The Boston Celtics three game winning streak ended Thursday night when they fell to the Brooklyn Nets 102-97 at the Barclays Center. The Celtics were without Rajon Rondo, but got 22 points from Paul Pierce and 17 in a spot start from Leandro Barbosa. On the second night of a back to back Boston floundered early only to storm back in the third quarter, erasing a 13 point deficit to take a slim lead into the fourth. Unfortunately their shooting touch deserted them, allowing the Nets to pull away, and a late Boston rally came up short. Brooklyn was paced by Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, who chipped in 24 points each while Joe Johnson overcame a tough shooting night to total 19. The Celtics saw their three game winning streak snapped, but on the second night of a back to back without their star point guard it was hard to expect anything else.
Turning Point I – Offense Catches Fire
After a fairly flat first half, in which the Celtics were absolutely crushed on the boards, Boston controlled the defensive glass in the second half and used Brooklyn's over aggression against them by pouring in fast break points. Thus the Celtics turned a 13 point early third quarter deficit into a five point lead entering the fourth. Paul Pierce keyed the surge, knocking in 11 of his his 22 points in the frame. Boston looked well positioned to put the game away entering the fourth, but Brooklyn wasn't finished.
Turning Point II – Then Freezes Up
Boston started out the fourth quarter fast thanks to six straight points from Kevin Garnett. Unfortunately the offense went ice cold from then on. Garnett hit a turnaround jump shot over Reggie Evans with 7:57 to go in the game but Boston managed just two points in the next 6:22. The Celtics were actually getting good looks. They just couldn't seem to hit a shot. Brandon Bass in particular had four wide open mid range jumpers – a shot he is normally automatic on. He missed all four. The Nets took advantage of Boston's offensive drought and went on a 13-2 run, turning a five point deficit into a six point lead and putting the Celtics in a very tough spot.
Turning Point III – Cant Save it Late
Despite their offensive ice age the Celtics still had a chance to win this late. Garnett hit a running hook shot to bring them back to within four. Jeff Green then played stellar defense on Joe Johnson, forcing a turnover, and then buried a three from the right wing to bring Boston within one with 58 seconds remaining. Deron Williams was fouled on the ensuing Nets possession and hit two free throws but it was still a one possession game. Then Pierce was fouled by Reggie Evans going to the hoop with the Celtics down three. As the ball stalled on the front rim it looked like the Celtics were going to pull back into a tie thanks to a Pierce three point play, but the ball bounced out. Pierce then missed both free throws and inexplicably fouled Williams on the next possession despite Doc Rivers telling him not to. Having hit so many clutch shots in his career Pierce is entitled to a late game slip up here and there perhaps more than anyone, but his mental errors ended up costing Boston the game. The Nets hit their free throws down the stretch and Boston never got back to one possession again. Pierce wore the responsibility afterwards, putting the loss on his shoulders as a good captain does, but it was still disappointing.
C's Clean Up the Boards
One night after getting crushed on the boards by the Utah Jazz the Celtics were even worse in the first half against Brooklyn. The Nets grabbed 15 offensive rebounds in the first half. It got to the point where it was almost comical. The Nets actually weren't shooting the ball well but it didn't matter. All they had to do was toss it at the rim because there was no way a Celtics was actually going to box out. However in the second half the C's turned things around. They limited Brooklyn to only three offensive boards and closed the rebounding gap to 44-47. There was actual video evidence of Celtics boxing out. Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox both performed excellent clear outs of Lopez and Evans in the third quarter. The Celtics guards also helped out. Courtney Lee was particularly noticeable, coming back to the boards repeatedly and ended up leading the team with nine boards off the bench. It was certainly refreshing to see the Celtics improve an area that has killed them repeatedly, however if they could have done that all game they would have won by double digits.
Depth Chart – Wilcox and Lee Show Up
One night after Barbosa and Green came off the pine and took over Lee and Wilcox enjoyed big nights off the bench for Boston against Brooklyn. Lee, playing against his old team, looked more comfortable and aggressive than at any time during the previous eight games. He was getting to the rim, burying jumpers and was all over the boards on both ends. In fact he was playing so well, and was doing such a nice job guarding Deron Williams, that Rivers stuck with Lee late into the fourth quarter before eventually going back to Jason Terry with the Celtics offense sputtering. Wilcox meanwhile continues to do all the little things well. If you look at his box score it's nothing special – six points, three rebounds, and two blocks. But if you look further you will see that he finished a team best +16 in a game that the Celtics lost by five. After not playing much early in the year Wilcox has become Boston's first big off the bench, replacing Kevin Garnett around the five minute mark of the first quarter every night, and has repeatedly given them a shot in the arm.
What It Means
This game would have meant a lot more if the Celtics had won. Playing at home, against a Rondo-less Celtics team on the second night of a back to back, this was a game the Nets could not lose. Despite being without their star point guard the C's hung in there and had the game there for the taking. They just kind of fumbled it. It's a good win for Brooklyn but for Boston it's just a minor disappointment. They were on the second night of a back to back after all. One has to think that if Rondo had been out there he would have pulled them through it.
The Celtics look to start a new winning streak when the Toronto Raptors come to town for a matinee on Saturday, with tip-off set for 12:30 from the TD Garden.
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