BOSTON – There's an old basketball adage about games not being won or lost in the first half.
Try telling that to the Boston Celtics whose first-half struggles dug them a ridiculously deep hole that they were never even close to fighting their way out of.
And the end result was a resounding 123-107 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
NUGGETS 123, CELTICS 107:
- Isaiah Thomas: "At this point we're all talk" on defense
- Stars, studs and duds: Nuggets' physicality trumps Celtics' finesse
- Stevens: Good defense starts with holding your ground physically
Boston trailed by 25 points at halftime, but came out with a renewed focus to make plays at both ends of the floor. In less than two minutes, a 6-0 start made it a 77-58 game.
But Boston’s strong start to the third gave way to a feeble finish, ultimately proving to be too much to overcome as the Nuggets had a surprisingly easy time in defeating them after having had little success against the Celtics, home or on the road.
The loss snapped Boston's four-game overall winning streak over the Nuggets, and a six-game winning streak by Boston over Denver at the TD Garden.
Emmanuel Mudiay, a 27 percent 3-point shooter, nailed three consecutive 3-pointers in the first quarter as part of his 30-point, 8-rebound game. The Nuggets (3-3) got a strong game off the bench from Wilson Chandler who had 22 points.
It was a humbling defeat for the Celtics (3-3), a team that’s trying to find an identity while doing so with a banged up roster.
Al Horford (concussion) remains out. Ditto for Jae Crowder (ankle) and Kelly Olynyk (offseason shoulder surgery).
Their returns will certainly help Boston’s cause when it comes to playing better basketball.
But there’s no time to wallow in a cesspool of self-pity feeling sorry for themselves.
They have to find a way to compete at a higher level, because there was no mistaking the level of focus and overall effort displayed by Denver was dramatically greater than that of the Celtics.
Boston didn’t put forth poor effort; it just wasn’t consistent or forceful enough to compete.
This was especially apparent defensively where the Nuggets seemed to get any and every shot they wanted out there.
And that is not what one has come to expect from a Brad Stevens-coached Celtics team, a group that has shown growth defensively every season under the fourth-year coach.
While it’s only six games, there’s a definite disconnect between what Stevens is wanting from his team and what they are delivering.
Credit certainly needs to go to their opponents who are treating the Celtics like one of the game’s premier teams and going at them hard from the game’s outset.
It’s easy to dismiss Boston’s struggles as being due to not having some of their rotation players.
While that may be a factor, it’s not the only reason why they have been so bad defensively.
More than anything, their opponents are bringing a sense of urgency to the game while they seem to play more with a false sense of entitlement, as if the success and improvements of the past few seasons will continue because they’re the Boston Celtics and that’s how it’s going to be.
It doesn’t work that way.
They have a clear and undeniable weakness which is that they lack size.
But what’s happening the last couple games goes much deeper than just not having enough big bodies.
You don’t have to have a dominant big man to compete.
It comes back to desire and playing with a heightened sense of urgency.
We saw that on Sunday night in the Denver Nuggets who lost at Detroit less than 24 hours earlier.
From the opening tip-off, they didn’t just come to play or even compete.
They came to win and the Celtics didn’t. Boston was beaten in every way imaginable.
And with three of their next four games on the road, turning things around won’t be easy.
Maybe the return of Horford, Crowder and Olynyk – all of which can happen this week – will be exactly what Boston needs to get back on track and start playing up to the lofty expectations they have for themselves.
Because right now the Celtics are a team whose best qualities lie in their potential, not their proven work.
And at some point, untapped potential becomes wasted potential which is something this franchise can’t afford to let happen.