NBA Basketball

Jokic returns to help Nuggets defeat Celtics

(TSX / STATS) -- DENVER -- Nikola Jokic wasn't feeling 100 percent Friday, but he still managed to put up a near triple-double in a big win for the Denver Nuggets.

Jokic had 21 points and 10 rebounds in his return to the lineup, Wilson Chandler scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and Denver Nuggets beat the Boston Celtics 119-99 on Friday night.

Jokic missed two games with the flu but looked fresh against Boston, finishing three assists shy of his fifth triple-double. Danilo Gallinari scored 20 after missing Wednesday's game with vertigo to help the Nuggets bounce back from a disappointing loss to Washington.

"We had Jok and Gallo back and that makes a big difference," Chandler said. "Jok can do everything and Gallo's a great scorer, so we need both of those guys."

The Nuggets hold a slim lead for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. Portland has won four straight and now trails Denver (30-35) by just a game with 17 left. The Trail Blazers have 19 games remaining.

Isaiah Thomas scored 21 points and Avery Bradley had 16 for Boston (41-25), which couldn't build on its win over Golden State on Wednesday.

"It is disappointing," Bradley said. "You get up and play hard for that game and lay an egg this game. It doesn't make sense, but it happened and all we can do is move forward and get ready for the next game on Sunday."

The Celtics head home after a 2-3 road trip that tightened the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Washington, which played a late game in Sacramento, came into Friday a game behind Boston but tied in the loss column.

Boston allowed 92 points by the start of the fourth quarter two nights after holding the Warriors, the highest-scoring team in the league, to a season-low 86 points. The Nuggets shot 52.9 percent from the field and answered every Celtics charge.

"We were slow to loose balls and we gave up a ton of rebounds," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "Those are the type of things that you have to do to get back in it or to stay in it from the get-go."

Jokic showed no ill effects from the flu that took his energy away for a few days. He said he started feeling it come on after Saturday's game against Charlotte and by Monday he was in bad shape.

"I was freezing, I had something in my chest, I couldn't lift my head," he said. "My body was weak. It was not good."

He was good Friday, notching 18 points and 10 rebounds in his first 22 minutes, and Denver needed every bit of it. Twice Boston got the deficit to eight in the third quarter, but Denver quickly got it back to 15 points.

Jaylen Brown's three-point play early in the fourth quarter got the Celtics within 96-87, but Will Barton and Gallinari hit 3-pointers to make it 102-87.

"We knew they were going to try to make a run so we had to be locked in and ready to play," Nuggets guard Gary Harris said.

Once they built the lead back up, the defense took over. Boston shot just 35.7 percent from the floor in the fourth quarter and Harris helped shut down Thomas, who has led plenty of fourth-quarter comebacks this season.

"You know he's going to score his points, you just have to try to make it as difficult as possible for him," Harris said of his defense on Thomas. "The bigs did a great job being on the pick-and-rolls and limit his fourth-quarter scoring."

The Nuggets led by as many as 20 in the first half and were up 11 at intermission.

NOTES: Nuggets F Kenneth Faried sat out for the seventh straight game with spasms in his lower back. There has been no timetable for his return. ... Celtics F James Young (sore low back) missed his second straight game. ... Washington F Markieff Morris was fined $25,000 by the league for his kick to Mason Plumlee's groin late in the Wizards' win on Wednesday. ... Nuggets G Emmanuel Mudiay, who had 24 points in the first quarter of Denver's win in Boston on Nov. 6, was dressed but didn't play Friday.

Updated March 11, 2017

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