Brooklyn’s version of pace-and-space bugged the Celtics more than Kyrie Irving’s mask, but at the end of four quarters Boston had its 13th straight win.
Marcus Morris, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum combined to shoot 22 of 31 as the Celts opened up their offense in Irving’s return from a facial injury. Brooklyn tied the game at the half and kept within 10 points most of the night, but the Cs pulled ahead behind a dominant fourth.
Facing a small Nets lineup, Tatum found holes on the wing and interior. Boston shredded Brooklyn’s defense with a 14-4 run, capped by Irving spotting up from the top of the arc uncontested.
Brooklyn responded after Irving whipped a smooth behind-the-back pass on his drive out to Tatum, who hit a corner three moving to his right. A spot-up make and a streak of points from DeMarre Carroll got the Nets within single digits. Then Daniel Theis entered and buried a wide-open three.
After two empty possessions, Horford took Quincy Acy inside, and Jaylen Brown slammed a windmill dunk in transition off a steal.
With the Celtics’ lead up to 10 again, Caris LeVert stepped up for Brooklyn, hitting a three on the wing before responding to Brown’s three with a driving layup and transition dunk. His 7-3 solo run pulled the Nets within six points.
Brooklyn moved size inside to end the quarter between Acy and Timofey Mozgov and forced Theis to airball a driving layup. Acy slid over to block Terry Rozier after he froze Mozgov on the wing, and a streak of six straight stops by the Nets ended with Irving drilling a three to end the first.
The Nets broke within five on a pair of Joe Harris threes, then Morris sparked his best night of the season with a hard drive through Brooklyn’s front court for a three-point play. Irving started the game on 2-for-7 shooting, and after another missed jumper Allen Crabbe hit his first shot, a three, in transition to make it a one-point game midway through the second quarter.
LeVert hit again, capping a 9-0 run, and the Nets led 38-37.
Carroll hit a three, bringing the run to 14-0, and as Irving missed a layup and got to the line he ripped his mask off underneath the rim in frustration. Boston yielded another two points after but fired back with a spot-up mid-ranger by Irving and then a feed from him to Semi Ojeleye for a cutting layup.
The two teams went back and forth, with Horford hitting two hard-driving layups and Irving finishing in transition after Rondae Hollis-Jefferson lost the ball. But the Nets got Crabbe a three in transition to cap their good shooting half tied at 52.
Into the third the two teams matched 12-12, with Morris and Hollis-Jefferson trading shots in the early minutes giving way to an 8-0 Celtics run behind Irving’s pull-ups and Horford’s hard drives to the rim. Al started the game 8 of 9.
Tatum had an efficient game as well, hitting his fourth shot in six attempts off a full-court pass from Marcus Smart. After Theis blocked a shot, Tatum added two more free throws to put Boston up 11 late in the third.
The Nets had another run early in the fourth, a 4-4 stretch sparked by two more Harris threes. Spencer Dinwiddie and LeVert contributed fancy layups, and within minutes Brooklyn was within one again. Then Morris went into closing mode for Boston.
He made two free throws, then continued to dribble and shoot from midrange, hitting two more jumpers to put the Celts up 90-81 on an 8-0 run.
Morris wasn’t done either. Baynes posted up after missing a three himself and dished to Morris, who was wide open on the wing and hit yet another three to make it 95-85.
Even with that, the Nets still weren’t done.
Pushing the pace and letting shots fly, two more threes from Crabbe pulled Brooklyn within four. But Tatum and Irving had a closing effort in them. Drives, free throws, and a smooth loose-ball scoop by Irving from Trevor Booker started a transition run that ended with Tatum slamming an alley-oop from Brown.
The Celtics won again, and they now get to face the defending-champion Warriors on Thursday as winners of 13 straight since their 0-2 start.