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Celtics come up short against Nets, 121-109

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A familiar face torched Boston for 40 points to end the team’s win four-game streak.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Ready or not, the second half of the NBA season is here. Boston’s first opponent post-All-Star break was the Brooklyn Nets sans Kevin Durant, who sat this one out with a hamstring injury. The Celtics attempted to end their six-game road losing skid and extend their current win streak to five. Meanwhile, Brooklyn were winners of nine of their last ten entering Thursday night’s clash and sought to continue their winning ways as well. In the end, Kyrie Irving’s 40 points were just too much and the Celtics lost 121-109 in Brooklyn to fall to 19-18.

1st Quarter

Boston jumped out to an 18-8 lead behind high-level plays from Kemba Walker on both ends. With ten first-quarter points, including two pull-up treys and one beautifully timed block on Bruce Brown, Walker had his fingerprints all over this one in the early going.

But Brooklyn gradually eeked their way back into striking distance. Landry Shamet buried consecutive treys off the bench and cut the Boston advantage to three with as many minutes remaining in the first.

Boston’s reserves countered with a run of their own. Threes from Marcus Smart (welcome back) and Payton Pritchard halted Brooklyn from obtaining momentum, and the Celtics held a six-point edge at the end of one, 29-23. James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined for just ten of Brooklyn’s 23 points.

2nd Quarter

James Harden asserted his will on the offensive end to usher in the second. By the eight and a half minute mark, he accumulated another five points and an elegant dime for good measure. The Celtics, on the other hand, were loose with the rock, which allowed the Nets to get out and run. However, fantastic transition defense and active hands from Boston obstructed Brooklyn from capitalizing on their open-court chances.

Once Harden took a seat on the bench, it was Irving’s turn to take command of this game. With 12 effortless points in the quarter that culminated in a Curry-range three and an and-one layup on Daniel Theis, the Nets were up six with 3:40 left, and Brad Stevens opted for a timeout.

The Celtics responded following the stoppage in play — stout individual defense on Brooklyn’s stars and some isolation wizardry from Jayson Tatum resulted in the Celtics being down just three at halftime, 55-58. Considering Jaylen Brown shot 1-for-9 from the field across the first 24 minutes of play, Boston had to feel good about their chances heading into the locker room.

3rd Quarter

Daniel Theis competed with palpable effort and energy, propelling a 9-0 Boston spurt to open the second half. He came up with a resounding block on Harden and contested numerous other point-blank shots with great discipline, as he did not pick up any fouls over this stretch. Additionally, Brown found his mojo after a lackluster showing early — he connected on a pair of standstill threes stemming from excellent ball movement.

With all that said, Boston’s early rally didn’t end up creating separation on the scoreboard. Irving continued his first-half brilliance and picked apart the Boston defense, finding three-point snipers on the perimeter and breaking down individual defenders off the bounce. Smart defended Irving with intensity and was all up in his grill, but good offense beats good defense in most cases.

Brooklyn’s lead was a mere four points with 36 minutes in the books. The Nets are 15-1 this season when leading at the end of three.

4th quarter

Brooklyn’s ancillary talents put together a praiseworthy collective performance. In the final frame, it was old friend Jeff Green who burned the Celtics. A near poster dunk on Grant Williams and a wide-open corner three-ball ballooned the Nets’ lead to ten with 8:55 remaining.

Boston had a run left in them, though. Jayson Tatum checked in shortly after and went on a personal 5-0 run. Subsequently, three free throws from Smart and an up-and-under layup from Tatum evaporated Brooklyn’s lead to three with four minutes and change left in a compelling game.

Unfortunately, as was the story of this one, whenever the Celtics began to string together fruitful possessions, the Nets punched right back with scores of their own. The three-point shot annihilated the Celtics all night long, but none were more timely than the two Irving buried with under three minutes to go to — the latter increased Brooklyn’s lead to seven at the 2:04 mark and all but sealed the outcome.

Irving dropped a 40-piece against his former ally, and the Celtics fell by a final score of 109-121.