There is no way to sugarcoat the Celtics’ poor performance against the Nets Friday night. They were outplayed in every single aspect of the game and took their foot off the gas after being up 28 points with 7:23 to go in the second quarter.
Not only did the Celtics allow the Nets to completely erase the lead, but Brooklyn was able to build up a comfortable 16-point lead of its own by the middle of the fourth quarter and cruise to a 115-105 win over Boston.
From 7:11 left in the second to 6:54 left in the fourth, the Nets outscored the Celtics 83-39. The Celtics were outshot, out-rebounded, and had more turnovers.
Every Brooklyn starter other than Nic Claxton had 17 or more points. Mikal Bridges was the leading scorer, dominating the Celtics with 38 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Ever since joining the Nets, Bridges has been a sensation to watch, going from averaging 17.2 points per game with the Suns to 25.3 points per game with the Nets through eight games.
Cameron Johnson was second in line with 20 points, five rebounds and three assists. Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith each had a respectable 17 points.
Boston, on the other hand, had only four players score more than six points -- Jaylen Brown with 35, Jayson Tatum with 22, Derrick White with 16, and Marcus Smart with 13. Al Horford was completely underutilized, scoring six points, which came from shooting two threes. It doesn’t make sense as to why the Celtics wouldn’t try to feed Horford the ball or get him more involved when he was 2-of-2 from behind the arc and is shooting 44 percent from three this season.
The Celtics also lost Robert Williams to left hamstring tightness during the game, adding injury to insult.
When discussing the blown lead, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said, “That was the first time we couldn’t get it back. I thought throughout the year, we’ve done a good job maintaining our composure and our poise for the majority of the season. I think in moments like that, when the other team starts to play well and changes their mindset, you just have to adjust to your environment. It’s hard.
“More importantly than that, they beat us in every analytical category possible. If we don’t commit to the margins, no matter how hard we play, we’re not gonna win. They got more threes up. They got more shots up. They got more free throws. They got more offensive rebounds. And they turned it over less. You can play as hard as you want, you’re not gonna win with that. … Every team has gone through it. But the area of growth is making sure it doesn’t happen again.”
As for why the Nets were such a problem for the Celtics on the defensive side, Mazzulla said, “They went to their switching defense. We got a little stagnant on the offensive end. Turned the ball over. … When you give teams the light of day at the ends of quarters, the ends of halves, it’s going to be a close game.”
It’s interesting to consider that the Celtics beat a Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving-led Nets team 10 times in a row and even swept them in the playoffs last season. Now, with those two stars gone, the Nets finally break that losing streak and beat the Celtics at TD Garden. It’s an embarrassing loss for the Celtics, but could be a wakeup call to realize that they need to remain hungry no matter what the situation is, or who they’re facing.