Celtics hold on in final moments to edge out Nuggets, 111-110

Celtics hold on in final moments to edge out Nuggets, 111-110

Oh. So. Close.

The Boston Celtics squeaked out a 111-110 win over the Denver Nuggets, as Will Barton’s desperation heave was short of the rim only to be grabbed in mid-air by a Nuggets play who put it in after the game clock expired. 

MORE CELTICS - How Clippers trading Griffin impacts the C's

It was yet another one of those games when the Celtics had their share of not-so-great stretches of play, only to make the plays needed to escape with a win. 

Boston (36-15) closes out its four-game West coast trip with a 2-2 split.

Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 27 points. Jayson Tatum had 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. Off the bench, Boston got a nice lift from Marcus Morris had 14 points with Terry Rozier tallying a near double-double with eight points and nine rebounds to go with six assists. 

Al Horford had a good look in the lane with just a few seconds to play, sucking in the Denver defense. Rather than take the shot, he kicked it out to Jaylen Brown whose three-pointer went below the rim, than out, then back down again to give Boston a 3-point lead and proved to be the game-winning points.

It was a play that served as a reminder of the trust that the Celtics players have in one another.

The fourth quarter did not get off to the best of starts for the Celtics as they soon found themselves down 88-82 following a 3-pointer by Trey Lyles. 

But the Celtics began exchanging basket-for-basket with the Nuggets, with an occasional defensive stop thrown in that would prove to be just what the Celtics needed. 

The Celtics regained the lead on an Irving driving lay-up that put Boston back on top 92-91.

Boston began to expand its lead, but the Nuggets managed to stay within striking distance. 

A pair of free throws by Denver’s Nikola Jokovic made it a one-point game, only for Jayson Tatum to continue what was a strong night with an uncontested dunk to increase Boston’s lead to 103-100. He finished with a double-double of 24 points, 11 rebounds along with five assists. Will Barton chipped in with 19 points, seven rebounds, seven assists with Trey Lyles providing 20 points and seven rebounds off the Nuggets bench. 

Denver continued to chip away at Boston’s lead, and had the ball down 108-106 with 59 seconds to play after an improbable bank shot by Irving did not count because he released it just half-second after the shot clock expired.

The Nuggets made the most of their opportunity with Jamal Murray scoring with 43 seconds to play to tie the game at 108-all.

After a Celtics time-out was called, Jaylen Brown drained a corner 3-pointer to put Boston ahead with 33 seconds to play. 

The down-to-the-wire ending was in stark contrast to how the game played out in the first two quarters of play. 

After a solid first half in which the Celtics led by as many as 20 points, the Nuggets came storming back to start the third quarter, trimming Boston’s lead to 66-60 following a Plumlee dunk leading to a Boston time-out with 7:10 to play in the quarter. 

The Nuggets continued to surge back into the game, making it a one-possession game following a Will Barton lay-up. 

Denver continued to surge back into the game and took a slim 82-80 lead going into the fourth quarter.


Blakely's Game 4 Storylines: Brown knows he's got to be better early

Blakely's Game 4 Storylines: Brown knows he's got to be better early

CLEVELAND – That old basketball adage of “taking it one game at a time” has been modernized by today’s players, who have replaced it with “staying in the moment.”

Jaylen Brown is part of that movement, for sure.

Still, Brown has long exposed us to the reality that he’s a next-level thinker, someone who balances the reality of today with the promise that tomorrow brings, basketball and otherwise.

That’s why for him, the connectivity between tonight’s game and Boston’s ultimate goal – winning a championship – are intertwined in such a way that you can’t realistically look at one without acknowledgement of the other, which is why he’s operating on a level of focus unlike any prior to this point in his basketball career.

“We’re two games away from going to the NBA Finals,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston. “And six [wins] away from doing something special. We’re too close and we came too far to not be focused.”

And Brown knows his play will be among the keys to Boston leaving Cleveland with a Game 4 win and with that, absolute control of the series.

In Boston’s two wins in this series, Brown averaged 13.5 points in the first quarter.

The Game 3 loss saw Brown go scoreless in the first quarter while taking one shot attempt.

“We have to come in and play Celtics basketball and find ways to win,” Brown said.

Here are five other under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena:

Before scoring just seven points on 2-for-4 shooting in Game 3, Al Horford had reached double figures in points in every playoff game this season. Look for the Celtics to make a more concerted effort to get Horford going offensively tonight.

Terry Rozier has had one of the best postseasons ever by a Celtic when it comes to knocking down 3-pointers. He currently has 41 made 3’s in this postseason, which ranks fifth all-time for a single postseason. Boston has at least two more games in this series with Cleveland (tonight and Game 5 in Boston on Wednesday) and at his current rate of 2.7 made 3’s per game, Rozier is on pace to finish this postseason with at least 46 made 3’s which would rank third all-time behind Ray Allen, who made 56 three-pointers in 2010 and 55 in 2008.

Much has been said about the Celtics’ struggles on the road in the playoffs, and justifiably so. They have lost five of six road games in the postseason, which gives them the worst road record among teams still playing. Their struggles aren’t all that different than Boston’s 2008 title-winning team, which also had problems away from the TD Garden. In fact, that team didn’t fare much better than this current Celtics with losses in nine of their 12 road games. That team survived round after round due to having home court advantage, a similar blueprint that has been working for this current crew of Celtics players.

Even though the shots falling continue to be sporadic at best for Marcus Smart, you can’t knock the man for what seems to be good things happening most of the time he’s on the floor. Smart has a plus/minus of +18 in this series, which is tops among all players.

The 3-point shot has been the ultimate litmus test for whether Cleveland wins or loses in the playoffs. In losses, the Cavs averaged 8.8 made 3-pointers while shooting just 27.3 percent from beyond the arc. In victories, the number of made 3s increases to 11.8 per game while Cleveland’s 3-point shooting also rises, to 39.4 percent.


Celtics-Cavaliers preview: How will C's respond to blowout Game 3 loss?

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: How will C's respond to blowout Game 3 loss?

CLEVELAND – This season has been one lesson learned after another for the Boston Celtics, a team that has taken those teachings and transformed them into better play moving forward. 

It is a trend the Celtics hope to continue tonight as they try and bounce back from a 116-86 Game 3 thrashing at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers who now trail Boston 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. 

“All season I feel like we've been learning,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “We've been put in different positions. And now we're in a position that we need to bounce back, and (tonight) we have a good opportunity.”

Boston doesn’t have a ton of experience this season when it comes to suffering double-digit losses. 

In fact, the Celtics only suffered nine losses by 10 or more points this season. 

But here’s the thing: 

You hear players on this team talk all the time about putting the last game quickly behind them, win or lose. 

Well, that has certainly been the case when they have suffered losses by 10 or more points, evident by them posting an impressive 8-1 regular season record in the games that followed double-digit defeats. 

So if the Celtics seem extremely calm right now, that’s why.

“Everybody loses games,” said Boston’s Jayson Tatum. “The NBA is such a quick turnaround that you really can't be down, especially in the playoffs.”

The Celtics will be fine in terms of their approach mentally to Game 4. The bigger issue is doing a better job of executing at both ends of the floor and doing so without being thrown off their rhythm by the crowd noise that’s pumped into the Quicken Loans Arena that players acknowledged made communicating tougher than usual in Game 3.

“It's going to be loud. But that can't be an excuse for us,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “The young guys know that. It's alright, it's one game. The one thing about this sport, you get a chance to go out there and do it again, so it's a blessing to have that opportunity.”

And for the Celtics, tonight’s game offers more than just a chance to exact some payback for a dismal Game 3 performance. It also moves them one step closer towards the NBA Final.

But make no mistake about it. 

The sting of how thoroughly the Celtics were outplayed is indeed on the minds of some players heading into tonight’s game. 

“I use it as fuel because I thought it was embarrassing,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “I thought we came out, the way I played, the way I performed, how not aggressive I was in the first half, I look at that as fuel to come out in Game 3 and be excited about it and be ready to play and ready to fight.

Brown added, “We can't look at the last game and get down on ourselves or

think we're out of the series because we lost one game. That's what the world thinks, that's what the world wants us to think, so we're going to come out and play some basketball (tonight), regardless of what anybody got to say.”