The Celtics improved to 9-0 at home this season by rolling to a 108-95 win over the Nuggets at TD Garden on Friday night.
Jayson Tatum had 26 points and Jaylen Brown added 21 for Boston, which avenged a 4-point loss in Denver last month in the game that Kemba Walker was rolled off the court on a stretcher after suffering a neck injury.
Observations from the game:
■ Denver entered the night with the NBA’s top-ranked defense. The Celtics made 53.7 percent of their shots, led by as many as 23 points, and never trailed.
■ Marcus Smart returned after missing a game with an illness and a bruised oblique. It’s silly to think Smart will take it easy after returning from an injury, and he certainly didn’t. He forced a steal just 30 seconds into the game, and ended up on the floor after tapping an offensive rebound out about a minute later.
■ Brown’s scorching 3-point shooting rolled into the first half of this game, as he drilled three of his first four attempts from long range. He’s now hovering around 40 percent for the season, which is more in line with his promising second year than when he made 34.4 percent of his tries last year. After his third consecutive three, he looked at the Boston bench and put his palms in the air as if even he couldn’t quite believe it.
■ Speaking of 3-pointers, Daniel Theis hit his only attempt in the first half. Theis made nearly 40 percent of his tries last year, and was expected to shoot them more regularly this year after the departures of floor-spacing big men Al Horford and Aron Baynes. But, entering Friday, he had made just 2 of 14 all year. Maybe there’s a hot streak coming.
■ The Celtics were getting overpowered in the paint in the first quarter, and that’s probably why coach Brad Stevens turned to Enes Kanter and Semi Ojeleye as his first two subs. Denver had 13 second-chance points in the first quarter, but just 2 in the second.
■ It also helped that Nikola Jokic took a seat to make life easier for the Celtics. Denver’s center had 10 points and five rebounds before committing a silly foul near midcourt — his second — with 4:15 left, sending him to the bench. The Celtics stretched their lead from 4 points to 12 while he was out.
■ Kanter did not play in the second half of the Celtics’ win over Miami on Wednesday, and Stevens said there will be situations like that as this year unfolds. But Kanter bounced back with a promising first half on Friday. He was 3 for 3 from the field, 2 for 2 from the foul line, and he had 8 points and 2 rebounds.
■ Tatum made just one shot in the opening quarter before finding a rhythm at the start of the second. He hit an elbow jumper and then added a 3-pointer before a scattered possession ended with him launching a heavily contested 3 just before the shot clock went off. It went in.
■ Ojeleye had one excellent defensive sequence against Paul Millsap with just under three minutes left in the first half. He held his ground as Millsap tried to overpower him, then stuck with him on a spin move, and smothered a midrange attempt, as Millsap landed with the ball and was called for a travel.
■ Early in the third quarter, Walker was called for a foul as he swiped away a Jokic shot in the paint. Walker immediately sprinted to the bench and told them that it was a clean play, and that they should challenge it. Stevens didn’t hesitate as he instantly followed his point guard’s suggestion, and Boston won the challenge.
■ The Celtics started to blow this game open when they unfurled a 13-0 run at the end of the third quarter, and two highlight plays stood out and got this Friday night crowd juiced. First, as Boston broke free on a fast break, Tatum fed Brown streaking through the lane, and the forward all but levitated on Denver’s Malik Beasley and threw in a one-handed slam. Then, with time winding down in the third, Tatum hit a crushing stepback 3 that sent Boston to the fourth with an 85-64 lead.
■ The All-Star teams will be determined in about six weeks, and at this point it’s safe to say that Brown and Tatum have both done enough to be in the conversation.
■ Tatum’s drawn some praise for his passing this year, and in addition to his pretty feed to Brown, he led Javonte Green with another perfect bounce pass that led to a dunk. Tatum had five assists.
■ The Nuggets, who played in New York on Thursday while the Celtics rested, made just 1 of 15 3-pointers in the first half.
■ The Celtics were trying to get Grant Williams his first 3-pointer of the year late in the game, but he couldn’t quite do it. The rookie missed all three of his tries and is now 0 for 25 from beyond the arc this season.
■ Rob Gronkowski was sitting courtside. Felt like a good opportunity for someone to start a “one more year” chant, but it never happened.