After dropping two straight, the Boston Celtics did a nice job of rebounding from those setbacks with a confidence-boosting 99-86 win over Golden State on Wednesday that sets the C’s up for an above-.500 record if they can close out this road trip with a victory at Denver.
The primary goal against Denver besides winning?
Rebounding of course.
The Celtics (41-24) know first-hand how difficult it can be to keep the Nuggets off the boards. When the two met on Nov. 6 this season, Denver came away with a 123-107 win at the TD Garden in large part because of their ability to control the glass at both ends of the floor. For the game, Boston was out-rebounded 47-39 although the Nugget’s dominance on the boards felt a lot greater. And while rebounding has been the Celtics’ Achilles heel all season, few teams took better advantage of this weakness than Denver.
As we have seen with the Celtics, their ability to keep the rebounding tally relatively close has done wonders for their chances at success. This season, they are 19-2 when they equal or out-rebound an opponent. And while the Nuggets have added a veteran big man in Mason Plumlee to help with their push towards the playoffs (they currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot, with Portland, Dallas and Minnesota all within 2.5 games behind them), this is still a relatively young team that’s still searching for an identity and maybe just as significant, a core group to build around.
It appears they have figured out who their go-to player is going to be in the future. Nikola Jokic is one of the best young bigs in the NBA now, a player whose talents and skills will quickly put him in the conversation as a legit all-star. The 6-foot-11 center, who did not play (illness) in Denver’s loss to Washington on Wednesday, has been a double-double machine lately. He has tallied a double-double in 17 of his last 23 games and within that period of time, notched four triple-doubles.
Boston will try and counter Jokic’s versatility with their own do-it-all big man, Al Horford. After missing two games with a sore right elbow injury, Horford returned in time for the Warriors game and was among the more stealth contributors to the team’s biggest win of the season. Horford had 10 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals for the Celtics. In addition, Horford contributed in areas that often go unnoticed or overlooked by the casual fan.
Boston beat Golden State in part because of their ability to come away with a sizeable number of the 50-50 balls throughout the course of the game. Horford led the way in this area for Boston by recovering a team-high five loose balls. And his defense was once again strong for Boston, evident by him contesting a team-high 12 shots from the field. He also shared team-high honors with Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder with four deflections.
For Horford, it was a good bounce-back performance after having missed the previous two games due to injury.
But looking ahead to tonight’s game, success will require a similar mindset to the approach taken against the Golden State Warriors and other elite teams even if the schedule suggests Boston will be facing squads whose records aren’t all that impressive with 12 of their remaining 17 foes having sub-.500 records.
“We have to look at all teams like we do Golden State and Cleveland and the top teams record-wise we face,” Boston rookie Jaylen Brown told CSNNE.com. “For us to keep building off those kind of wins, we have to go hard defensively against every team just like we do against the teams with really good records. Being more consistent with that; that’s the next step for us.”