Friday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets was supposed to the final game of the Boston Celtics five-game West coast trip.
Apparently, the Celtics’ defense get that itinerary update because their defense was nowhere to be found for most of Friday’s game against the Nuggets which ended with a 119-99 Celtics loss.
Boston (41-25) returns home with a 2-3 record on the eight-day road trip.
The Celtics fell behind by as many as 22 points before chipping away at the Denver lead, but never put together enough defensive stops to seriously threaten the Nuggets’ control of the game.
It wasn’t just missing shots or getting crushed on the glass (Denver out-rebounded Boston 49-33) which isn’t all that surprising when you consider the Nuggets are the best rebounding team in the NBA while the Celtics have shown improvement but still rank among the NBA’s worst.
More than anything, the Celtics appeared a step slow getting to their sweet spots shooting the ball, or a step behind Denver’s shooters which allowed the Nuggets to take a lot of open or lightly contested jumpers.
And while Boston did compete for the most part, they failed to make the necessary plays at either end of the floor.
Nikola Jokic, who was a game-time decision after missing the two previous games for Denver due to illness, delivered the kind of all-around performance that certainly made the Celtics feel sick.
The second-year center was in triple-double mode most of the game before finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists along with four steals.
Down the stretch, the Celtics had multiple opportunities to chip away at Denver’s double-digit deficit only to see wide open to lightly contested shots by Boston clanked off the front, back and middle of the rims when the Celtics desperately needed a basket.
But the story of this defeat (and most defeats for Boston this season), was the inability of their defense to step up and put their imprint on the game in a positive way.
Denver shot 52.9 percent from the field while the Celtics made just 42.5 percent of their field goal attempts.
It’s hard to believe that the Celtics on the floor at Denver was the same team that just a couple nights earlier, knocked off the Golden State Warriors by holding them to a season-low 86 points.
Maybe that game took so much out of them that they just didn’t have enough to bring a similar brand of defensive basketball to the floor 48 hours later.
You can point to the altitude or the Nuggets just playing with a greater sense of urgency.
Or it could be as simple as Denver being just a bad matchup for the Celtics, especially considering Denver won both matchups this season by a combined 36 points.
Regardless of how you look at it, the Celtics simply didn’t get it done in a game that they needed to tangibly show that this was a successful road trip.