Celtics vs. Nuggets takeaways: Nikola Jokic wins Round 2 against Jayson Tatum

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Celtics vs. Nuggets takeaways: Jokic wins Round 2 against Tatum originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The first-place teams in each NBA conference faced off Sunday night as the Boston Celtics visited the Denver Nuggets. It was the Western Conference powerhouse starting 2023 with a victory, 123-111.

Boston struggled offensively to begin its four-game road trip, shooting 46 percent from the floor and just 27.3 percent (9-for-33) from 3-point range. While it had the advantage in rebounds (47-41) and points in the paint (60-46), that still wasn't enough to keep up with a Nuggets team that shot 57 percent from the field and 56.7 percent (17-for-30) from beyond the arc. Denver's effort ended its six-game losing skid against the C's and snapped Boston's four-game win streak in the process.

Celtics Talk POSTGAME POD: Celtics start 2023 with a rough loss, 40-minute delay vs. Nuggets | Listen & Subscribe

The marquee matchup was interrupted by a 40-minute delay in the middle of the fourth quarter. A dunk by C's big man Robert Williams cause the rim to be crooked with 6:43 remaining. The rim was replaced after 35 minutes and it took another five for players to warm up and return to action.

When the game finally came to its conclusion, Celtics stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum finished with 30 and 25 points, respectively. Derrick White was the only other Boston player in double figures with 13 points.

Five Nuggets players tallied double-digits in the scoring column. Nikola Jokic led the group with 30 points while Bruce Brown (21 points), Michael Porter Jr. (17 points), Aaron Gordon (18 points), and Bones Hyland (17 points) made key contributions in Denver's win.

Here are our takeaways from the Celtics' defeat, which brings them to 26-11 on the season. They'll look to bounce back and earn their first victory of the new year when they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.

Nikola Jokic wins Round 2 vs. Jayson Tatum

We last saw Jokic and Tatum -- arguably the top two MVP frontrunners -- go head-to-head in Boston on Nov. 11. The Celtics won that matchup as Tatum led the way with 34 points.

This time, it was Jokic defending his home court.

The two-time MVP notched 20 first-half points, including 14 in the first quarter. He finished with a seemingly effortless triple-double: 30 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds while shooting 10-of-13 from the floor. It was his ninth triple-double of the campaign.

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Tatum had a solid night with 25 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. To put how hot he's been as of late into perspective, that's his lowest scoring total since Dec. 12 against the Los Angeles Clippers (20).

Despite his recent stretch, Tatum was reminded just how difficult it will be to overtake Jokic for the MVP award this season. The dueling MVP chants at Ball Arena perfectly summed up how fun this MVP race will be over these next few months.

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Rough night to be a Celtics point guard

This was not a night to remember for the Boston Celtics backcourt. Derrick White was decent with 13 points (5-9 FG) in 23 minutes, but veterans Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart couldn't find their groove.

Brogdon's recent slump carried into Sunday's game as he had only four points in 20 minutes off the bench. He shot 1-for-6 from the floor and missed all three of his 3-point attempts. Since Dec. 13, Brogdon has averaged 9.4 points per game while shooting a lackluster 36.2 percent from the floor.

Smart dished seven assists but simply couldn't get his shots to fall. He was 1-for-7 in the first half and continued to struggle in the second, ending the game with only four points on 2-of-12 shooting (0-for-4 from 3). Combined, Smart and Brogdon were 3-for-18 including 0-for-7 from long range.

Struggling from distance

The Celtics have been one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA for most of the season. Lately, however, they've struggled mightily from beyond the arc. This marked their sixth game shooting under 30 percent from 3 in their last 10 games. They were 3-for-19 from deep in the first half against Denver and that proved costly as one could argue that 3-point shooting aside, Boston was the better team.

Jaylen Brown was an exception. The 26-year-old drilled four of his eight 3-point attempts and was 12-for-20 altogether. But the Celtics will need a more balanced effort going forward in order to avoid another worrisome road trip.