Celtics fall to Nuggets 97-90, as the season's second half tips off

T-40 hours until the NBA's trade deadline, and in case you haven't noticed - there are a few Celtics related rumors floating around. And by a few, I mean a million (CelticsLife has all the latest trade buzz for you right here). However, the games do not end while GM's across the league ponder their team's future, and for the Celtics, their Rondo-less journey continued tonight in Denver, as they fell to the Nuggets 97-90. The Celtics were led by Jeff Green's 20 points off the bench, and Avery Bradley's season high 17 points. Denver was paced by Ty Lawson's 26-6-6 night, and Danilo Gallinari's 26-5-5 line.

While the Celtics had played some good competition since losing Rajon Rondo for the season, all of their impressive wins had come at home. Miami, Denver the first time, the Clippers, Chicago, and the Lakers (or what's left of them) all had come in Boston. The only two road games during the 8-1 stretch? A 99-95 win against a below average Toronto team, and a 94-91 loss against a terrible Charlotte team. That's it. So this was a definite litmus test for the new look Celtics as they finally took the road against quality competition.

The 1st quarter was all about Bradley, as the third year guard exploded for 12 quick points on 5-8 shooting. Considering Bradley had only scored 12+ points in 4 of his 21 games played this season entering this one, it was a pleasant surprise for all involved. The C's were also propelled by Brandon Bass' sudden urge to rebound, as the Celtics much maligned power forward grabbed seven boards in the first 12 minutes. Defensively, the Celts had no answer for Gallinari, who scored 9 points in the 1st, but besides that they basically shut the Nuggets down, holding them to just 21 points. 22-21 Celtics after 1.

As the first half continued, I thought back to the last time we saw the Celtics, in their horrendously ugly, 71-69 win against the Bulls. Everything that the Chicago game lacked (at least until the 4th quarter), this game had. There was great rhythm, as both teams really moved the ball to the open man, instead of falling into isolation heavy offenses. Combined the two teams shot 49% from the field, and had 24 assists compared to just 10 turnovers. It was fun basketball. Courtney Lee and Lawson paced their respective teams in the 2nd quarter, but the end result was the same as Quarter #1, as the Celtics took a one point lead into the break.

The game remained even until halfway through the 3rd quarter, when the Nuggets speed and athleticism finally caught up with the Celtics. Denver closed the 3rd on a 13-5 run, sprinting by the C's for easy lay-ups and transition points. It would have been a 13-0 run if not for the efforts of Nuggets C JaVale McGee, who goal-tended on both a Jason Terry lay-in, and a Green three pointer, helping the Celts stay within striking distance heading into the 4th quarter (78-70 Nuggets after 3).

Led by Green, the Celts made a 4th quarter run, even tying the game at 84 with five and a half minutes remaining. But the Nuggets proved to be too much on this night, as Ty Lawson again shredded the Celtics defense. After going for 27 in the Nuggets triple overtime loss in Boston last week, Lawson finishes the season series with Boston with 53 points. Not bad.

As for the Celtics, it's a tough loss to swallow considering that they played pretty well, but they'll need to get over it quickly as they tip off with the Lakers in less than 24 hours. Boston is now 28-25, and in 7th place in the Eastern Conference.

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