(UPDATE: Nene is out tonight with a bruised knee. This now becomes a game the C’s should win).
Playing the second game of a back-to-back in the thin air of Denver is tough enough (especially if Pierce, Allen and Rondo played 44, 40 and 37 minutes, respectively, against the runnin’ Suns the day before), but the Nuggets pose some unique challenges to a Celtics team missing its best interior defender.
For starters, the Nuggets (like the Jazz) are among the best in the league at getting shots at the rim. According to 82games, 39 percent of their shot attempts come from in-close — third-most in the NBA.
Nene has turned into one of the most efficient interior offensive players in the game. He’s strong, agile and quick, and 22 percent (!) of his shots are dunks — a big reason he’s hitting a league-leading 61 percent of his FGAs.
Kenyon Martin (who missed yesterday’s game at Milwaukee with back spasms) also gets a lot of shots near the rim.
While the Carmelo-Pierce and Rondo-Billups match-ups will get top billing, the Celtics ability to contain Nene and Martin near the rim will probably decide the game. And that’s going to be very difficult without KG. Both men are too quick for Perkins or Davis, and Nene can overpower Powe. Of course, life gets a lot easier for the C’s if Martin misses tonight’s game as well.
Foul trouble could also become an issue. The Nuggets lead the league in free throw attempts. Anthony (7.3) and Billups (6.0) get there the most, but Nene (4.8) spends some time at the stripe as well. Perkins, Big Baby and Powe are all foul prone, meaning Doc might have to throw out some interesting line-up combinations tonight. The Celtics also foul a lot, having allowed the eighth-most FTAs so far this season.
The Nuggets also like to run (sixth in pace factor), and, as we’ve noted, half of the C’s 12 losses this season have come against five of the top six teams in the pace factor rankings.
As I’m sure you remember, Denver won the first meeting of the season, 94-85 in Boston, to drop the C’s to 8-2. Billups and Anthony each scored 18, and Kenyon Martin hit a jumper to break an 84-84 tie. So the Nuggets have already proven they can beat the C’s at full strength.
(By the way, as you can call, I like this Nuggets team. I’m not sure why people don’t seem to think they could take a couple of games from the Lakers in the playoffs. They’ve become a good defensive team–9th in def. efficiency–and they’ve got a legitimately great scorer surrounded by some nice offensive pieces. They’re 37-19, right behind the Spurs in West. I think they’re a very, very good team. Sidebar over).
Is there any good news?
The C’s are 11-3 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, and, good scheduling luck for us, the Nuggets played Sunday in Milwaukee–a few hours after the C’s. So they had a longer (and later) trip to Denver yesterday than the Celtics.
There’s also the fact that Pierce has torched the Nuggets in his career, with a 26.9 scoring average. He’s only averaged more points per game against one team (27.1 against the Lakers), according to Elias.
Melo’s been holding opposing small forwards to a stingy PER of around 11 this season, which either means he’s become an elite defender or there are no high-scoring small forwards in the West. (I’ll take the latter).
If they’re struggling on offense, the C’s might be able to make it up for it on the boards. The C’s are an elite rebounding team (#1 in total rebound margin), while Denver is 22nd in defensive rebounding percentage.
As for last season, the teams split, with each winning at home. The C’s blew out Denver in the third game of the New Big Three Era, scoring 77 in the first half en route to a 119-93 win.
They lost a tough one, 124-118, at Denver in KG’s first game back from injury. It was the most points the C’s allowed all season, helped a bit by a crew of refs who sent Denver to the line 49 times. Iverson alone took 20 free throws.
Of course, Iverson’s not on the team anymore, so those results are pretty much irrelevant.
TrueHoop Network Denver blog: Roundball Mining Company.