The Celtics shut down the Nets in the second half to secure a 109-98 victory
The Celtics and the Nets entered an important tiebreaker game trying to gently reinvent themselves with Jaylen Brown and Kevin Durant dealing with short- and long-term injuries. The Celtics’ approach wouldn’t change much, just involve deeper rotations on Payton Pritchard and small-ball lineups. Jacque Vaughn envisioned deeper changes for his Nets, altering their defensive scheme and putting Ben Simmons at point guard.
Boston’s spacing and passing persevered, and the Celtics cruised to a stunning 109-98 win over a team that drained the paint, forced tough reads and obliterated Boston with transition runouts. The Celtics toughened up after the break and held Brooklyn to 38 percent shooting through the buzzer, including a 9-for-24 night from Kyrie Irving.
Brooklyn saw the early returns come out with a 19-14 lead over the Celtics on Thursday. Simmons played in the backcourt defensively away from Robert Williams III and Luke Kornet while Al Horford sat. He tipped a first-down pass attempt from Marcus Smart and forced an awkward layoff from Williams III with a blank stare. Derrick White, Kornet and Williams III scored all of the Celtics’ points midway through the quarter as Brooklyn’s size drained the paint.
Smart and Tatum still managed to generate multiples without taking their own shots to keep the game close. Smart dished out eight assists in the first half, hitting a three on Kornet and leading Grant Williams down the stretch for a pair of baskets to keep the pace of a Nets offense. Grant left the court on fire after Tatum’s three tied the game at 23, Joe Mazzulla calmed him down as the Celtics stayed calm anticipating several Nets runs. They also had to avoid complaining after several tough calls frustrated them.
Simmons opened the net ground game and found Yuta Watanabe running for two points and faked a set before making a quick pass to Joe Harris for three. Brooklyn led, 31-29, in the second quarter, where Boston’s bench needed to survive without Tatum.
Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard checked in with Malcolm Brogdon to run a small ball and they held the line, trailing by two points after an 8-0 run by Derrick White, Hauser and Pritchard after the Celtics a series of passes to find it. three in the corner Tatum went back in front of Simmons, who blocked him from getting to the basket after finding a switch on Seth Curry. Simmons blocked Brogdon, who actually attempted a layup and sent Warren on the run for a transition bucket for a 50-44 lead.
However, the Celtics kept Irving in check, who pressed for his shot despite Vaughn not wanting to add more to his plate than usual. Warren lightened the load with 20 points but stopped the ball, while Simmons kept it moving but didn’t score in 26 minutes. Tatum, who struggled to shoot, ended the first half by catching a full-court bounce pass from Smart, pulling up for two on Watanabe and forcing a three-point foul on Warren just before the buzzer. The Celtics took a 60-57 lead into the half.
Smart kept the ball bouncing around half court to maintain a narrow lead in the second half. Tatum caught and finished a three, while another White mark was canceled, but Smart’s activity drew an emphatic high-five from the Boston star. He chased offensive rebounds, but the Nets took advantage of this new layer to the Celtics’ offense by finding Claxton and Harris for transition buckets to take a lead midway through the third. Watanabe and Irving hit threes, while Claxton floated into the lane to block Tatum after he beat Watanabe off the dribble.
However, the bench got another boost between quarters. Brogdon scored five straight points on jump shots to restore Boston’s lead. Grant made four straight free throws and blocked an Irving jumper. Smart, helping Pritchard to the baseline guarded by Warren, forced a layup and Pritchard raced in for a layup before the Celtics escaped another quarter with a lead.
Brogdon and Pritchard extended that lead to eight early in the fourth, Brogdon a pair of layups and Pritchard cutting off dribbles in the lane and pulling up a two that sent the Celtics bench to half court in timeout. Simmons, rolling in a lane to Irving’s rim, tipped a pass from Claxton before missing another layup on the next possession to make it 0-3. Smart found Kornet in an alley-oop for a reverse that pushed Boston’s lead to double digits, and Tatum extended it to 13 with an end-and-one through Tatum. Williams finished with 29 minutes, stretching to another landmark on his return to close out the game.
The Celtics now move to Charlotte for a two-game mini-series where they will likely be without Brown.
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