned it over on three straight possessions, miscues which came back to haunt them when they made a run at the end.
BOLD PLAY(ER) OF THE GAME: Kenneth Faried was the unsung hero, hands down. The rookie power forward from Morehead State killed the Celtics with a night of perfection. He was 5-of-5 from the field (OK, he only does layups, dunks and short flips.) He also was 8-of-8 from the line after entering the game having made 66 percent of his free throws. That's 18 points without a single play being called for him. He also hauled in 16 rebounds, a career-best, and was the personification of energy in his 24 minutes on the floor. He was the 22nd pick in last year's NBA draft.
STATS: Serious box-score readers may do a double-take when they see that Marquis Daniels played 20 minutes, most of them meaningful. That has happened since ... who knows when? Okay, since Jan. 23. Basically, he had been a fixture on the bench since the arrival of Mickael Pietrus. But he was on the floor when the Celtics made their run and not only finished with 8 points, but also was the only Celtic who had a plus-minus better than plus-1. He was plus-8. "He played great for us," Rivers said of Daniels, adding he went with Daniels out of a "gut" decision. ... Rivers picked up his seventh technical of the season (and second of the road trip.) This one seemed worth the money. Rajon Rondo was called for an offensive foul after he had been fouled himself on a drive -- and had made the shot. So it took away a three-point play. "I thought the Rondo play was huge," Rivers said. ... The Celtics are 22-14 on St. Patrick's Day. ... Rondo had 16 assists.
INJURY UPDATE: Paul Pierce was supposed to be a game-time decision after tweaking his right ankle Friday night in Sacramento. But he started and played 31 minutes before fouling out for the first time this season. (His previous high was 5 fouls against Washington on Jan. 22.) Pierce has not missed a game since sitting out the first three of the season with a bruised right heel. He had 22 points against the Nuggets.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Celtics fell to 2-3 on their road trip and now head East with games against three teams that figure in their playoff plans -- Atlanta, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. They caught a break with the Sixers' losing on Saturday night to the Bulls. The Monday night game against Atlanta marks the first meeting of the season between the teams. Catching the Hawks or Sixers would be huge for the Celtics because it would mean they would avoid having to play the Bulls or Heat in the first round.
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