Nuggets clinch first playoff berth since 2013 – Boulder Daily Camera

The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, left, is defended by the Celtics’ Aron Baynes during the first quarter Monday at TD Garden in Boston. (Christopher Evans / Boston Herald)

BOSTON — Isaiah Thomas got his due, and the Nuggets got their win. More important, Denver locked in its first playoff berth of the Michael Malone coaching era.
“I think we realized early on this season that we had a chance to have a special season, and that remains the case,” Malone said, adding, “I told the guys after: ‘We should feel good about this. Life is about celebrating moments.'”
Denver salted away the gritty 114-105 victory Monday night with 3-pointers from Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap as the Nuggets survived a raucous playoff environment.
The win ensured there will be more to come.
Jokic carried the Nuggets with his steady 21-point, 13-rebound, seven-assist night, and six other Nuggets finished in double figures. Millsap logged a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double as Denver (47-22) dominated the Celtics on the boards and moved into a tie with the Golden State Warriors at the top of the Western Conference. The Warriors lost 111-105 at San Antonio.
But Boston didn’t go quietly.
Kyrie Irving, the Celtics’ most devastating scorer, drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the deficit to 106-101 with 1:22 left. He finished with 30 points but was just 10-for-23 from the field.
Soon after, Millsap drained his triple from the top of the arc and drew a foul to ice it.
“I actually ran that play through my mind four plays before that,” Millsap said. “It was great to put a dagger in it.”
The Nuggets turned it over seven times in the third quarter alone and would’ve given the game away were it not for timely 3-point shooting. Monte Morris and Will Barton buried back-to-back 3-pointers to tie it at 75, and Torrey Craig added another one late from the corner. Craig later finished off a baseline dunk with 1.1 seconds left to even it up at 80 going into the fourth.
Though the game punched the Nuggets’ first playoff ticket since 2013, the first half was all about Thomas, who played in his first game back in Boston since the league-altering deal for Irving in 2017.
The TD Garden crowd roared as the Celtics played a riveting two-minute tribute video to Thomas during the first timeout of the game. The video — a splice of his most memorable shots as a Celtic — ended and the cameras immediately panned to an emotional and appreciative Thomas acknowledging the standing crowd.
“That’s love when the city gives back to you after you’ve given your all for a city and a team,” Jamal Murray said. “I was a huge fan when he was here.”
Minutes later, Malone subbed Thomas into the game, to the delight of the Boston faithful. Celtics fans cheered as he dribbled the ball up the floor the first time clad in a gleaming pair of Kelly-green Nikes. Save for two assists, his run was marked by two misses and a turnover.
“It’s never about any individual,” Malone said before the game, while justifying his decision to shorten his rotation. “It’s not just about Isaiah Thomas. It’s about me making decisions based upon what’s best for our team. … He’s a competitor. You guys know who he is.”
Their November meeting ended in mild controversy when Murray, then sitting on 48 points, took a last-second shot to try to surpass 50 with the game already in hand. Irving didn’t appreciate the move and promptly punted the ball into the stands.
While the Celtics could’ve been fixated on Murray’s questionable shot, Malone said it didn’t even cross his players’ minds.
“‘Hey, let’s go out there and worry about Kyrie being (ticked) off,” Malone said sarcastically. “This is a basketball game. We have 14 games to go. When we met yesterday at practice and we met today, no one talked today about that bad blood. … I think the one thing for us is understanding these games are like playoff games. So we have to be ready to match that intensity and the urgency that’s needed.”