DENVER Get beat by a team that makes a ton of shots. Get beat by a team that simply did a better job at executing.
But to get beat by a team that simply played harder, is a tough pill to swallow.
The Boston Celtics have no choice but to choke on that one, as the Denver Nuggets hung on for a 98-91 win.
"We just got out-worked tonight," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "It was nothing about game planning or Xs and Os. It was just they out-worked us. I hate for it to even come out my mouth. For me to come in here and say that, what happened tonight, it hurts me to say that."
Seeing how well the Celtics played in the second half, and woeful in the first, stings pretty bad as well.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers looks back at the team's win at Golden State, as being the precipitant of the team's struggles lately that have produced back-to-back losses. "We relaxed against Golden State, and we won the game," Rivers said. "And then we thought we could come out and do it again against Sacramento, and we got our butt kicked."
Much of the same was on display in the first half as Boston showed very few signs of being the aggressor that we've seen of late from them, especially defensively.
Effort was certainly one of the keys in the loss. But there were other factors at play, some of which were highlighted prior to the game. Here's a look at how those potential factors actually played out as the C's dropped their second in a row while the Nuggets (25-20) are in the midst of a nine-game home stand.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Boston has a tendency to ease their way into games, which can't happen tonight. While the Nuggets rank among the NBA's top 10 in points scored in the first quarter (25.4), they give up a ton of early points as well. Teams are averaging 26.1 points against Denver in the first quarter of games which ranks 28th in the NBA.
WHAT WE SAW: Denver and its high-powered offense didn't waste much time getting the Celtics to play their brand of basketball. They shot a higher percentage and crushed the C's on the boards which both factored in the Nuggets leading 29-22 after the first quarter.
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Paul Pierce vs. Kenneith Faried: Pierce should win this battle rather convincingly, but the C's have to be on guard for not looking for Pierce too much so that it disrupts the flow offensively and leads to what Doc Rivers refers to at times, as the "ball sticking" on one side of the floor or in the hands of one particular player. Faried is a high-energy guy who seems to continue to get better with more experience. The 22-year-old rookie has started 17 games this season after not playing (coaches decision) in a number of games in January.
WHAT WE SAW: Pierce usually struggles in the Mile High City, but had a respectable game shooting the ball (22 points, 8-for-17 from the field) despite being in foul trouble down the stretch and eventually fouling out. As for Faried, his energy and just flat-out hustle was too much for most of the night for Boston to handle. He finished with 18 points and a career-high 16 rebounds which included a rebound in the fourth in which Pierce picked up his sixth and final foul of the night.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Anytime the Celtics have a back-to-back situation and minutes become a concern, you always have to wonder how will it impact Kevin Garnett. However, because of the lopsided loss at Sacramento on Friday night, Garnett should not be too fatigued considering he was the only starter to play less than 30 minutes in the loss.
WHAT WE SAW: Garnett showed no signs of fatigue, finishing with 22 points nine rebounds and five assists. Although disappointed with the loss, Garnett reached yet another milestone. He is the only player in NBA history with more than 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists and 1,500 steals. "To be honest, I'm not a stat guy," Garnett said. "But anytime you make accomplishments in the league, milestones, you gotta be grateful." For his career, Garnett has 23,945 points, 13,157 rebounds, 5,004 assists and 1,648 steals.
STAT TO TRACK: With lots of points come lots of mistakes by Denver. The Nuggets average 15.6 turnovers per game which ranks 27th in the NBA. Ironically, the Celtics average 15.6 forced turnovers per game which ranks sixth in the NBA. But a normal night in terms of forced turnovers by Boston, probably won't be enough for the win. The C's need to have another one of those nights in which they force 20 or so turnovers which should then lead to a few easy baskets in transition.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston forced the Nuggets into turning the ball over 22 times which led to 20 points scored. But that could not mask how poorly Boston's defense played in the first half, which set the tone for the C's to be outscored 48-40 on points in the paint, 20-4 on second-chance points and 21-6 in fast-break points - the kind of trifecta that put the Celtics in a hole that they could never fully dig their way out of all game.