With their Western Conference road trip in the books, the Boston Celtics returned home this week and faced down one of the most prominent games on their calendar in the early part of the season: the Brooklyn Nets’ first visit to TD Garden since signing Kyrie Irving away from the Celtics’ this offseason. With Irving sidelined due to an ongoing shoulder issue, however, Celtics fans hoping a measure of revenge would instead have to settle for a regular old victory, as the Celtics dropped the Nets, 121-110.
Absent the “revenge game” narrative, this was just an ordinary game between two Eastern Conference foes. In fact, the more significant development of the night was not Irving’s absence, but Kemba Walker’s return. Just five days after suffering a scary fall in Boston’s loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday, Walker rejoined the Celtics’ starting lineup, and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. He scored a season-high 39 points, and, alongside 22 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals from Jaylen Brown, overcame 21 Brooklyn three-pointers to earn the victory.
The night began as most could have expected — with Celtics fans raining down colorful Irving-related chants on the sans-Irving Nets in the opening possessions. But while the crowd’s energy level was high, it didn’t seem to translate to the court right away. Both teams seemed a little sluggish as play began, struggling to knock down many shots. Midway through the quarter, only Jarrett Allen (7 points) and Daniel Theis (6) had recorded more than one made bucket.
After a timeout, the Celtics seemed to join the action, stringing a sequence of made buckets that was capped off by a layup from Brown to snare a 17-14 lead. The Nets would call a timeout of their own, but not before coach Kenny Atkinson landed himself a technical foul for protesting a no-call on a Dinwiddie drive. Dinwiddie would get T’d up himself moments later, after jawing at a ref following a made layup. With a little over a minute to play, Brown would throw down a characteristically loud two-handed slam for two of his eight first quarter points. The Celtics would enter the second quarter leading by seven, 30-23.
Get up or get out of Jaylen Brown's way pic.twitter.com/IjTNAebkxF— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 28, 2019
The game was also the debut of the Celtics’ new City Edition jerseys — a controversial combo of green and gold, with a questionable, Gaelic-inspired font on the front. The jerseys seemed to look quite a bit worse on broadcast cameras than they did in close-ups (though they still seemed less than ideal there too). Early on, Doris Burke remarked that they looked like Notre Dame jerseys.
While the Celtics did a good job of turning Brooklyn over, they struggled to contain the Nets’ shooters behind the three-point arc. The Nets connected on their first four three-pointers of the second quarter, and quickly erased Boston’s lead, tying the game at 37 with just over eight minutes remaining in the half.
Surprisingly, the biggest source of trouble for the Boston defense was not reigning Player of the Week Dinwiddie, but instead Temple, who entered the starting lineup in relief of the injured Caris LeVert. Temple was the unlikely spearhead of Brooklyn’s second quarter surge; after going scoreless in the first quarter, he poured in 16 points in the second, including four three-pointers. As a unit, the Nets would cash in on 11 three-pointers in the first half, but would lead by just six at the half, thanks to 17 first-half points from Walker.
Walker’s hot streak persevered through the break, as he opened the second half with a bang: he scored 10 quick points to begin the frame, including finishing an and-one layup over Jarrett Allen to tie the game back up at 75. Unfortunately, the Nets’ hot shooting seemed to sustain as well — Harris connected on another pair of three-pointers, and the teams spent much of the quarter locked in a tightly contested back-and-forth. Thankfully, as the quarter came to a close, Brooklyn’s shooters would finally start to cool — the Celtics would go on a 9-0 run near the end of the quarter, and enter the final frame leading by five, 91-86.
The Boston lead would extend to double-digits in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, with a Brad Wanamaker layup gave the Celtics a 10-point advantage, their largest of the game to that point. Wanamaker would strike again shortly thereafter, following up a Smart triple with a layup to stretch the lead to 12. Brooklyn was not yet finished, though — a run of their own, capped off by Temple’s sixth triple of the night, would trim the Boston lead down to just three.
The surge would prove to be short-lived. Walker answered Temple’s shot with a three-pointer of his own, and Wanamaker added an and-one layup to put the Nets back into a nine-point hole. It would prove to be the final counter-punch of the game: the Nets would never threaten again, and the Celtics would walk away with the victory.
Next up, the Celtics travel to Brooklyn for an immediate rematch with the Nets, this Friday at 12 PM EST on NBC Sports Boston.