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Celtics overcome flat offensive effort, use strong defense to push past Nets

Steve Hewitt, Boston Herald on

Published in Basketball

Friday night’s overtime loss to the Heat taught the Celtics that for as historic as their offensive is, they’re going to inevitably have off nights. And on those nights, they have to figure out a way to win.

Two nights later, they put that lesson to good use.

On Sunday night, the Celtics were not sharp, and at times played ugly basketball. Jayson Tatum had a career-high nine turnovers. The C’s scored just 13 points in the third quarter. Without their starting point guard Marcus Smart, the offense couldn’t find a rhythm. But behind defense, their calling card from a season ago, the Celtics persevered and pulled away late for a 103-92 win over the Nets to start their six-game road trip.

Jaylen Brown scored 34 points after a hot start, and Tatum had 29 points despite a slow start while Kevin Durant scored 31 for the Nets but couldn’t get anyone else involved. Kyrie Irving scored 18 points on 7-for-21 shooting as the Celtics produced one of their strongest defensive efforts of the season. Brooklyn’s 92 points were the fewest the C’s have allowed this season.

Joe Mazzulla told reporters in Brooklyn on Sunday that defensive centerpiece Rob Williams is “pretty close” to returning and then the Celtics took an encouraging step defensively without him. They were active all night on that end as they posted nine blocks, including four from Brown, and 11 steals, including four from Tatum, as the Celtics did the little things to overcome an offensive effort that was far below standard.

The C’s built a 12-point halftime lead and scored just 13 points in the third period but still maintained a six-point advantage going into the fourth. They let the Nets hang around. The C’s led 78-76 with 7:22 remaining but finished strong. Al Horford hit a 3, then defense from Horford and Brown forced a turnover on Durant before Brown finished a breakaway dunk.

 

The Celtics never looked threatened from there as they went on a 23-9 run to seal the game.

– Brown was aggressive from the opening tip as he scored 20 points and went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the first quarter, the latter matching a franchise record. With Tatum starting slow for a second consecutive game, Brown’s start was crucial as the C’s built an early lead.

Tatum eventually got it going as he scored 11 points over the final five minutes of the first half, and he closed the game with seven consecutive points, capped by a triple with 1:43 to go that put the C’s up 16 despite an overall lackluster effort.

– Smart missed Sunday’s game with a left hip contusion and while the offense wasn’t sharp without him, the Celtics’ deep backcourt still impacted the win. Derrick White made just one shot but played his typically strong defense, Malcolm Brogdon was a force off the bench with 13 points and seven assists, and Payton Pritchard provided a spark with six points in 16 minutes.

– Mazzulla has developed somewhat of a reputation of not calling timeouts – something he’s even joked about – but it continues to work. The Celtics were in an early 11-2 hole to start the game, but Mazzulla refused to call timeout and let his players work through their issues. They responded with a 14-0 run, capped by back-to-back triples from Brown, which instead forced Nets coach Jacque Vaughn to call timeout.

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