The Skinny: Boston’s offense looked out of sync early with the team playing without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, who sat out with a sprained right ankle. The Nets meanwhile started the game with an offensive balance that involved all five starters, leading Brooklyn to score on seven consecutive possessions early in the first quarter. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez had a strong connection in the first quarter, with Lopez scoring 10 points and D-Will dishing out five assists.
The Nets’ bench uncharacteristically struggled defensively, allowing the Celtics to tie the game midway through the second quarter, but Brooklyn big men Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche cleaned up on the boards, helping the Nets open a nine-point lead at the break.
Led by 11 third quarter points from Paul Pierce, the Celtics fought back from a 13-point deficit to take their first lead of the game with just under four minutes to play in the third and led by five after three.
Kevin Garnett began heating up in the fourth, but the Nets fought back to tie on a Jerry Stackhouse three-pointer midway through the final quarter. Joe Johnson finally got in on the action with two clutch shots down the stretch, giving the Nets the lead as part of a 13-2 run. The Celtics got to within one, but Williams hit two free throws, while Pierce missed two at the other end. After Johnson hit two free throws, Pierce hit an acrobatic three-pointer to cut the deficit to two. The Nets received a break when Williams made two free throws after a questionable foul call on Leandro Barbosa, and Brooklyn kept hitting at the line, which secured the victory.
High Scorers: Lopez and Williams tied for a game-high 24 points. Lopez was 11-of-14 from the field and also blocked four shots. Williams added eight assists. For the Celtics, Pierce led the way with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
Key Stats: The Nets won the offensive rebounding battle, 18-12. Brooklyn had 15 of these in the first half, which marks the first time since January, 2008 against the Golden State Warriors that the Nets had that many offensive rebounds in a half.
Who Was Hot: Humphries recorded a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Reggie Evans continues to give the Nets great minutes off the bench by pulling down nine rebounds. Garnett scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half. Filling in for Rondo, Barbosa tallied 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Former Net Courtney Lee added 13 points in 33:28 off the bench.
Who Was Not: Johnson scored when it mattered, but he still continues his shooting struggles. He hit on just 6-of-19 from the field but did manage 19 points against his former team. Boston’s Brandon Bass was cold from the floor, shooting 4-of-14 for eight points.
Fun Fact: This was the first time in the past eight meetings between these teams that the Nets scored 100-plus points, dating back to a 104-96 Nets victory on Feb. 27, 2010. Even with the loss, the Celtics have still won 17 of the last 20 games over the Nets.
This game was a huge test for the Nets, and, for the most part, they responded. Even with Rondo out, the Celtics are still a strong offensive team, as shown by their ability to comeback late.
It was an exciting finish, which really riled up the Brooklyn crowd. But the Nets have to end their knack for building up big leads and then letting the other team right back into the game. It’s a lack of killer instinct that’s holding this team back for now.
The Nets have won four games in a row, and the team is also 4-1 in its new arena.
Brooklyn (5-2) will open a three-game west coast road trip starting Sunday at Sleep Train Arena against the Sacramento Kings. The 6 p.m. game will be televised on the YES Network.
Jim Mancari is a Contributor to SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.