BOSTON | Jaylen Brown had 27 points and eight assists to help the Boston Celtics withstand a 43-point night from Nikola Jokic and beat the Denver Nuggets 112-99 on Tuesday.
Jayson Tatum added 21 points and eight assists as Boston bounced back following two anemic performances in back-to-back losses to Detroit and Washington — the Eastern Conference’s bottom two teams.
“We just lost two bad ones. I think it was obvious we needed a win tonight,” Brown said. “We needed to come out with some energy. And for the most part we did.”
It was Jokic’s third 40-point game of the season. Jamal Murray added 25 points but Denver had its three-game winning streak snapped.
The Celtics led by as many as 15 in the first half and took an 11-point edge into the fourth quarter. Denver briefly got within seven points, but couldn’t string together a run down the stretch.
“I think the energy was there. We just need to be a little bit smarter maybe,” Jokic said.
The Nuggets were extremely short-handed playing without five rotation players, including Paul Millsap (left knee sprain) and Monte Morris (right shoulder strain).
It left Jokic to pick up the offensive load and he did his best, scoring 15 of the Nuggets’ first 18 points.
Injuries aside, Denver coach Michael Malone thinks his star needs more support.
“Every night he goes out there and really puts the team on his back,” Malone said. “It can’t be just one guy in this league. Other guys got to step up and contribute.”
Jokic’s night couldn’t offset the energy by the Celtics, who were active defensively and were able to turn 17 Nuggets turnovers into 23 points. Murray had a team-high nine turnovers.
“Little details that hurt us a little bit,” Murray said. “I put this game on me. I don’t think I’ve ever had nine turnovers.”
Meanwhile, Boston shared the ball well, amassing 26 assists.
“We rewarded guys for running more than we have in the last few weeks. We rewarded guys from cutting more than we have in the last few weeks,” coach Brad Stevens said.
That was particularly noticeable by the Celtics’ bench, which provided a huge jolt in outscoring Denver’s reserves 30-14.
Rookie Aaron Nesmith had some of his best minutes of the season, finishing with nine points, four rebounds and a block. He also helped keep several possessions alive, in one instance in the fourth quarter by diving to save a ball near the sideline. The effort led to three-point play on the Celtics’ next possession by rookie Payton Pritchard.
“I think it was momentum changer,” Nesmith said. “Plays like that always get the team hype. … We kind of took that and ran with it.”
Pritchard and Robert Williams were also active with eight points each.
Nuggets: Malone was whistled for a technical foul in the first quarter. … P.J. Dozier (strained right hamstring), Garry Harris (muscle strain) and Will Barton III (personal reasons) all sat.
Celtics: Daniel Theis sat with a sprained right index finger, along with Marcus Smart (left calf tear) and Romeo Langford (right wrist surgery rehab).
Tatum acknowledged after the team’s morning shootaround that he has been dealing with lingering effects from his COVID-19 diagnosis last month that sidelined him for two weeks.
He said he’s had some respiratory issues that have caused him to tire more quickly at times since his return to action on Jan. 25. The 23 minutes he played in Boston’s loss to Washington tied a season low. He’s also struggled with his shot during Boston’s recent skid, shooting a season-worst 21% (3 of 14) against the Wizards.
Tatum played 33 minutes Tuesday, which is closer to his season average of 35 minutes.
Nuggets: At Wizards on Wednesday.
Celtics: Host Hawks on Wednesday