Lopez was phenomenal, scoring a season-high 30 points with 13 rebounds. The Celtics double-teamed him throughout the second half, with his kick out passes invariably resulting in good looks for his teammates. With Stevens experimenting with different defensive schemes after Avery Bradley went down for the day with a hamstring injury, the Celtics never found a strategy that worked for more than a few minutes.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens opened up about the team's struggles against the league's worst teams after the loss Saturday.
"Well I said after the Knicks game, I thought we had a lot of holes, especially offensively at the time," Stevens said. "I feel like we've just been really passive, to be candid.
"I've got to reassess things, I've got to do a better job, I've got to hold guys accountable at a better level. We're not playing as well as we think we are, so we've got to be better."
The Celtics came roaring back to open the fourth quarter, going on a 12-2 run to tie the game. But with Stevens using an ubersmall lineup with Jonas Jerebko and Jae Crowder as the bigs against Brook Lopez, the game slowed down and the Nets chipped away.
Execution was scarce, as the plays that the Celtics usually run to success ended with missed threes and poor fadeaway opportunities. It wasn't until the late fourth quarter that the Celtics got on another run.
There was a sudden spark, as Amir Johnson checked in and Isaiah Thomas, of all people, took over defensively. Marcus Smart got back to his role as defensive catalyst in the fourth quarter and suddenly the Celtics were running laps past Brooklyn. Isaiah Thomas was pick pocketing ball handlers being trapped by Jae Crowder.
But the Nets were eventually able to break the Celtics’ full court press. With 26 seconds left and the Celtics down three, the Nets swung the ball around until Brook Lopez was open under the hoop. As he threw it down, the Celtics chances began to fade.
"They smashed us in the paint," Stevens said. "It’s really the second straight game when you think about Julius Randle just putting us in the basket, and obviously Brandon (Bass) had a couple of those physical dunks, like. We just have to play more physical. That’s a given. It’s what it is."
After a circus of Marcus Smart steals and saves to give the Celtics one last chance to tie it, Jonas Jerebko short armed a wide open corner three with two seconds left. Marcus Smart flung the save to Jae Crowder 30-feet out, who couldn’t get a shot off in time.
The Celtics head down to Brooklyn for a Monday grudge match to attempt to tie up the season series.