April 20, 2024

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Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon lead Nuggets to season sweep over Celtics

Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon lead Nuggets to season sweep over Celtics

DENVER — The Boston Celtics were the best team in the NBA this year, but the champions still have their number. The Denver Nuggets beat the Celtics 115-109 on Thursday to sweep the season series with two thrilling wins this year, the first coming Jan. 19 in Boston. With the loss, the Celtics (48-14) lost back-to-back games for only the second time this season.

Boston had an answer for every team in this league and survived some tough shooting nights by getting it done late, but the Nuggets (43-20), who are one game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for first place in the Western Conference standings, still hold the advantage from Through their physical strength and Jokic being uncontainable.

The Celtics carried Jaylen Brown, whose 41 points constituted the only offense they could rely on against the well-stocked Nuggets defense. Meanwhile, Jokic was able to get everything he wanted in the paint, consistently finishing at the rim and hitting 32 more 3-pointers without even attempting a 3-pointer all night.

Denver has now won both games in what will likely be an NBA Finals matchup, proving in both Jokic's brute strength and the length of Denver's defense that the Celtics can get out of their rhythm. Jayson Tatum was never able to find consistency as a scorer or playmaker on Thursday, Boston struggled to create open shots, and the Celtics couldn't figure out how to help Jokic without running into Gordon flying over the rim. The Celtics had some poor turnovers, and while Brown was impressive, he missed a ton of free throws while the Nuggets only missed one all night.

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However, in the big picture, this will be the match many want to see in the end. In Thursday's game alone, there were a lot of tactical fluctuations. There was Denver trying to hide Jokić on Jrue Holiday down the stretch to limit Boston's pick-and-pop movement with Kristaps Porziņģis. There were both teams alternating between switching defenses and bringing them down. In both games this season, Jokic has made the biggest difference. The Celtics didn't have a reliable matchup for him or the means to slow him down.

“I'm proud of the way our players came out and played tonight, especially after our loss to Phoenix on Tuesday,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “I was proud of the focus the guys were able to show. It was a big game, and I think the guys responded well to everything that came with it.

The Nuggets' heroes were many outside of Jokic. Gordon scored 16 points, grabbed nine rebounds and scored perhaps the two biggest goals of the game, a layup and an alley-oop OOP from Jokic, both of which came late in the fourth quarter. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was instrumental in getting Celtics star Tatum to a 5-of-13 shooting performance that shut down Boston's offense on an overall level. Peyton Watson came off the bench, scored 11 big points and had 11 points overall in a game that needed his energy and athleticism.

Denver has gone 43-20 this season in its chase for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are 7-1 since the All-Star break and are looking to return to form as the defending NBA champions.

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(Photo: Ron Chinoy/USA Today)