NEW YORK — The Celtics haven’t expressed much concern about their defense, ranked 15th after the first quarter of the season. They thought they could’ve erased numerous buckets in Wednesday’s win over Miami, while the offense failed them in Friday’s loss to the Heat.
Communication, navigating screens and sometimes individual efforts plagued that unit though as the Celtics erased any mistakes on that end with historic offensive output. Each became more apparent when they shot 33% from deep against the Heat, and facing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant provided the perfect opportunity to guard your yard for each Boston defender.
While the Nets hunted mismatches, the Celtics stood strong, and held Brooklyn to 40.5% shooting in a 103-92 win. Jaylen Brown scored 34 points on 10-for-20 shooting and Jayson Tatum shook off nine turnovers to score 29 points, finishing the game 10-of-19.
Joe Mazzulla held his timeout again as Durant and Irving poured in a pair of baskets each to put the Celtics behind 11-2. They received some fortune when Nic Claxton dropped Durant’s pass on the two-on-one fast break, but Derrick White met Kyrie Irving at the rim on the next possession with a block. The Celtics ran back to stop Durant after Tatum’s next turnover, and Grant Williams kept Boston within four points with the team’s first three makes.
He found Tatum for three and Brown hit his first one play later in the corner on a fast break. Brown chased down Joe Harris after Irving slipped a pass past the Celtics, but not far enough past the Celtics star, who swatted Harris off the glass. Tatum hit a three the other way, pushed Boston ahead 16-11, and Jacque Vaughn needed to stop the game first.
Brown took over the Celtics’ ball-handling midway through the quarter while Tatum caught some rest on the bench, getting to the free throw line attacking Seth Curry and pulling up for three around a Horford screen. Brown buried five threes in the first quarter, passing Horford and Tatum (4) for most in a frame this season. Durant’s eyes widened when Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard took the floor, drawing two and finding Harris and Cam Thomas for three within the flow of the offense to keep the game close.
The Celtics led 35-27 into the second quarter, where Pritchard extended the lead crossing up Irving at the left elbow to create a jumper and pouring in a transition finish soon after. Irving threw Claxton an alley-oop and saved another Durant miss in transition to get Harris a three. Tatum got on track, beating Durant for a pair of mid-rangers with a shot fake late in the clock and a fadeaway, finishing the half 5-of-11 after a 1-for-6 start. He picked off Durant’s pass to the corner and brought it back on the break for a pull-up 3.
Curry exited the game fouling four times in three minutes after Tatum beat him inside. Grant dumped Tatum a pass after hitting a wall at the rim, Tatum taking the ball back to the perimeter, then inside past Thomas to put the Celtics ahead 62-50 at halftime.
Durant launched and buried three more shots after the break as the Celtics turned the ball over 11 more times through the end of the third quarter. Both teams only combined for 32 points, the Nets cutting their deficit in half on Durant’s tough turnarounds. He sent Brown and Brogdon away defending at the rim, but Grant’s three and Brogdon’s three-point finish before the end of the quarter kept the Nets at arm’s length.
Brooklyn pulled within two before the final buzzer, as the Celtics fell into a 4-for-20 lull between the third and fourth quarters. Durant hit a pull-up three and found Harris cutting back door, but Brogdon responded with a perfect pass to Horford in the corner for three. Horford blocked Durant the other way, and Brown ran for a crucial dunk uncontested as the Barclays Center crowd filled with Celtics fans roared to its feet.
The sequence unlocked Brown and Tatum, who floated to the rim for consecutive finishes while Irving showed his frustration on a night where he started 5-for-19 by picking up a technical after an offensive foul. Tatum hit three free throws and the Celtics led 90-79.
Durant scored through Horford to push within five on a 6-0 Nets run, but turned the ball over attacking Tatum and Brown. Brown buried four straight free throws to reach 34 points for the second straight night, then Tatum slammed the door with another steal on Durant to shake off eight turnovers of his own by forcing Durant’s eighth and throwing down a dunk the other way. He pulled up for one more three on the next possession and bounced toward the bench with a blank look on his face.
Boston flies to Toronto tonight to take on the Raptors tomorrow on the back end of a back-to-back.