BOSTON — Channelling their inner-Rajon Rondo in front of a national television audience, the Boston Celtics put together a strong performance in holding off a pesky Denver team, 106-98.
All the big-time shots, the rebounds, the assists - the stuff that Rondo, still out with a torn right ACL injury, usually does in nationally televised games - was covered by his teammates.
Jordan Crawford continues to do a better-than-expected job of running the team's offense at the point, had 22 points to go with eight assists and four rebounds.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the night was Kris Humphries, who came off the bench to score 18 points which doubled his season-high scoring, along with seven rebounds.
Boston (9-12) also got strong games from Avery Bradley and Jeff Green who had 18 and 15 points, respectively.
The win was Boston's third in a row at home while handing Denver a second straight loss after the Nuggets had previously won seven in a row.
But this victory, like so many for the Celtics this season, did not come easy.
After a dominant first half, the Celtics were on the short end of a 9-0 run to start the third quarter by Denver.
Credit the Nuggets for getting off to a better start than the one they had to start the game.
But the Celtics opened the third quarter settling for jumpers instead of attacking the paint and looking to score around the basket - the things they did in the first half which helped them bolt out to a commanding lead.
After a time-out at the 10:12 mark, they immediately fed the ball into the post to Jared Sullinger.
He didn't score, but it created a scoring opportunity for Crawford, whose shot in the paint pushed Boston's lead back to 13 points.
Boston tried to regroup and establish its low-post supremacy, but the Nuggets kept coming.
Denver made it a one-possession game after a Timofey Mozgov dunk which cut Boston's lead to 76-73.
The Celtics had enough of Denver's score-cutting play and ran off seven straight to push their lead to 83-73, a spurt capped off by a 3-pointer by Avery Bradley with 2:06 to play in the third quarter.
Lost in Boston regaining control of the game was the play of Humphries, whose minutes are likely to be cut - if not wiped out altogether - once Kelly Olynyk (right ankle sprain) returns to the floor sometime next week.
Humphries surpassed his season-high scoring in the third quarter with a lay-up that gave Boston a 78-73 lead at the 3:11 mark.
This game did not have the early makings of a competitive matchup.
Boston head coach Brad Stevens could not have constructed a better start for his club which opened by scoring the game's first 14 points as part of a 39-point first quarter - the team's highest first quarter scoring this season in addition to equalling their best scoring quarter overall (fourth quarter vs Milwaukee, Dec. 3) this season.
The lead peaked at 27 points in the first half, but this is the Celtics who have been known to squander a lead, or two, or three, or ... after an impressive beginning.
True to form, the Nuggets gradually clawed their way back into the game, coming within 14 points in the second quarter on multiple occasions.
However an 8-2 run by the Celtics to end the second pushed their lead up to 64-44 at the half.