The Boston Celtics are too good a team to get caught up in moral victories.
But the fallout from their 96-92 loss at Denver was unlike any game win or lose, the Celtics have been involved with this season.
For the Celtics to rally back from a 19-point deficit in the second half on the road against one of the top teams out West, a comeback that came about in the second half with their best player Kemba Walker (concussion-like symptoms) out since the second quarter ...
Did we mention this was the fifth and final game of the Celtics’ (really long) West Coast trip?
Boston (11-4) head back home with a 2-3 record on the trip, with all three losses coming by a total of eight points with each defeat coming in the last minute of play.
A 3-pointer by Jaylen Brown on Friday brought Boston within 91-88 with less than a minute to play, only for Denver’s Jamal Murray to come back and drain a jumper with 10.9 seconds to play that sealed the Denver win.
Murray finished with 22 points for the Nuggets (11-3), raising their record to 6-0 this season when he has tallied 20 or more points in a game.
Here are three takeaways from Boston’s four-point loss to the Nuggets.
HANDLING KEMBA WALKER’S INJURY
Kemba Walker’s head injury in the second quarter was easily the story of the game and depending on how long he will be out, the story of the Celtics’ season.
It’s too soon to know what Walker’s timetable for returning will be (he has been diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms), but the way this team responded after he went out bodes well for their ability to ride out this tumultuous time where they will be without Walker having already lost Gordon Hayward (broken hand) until around Christmas time.
The lessons learned in handling adversity on the fly will bode well for the Celtics going forward, regardless of how long Walker will be out.
Following the game, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was pleased with how his players, especially his veterans, handled a difficult night with a slew of in-the-moment challenges.
“The guys that are holdovers here, those dudes are warriors,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “To come back in that game on the last day of a trip after seeing Kemba go down in Denver, against that team and give us a chance to win, they’re warriors.”
No one got more out of this West Coast trip for the Boston Celtics than Brad Wanamaker. His ability to step on the floor and not just hold down the fort but actually significantly impact Boston’s chances at winning, was huge.
In the five games out West, Wanamaker averaged 11.0 points per game, along with 4.2 assists while shooting 51.5 percent (17-for-33) from the field and 50 percent (6-for-12) from 3-point range.
After Kemba Walker’s head injury in the second quarter, Boston made a 26-9 run in the third and fourth quarters, a run that would not have come about if not for Wanamaker’s strong play at both ends of the floor.
“To see someone on your team go down is tough,” Wanamaker told reporters. “But we huddled up, Semi (Ojeleye) said a prayer for us and we just tried to bounce back and win the game.”
He finished with 14 points for his third straight double-digit scoring performance and second straight game with 14 points.
And with Walker’s return unclear, Boston will need Wanamaker to continue building off of what has been the best stretch of his NBA basketball life.
Last season he spent most of his time on the Celtics’ bench, longing for an opportunity to show what he could do, how he could help impact winning.
Well, he’s getting that chance now and to his credit, he has made the most of it.
The evolution of Jaylen Brown into an all-star caliber player has been one of the surprising developments for the Boston Celtics in this still-young NBA season. Remember, they added a three-time All-Star in Kemba Walker to the mix. Jayson Tatum has been billed as a potential all-star this year and to his credit has played like one. And then there was Gordon Hayward who prior to his broken hand injury, was having an all-star caliber season as well.
And there was Brown, quietly putting together the best season of his NBA career by impacting the game at both ends of the floor. And on Friday, when the Celtics needed someone to spark them in the second half following Walker’s injury, Brown stood head and shoulders above the rest.
He led the Celtics with 22 points and 10 rebounds for his second, double-double this season. And going forward, Boston will need him to continue being one of the leaders in several categories on offense as well as being an above-average, versatile defender with Walker’s uncertain timetable to return to action.
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