DENVER | Brad Stevens could sense the game slipping away. He could feel the rim-rattling dunks and the transition buckets coming.
Instead of Boston bowing to the NBA’s hottest team, though, the Celtics used an epic 31-3 run to halt the Denver Nuggets’ eight-game winning streak with a stunning 105-87 win on Sunday.
“We just needed something to get us going,” Stevens said after his Celtics won for the fifth time in six games. “You know, I thought we were close to going the other way there when it was 76-62.”
Jayson Tatum (illness) and Jaylen Brown (knee) fueled the comeback despite being listed as questionable before tip-off.
Tatum finished with 28 points two days after a career-best 53-point performance against Minnesota, and Brown had 20.
The Nuggets looked well on their way to their ninth straight win when they took a 79-65 lead late in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Facundo Campazzo.
That’s when Brown got hot and Kemba Walker had a rim-rattling dunk that energized the Celtics, who scored the last nine points of the quarter.
The Celtics then scored the first six of the fourth quarter to grab their first lead of the game with 10:32 remaining on Romeo Langford’s free throw.
“I think we just picked up the intensity,” Tatum said. “I think we communicated a lot better. We started switching a little bit more. I think that helped us out, too.
“That was big. Because we could have let it get away from us.”
The Nuggets, who had won 17 of 20, never recovered as the Celtics outscored Denver 31-8 in the fourth quarter, closing out the game with 40-8 overall run. It was a complete reversal from Boston’s 16-point first quarter, when the Celtics made just six of 25 shots.
Michael Porter Jr. led Denver with 20 points despite missing 11 of 12 from beyond the arc. He hurt his right hand but said it had nothing to do with his poor shooting.
“I tweaked it, but it’s nothing serious,” Porter said.
Nikola Jokic had 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds after dropping 43 on the Celtics earlier this season. But he was held to one bucket in the first half and drew a technical that helped keep the Celtics close.
“He gets frustrated with the referees,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But that can never take away from your duties as a basketball player.”
The Nuggets lost for the first time since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline, a move that made them a legitimate title contender.
This was just their fourth loss in 21 games since Feb. 27 and their first since Feb. 24 at Toronto.
Tatum hesitated to call this the turnaround so many Celtics fans have been waiting for during a frustratingly inconsistent season.
“It’s certainly going in the right direction,” he said. “We still have some things to improve on, but hopefully we can just continue to build off this.”
Celtics: Were 1-for-9 on 3-point tries in the first quarter, when they shot 6 for 25 from the floor. … Evan Fournier, who’s in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, didn’t make the trip.
Nuggets: Jamal Murray missed his fourth consecutive game with a sore right knee. … During a second-quarter sequence, JaMychal Green rebounded his own errant 3-pointer, missed the finger-roll, grabbed the board again and watched Robert Williams III block his layup.
Celtics: Visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.
Nuggets: At Golden State on Monday night.