With the Cavaliers and Celtics tied in the standings at 51-29, this last-gasp-of-the-season Cs game vs. the long-suffering Nets carried much more importance than it ordinarily would. To the Celtics’ credit, they started off playing like it did and mostly stayed that way. To the Nets’ credit, they played above what their dismal record would suggest. But as a great Wallace once said–not Gerald, you turkeys–ball don’t lie. Boston owned Brooklyn for much of the contest and overcame some sloppy work in the second half to win and keep the 1-seed chase alive.
THE GAME FLOW
It became instantly clear that Brooklyn would have to, as Tommy Heinsohn said on the CSN broadcast, “cut a mosquito in half with a samurai sword” to properly defend Boston. The Celtics initially obliged them–as if grading on a curve–by missing several open jumpers, but couldn’t suck for long because…get this…the Celtics do not, in fact, suck, regardless of what Mike Felger probably said last weekend. Even with Isaiah’s shot being a bit wonky to start, every single starter scored and Jeremy Lin was the Nets’ only living offense. There’s only so much Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert can do if Brook Lopez can’t buy a shot, which he couldn’t.
Boston ended the first quarter with a sizable 28-13 lead, enough for Brad Stevens to give his starters rest despite not formally “resting” them, as a certain northeast Ohio squad was doing in Miami. Despite strong effort on the Nets’ behalf, particularly by the aforementioned Hollis-Jefferson, they couldn’t exceed their limitations, and a Celtics lead of 15 quickly became a lead of 18, vacillating back and forth in the teens during the first four minutes of Q2. They shot only an average-ish 42 percent, but the Nets shot 23 percent during the same span, so it didn’t matter.
Earlier I said Isaiah’s shooting was a bit off, but he also got every shot attempt he wanted–no Net even tried to contest his lane drives. Avery Bradley seemed to be bounding everywhere throughout the painted area and the stat sheet, and both Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk hit big shots off the bench. The Cs went into the halftime break looking at once in control and fast-and-loose, leading 58-40.
(Bingo update: The chances of making any of these rows is currently slim–among other things, Amir Johnson is unlikely to play enough minutes to hit a three and no Nets player except Lin is likely to own the Celtics defense, not with Sean Kilpatrick the god out with a bum hamstring. But play on we shall.)
Bradley started the third off with a serious of smooth shots and also had a tremendous cross-court bounce pass to I.T. for a pull-up three. The Nets, meanwhile, had two Brook Lopez free throws and one of the goofiest desperation layup/scoop shot attempts I’ve seen all year, by Caris LeVert. Because the Cs could’ve played down to their competition and didn’t, looking as looked in as they’ve been in weeks, their lead ballooned above 20 in no time.
Lopez made up for his Q1 brickfest with a scoring run, Hollis-Jefferson did well at the bucket and from range, and Lin showed flashes of his appeal–and none of it mattered. When a 12-0 run in the quarter’s midpoint doesn’t gain you real ground, you’re certifiably FUBAR. Well…mostly. They got out of the 20-point hole in the final third of Q3 and threatened to cut it to single digits off threes from Lin and Hollis-Jefferson. You can’t ever say that this Brooklyn squad doesn’t play hard. (Honestly, they were a sneak League Pass favorite of mine at various points through this season and last.) Yet they didn’t pull above 30 percent shooting until this quarter. Their fate was all but guaranteed.
Crowder finally joined all Celtics starters not named Amir Johnson with two threes in the fourth quarter’s opening minutes. But the Nets, having won Q3, rode decent performances by Justin Hamilton and Hollis-Jefferson and good rebounding overall to reduce their deficit to 9 points with 8 minutes left. I.T., having rested the past 10 minutes, needed to re-enter the game. This was unfortunate.
Boston relied on Brooklyn’s poor moments–missed bunny layups and threes, intercepted passes–to overcome remarkably weak performances leading into the last four minutes. If not for their opponents’ incompetence, the Celtics might well have lost this game solely due to their coasting in this quarter. Seemingly realizing this, our heroes–mostly I.T., but also Horford and clutch rebounding from Jerebko –ratcheted the intensity back up to restore the double-digit lead and secure the W, 114-105.
(Also, CSN reporter Abby Chin’s decision to respond to my tweet and interview Al for the postgame guaranteed a Celtics bingo win. This is my last regular-season recap–seeya in the playoffs.)
Jeremy Lin and the Nets got a handful of charity from the refs, but a lot more legit calls due to sloppy Celtics fouling. Not great, Bob.
Bradley was a big part of tonight’s win. Evidence below:
Despite his shot clanking more than a few times early on, the clip below is fairly indicative of his whole night owning Brooklyn’s defense otherwise:
Isaiah Thomas: 27-4-3, plus a steal. I.T. has now led the Cs in scoring for more consecutive games in a season than any other player in the past 40 years aside from Michael Jordan in 1988. Isaiah has 43 and could get 44–Jordan had 66.
Avery Bradley: An 18-5-2 line that looks less impressive on paper than it was in execution, as many of Bradley’s best hustle plays didn’t fit in the box score.