Celtics-Nuggets preview: Horford, C's must focus on rebounding

Celtics-Nuggets preview: Horford, C's must focus on rebounding

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.”

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

1:13 - The Celtics came away with a 105-100 win in Portland on Friday night. Find out why Chris Mannix is calling this the best Celtics win of the season.

6:05 - Mannix discusses details about Kyrie Irving’s ‘minimally invasive’ procedure on his knee and what his level of concern is with A. Sherrod Blakely and Gary Tanguay.

10:03 - Michael Holley and Tom Curran discuss what NFL players, including Devin McCourty, are doing beyond the gridiron by being active in criminal justice reform discussions held at Harvard this week.



Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

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“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”