Marcus Smart got the start in place of Thomas with Stevens likely hoping that Smart’s defensive intensity could help make up for the lack of Thomas’s offensive output.
Unsurprisingly the Celtics got off to a cold start on offense, but perhaps equally unsurprisingly the Nets were even colder. After both teams struggled to find their shot in the first 12 minutes of play a low-scoring first quarter ended with the Celtics in front 21-16.
The second quarter saw both teams try to push the pace, which led to more sloppy play. Terry Rozier saw plenty of run on his birthday and took on the role of primary playmaker for the Celtics in the second quarter. Jaylen Brown also saw some minutes but failed to make much of an impact early, possibly still reeling from his recent popcorn attack.
So with the young guns controlling the play it was up to the Celtics’ resident veterans to provide stability and leadership. However while Al Horford and Gerald Green attempted to steady the ship for the Celtics, Boston’s shooting woes continued unabated throughout the second frame.
The only upside for Boston during a slow, slog of a second quarter was that if there was a lid on the rim it was on both sides of the floor, as Brooklyn couldn’t buy a bucket either. So for the most part the Celtics were able to hold Brooklyn at bay in the first half, if only barely.
In a low-scoring, slow-moving battle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object (or is that the other way around?) the Celtics led at the halftime break 45-37.
The second half saw the Nets find a sense of urgency, but the Celtics were still lacking any spark, allowing Brooklyn to open the half with a 12-3 scoring run. After a quick timeout from Stevens the Celtics were able to find their form once again and took the lead back, but the game stayed a back-and-forth affair.
Fouls further slowed a game that was already moving at a snail’s pace as the teams went bucket for bucket from the line for several minutes of the third. Boston pulled ahead of the Nets to finish the quarter on top 71-65 despite an extremely inefficient offensive outing.
Yet again the Nets came back from the break ready to play, quickly snatching back the lead in the first minutes of the fourth. But Boston were able to battle back with some late-game heroics from Gerald Green, Jae Crowder and Al Horford while strong team defense kept Boston afloat throughout the fourth.
While it would be easy to dismiss this as a low-stakes game between two teams in totally different positions, the Celtics still had a lot of reasons to fight for the win (the #netspick, the No. 1 spot in the conference, pride), which is why it is a little disappointing they didn’t play with much fire in this matchup.
Jae Crowder had a strong scoring night, and Al Horford was a force on the defensive end of the floor but most of the team struggled to have much of an impact in this one.
Ultimately the Celtics’ strong defense saved them from an embarrassing loss to the lowest-ranked team in the league, but the lack of offensive execution from Boston was extremely worrying. It’s no secret that Isaiah is the engine behind the Celtics offense, but a performance like this one exposes the whole team.
In the end the Celtics got the win, but Isaiah’s absence was far more damaging than it should have been. The Celtics finished the game with a dismal 40% field goal percentage and having shot 7 of 29 from three-point range. Maybe the team celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day a little too much, but whatever the reason they should hope to improve in their next game against Philadelphia.