Nuggets coach reveals chess move he deployed against Jayson Tatum in win over Boston Celtics

Denver Nuggets v Boston Celtics
Denver Nuggets v Boston Celtics / Winslow Townson/GettyImages

Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone made sure to do everything he could to stop Jayson Tatum in what turned out to be a 122-120 win over the Boston Celtics on January 19 -- which meant sticking Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on No. 0 to the point that his minutes directly mirrored Tatum's.

“We tried to match Pope’s minutes with him,” Malone said (h/t The Denver Post). “In the first half, they took (Tatum) out around the seven-minute mark. I kept Pope in the game. So now (Tatum) was going against some of the guys on our bench. I think Jayson Tatum is a first-team All-NBA caliber player, so in the second half, we talked about it at halftime. Let’s try to monitor and mirror Tatum’s minutes with KCP. He’s our best matchup on him.”

Malone adjusted his game plan to match the intensity of a playoff game, suggested The Denver Post's Bennett Durando. Aaron Gordon soaked up the Nikola Jokic-less minutes and just seven Nuggets played double-digit minutes.

"It wasn’t supposed to be a playoff simulation," Durando prefaced before saying, "DeAndre Jordan was supposed to play backup center. Minutes and rotations were supposed to be standard protocol. It was a regular-season game. The 43rd regular-season game.

"But when Michael Malone acts on sheer competitive instinct, the Nuggets coach can become a daring gambler. Or maybe just a madman."

Boston Celtics lose to Nuggets behind MVP effort from Nikola Jokic

Following the loss, Kristaps Porzingis showered praise on Jokic; calling the Serbian center the best player in the world after he amassed 34 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists in the C's first home loss of the 2023-24 season.

As the postseason nears, the Cs must figure out how to get MVP performances from any of their stars while maintaining the balanced attack that has led to Boston holding the best record in the league at the campaign's halfway mark.

It won't be easy, but without a player who can will the team to win singlehandedly, the different leaders across the league will figure out how to beat a team that's too reluctant to defer to a hot hand. They arguably did that against Denver after Porzingis finished with 21 points, but with 19 of them being in the first half.