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Celtics complete sweep, beat Nets in thrilling Game 4 victory 116-112

Al Horford made the play of the night, cleaning up a missed shot to seal the Celtics fourth straight win over the Nets, as Boston advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Despite leading by 15 in the third quarter, the Brooklyn Nets once again gave Boston all they could handle, pushing Game 4 down to the wire, as Jayson Tatum sat and watched from the sideline after fouling out.

The Celtics held on, with Al Horford and Jaylen Brown making huge shots to prevent a gentleman’s sweep, as the Celtics are now Eastern Conference semifinals bound with a 116-112 victory. They await the winner of Milwaukee vs. Chicago where the Bucks lead 3-1.

Kevin Durant, who struggled most of the series, woke up in Game 4. He gave Boston problems all night, finishing with 39 points. Kyrie Irving was less effective, finishing with 20 on 6-13 shooting.

Before fouling out, Tatum was electric, finishing with 29 points on 9-16 shooting. Grant Williams was huge, playing great defense on Kevin Durant and shooting 4-6 from deep.

The engine of the Celtics offense, Marcus Smart, finished with 20 points and 11 assists.

Brown scored the first four points of the game, going 2-2 on jumpers. Despite a pretty floater from the left baseline, Durant started 1-3 and had the Nets only points through three minutes as Boston led 8-2. Durant seemed more himself to start game four, and scored seven of the Nets’ first 10 points.

The Celtics used a 10-0 run over two minutes to separate from the Nets following Durant’s mid-quarter surge. Derrick White saw the floor for the first time with five minutes to go, and immediately made an impact with five quick points.

Boston drew many fouls in the first and took advantage from the line, shooting 9-9. In addition, each of the Celtics’ first seven shots came on an assist. Grant Williams came in late in the quarter and made an impact, hitting a three then forcing a turnover from Durant.

Five quick points from the Nets to close the first got them within striking distance, but Boston still held a four-point lead. Brown had six, Horford had five and Tatum had four in a whistle-heavy first quarter. Durant had 11 for the Nets, while his co-star Irving was 1-4 from the floor with just three points.

Brooklyn evened the score to start the second, pushing their run to 9-0. A three from Tatum put an end to that, but the Nets clearly were functioning better offensively than in games 1-3. They were much more active in transition, and Durant had the confidence a two-time Finals MVP should.

Tatum had confidence to rival Durant’s. Tatum scored eight straight for Boston, including two threes. All three shots came with a defender in his face, looking comparable to what the 7-foot Durant does on the other end.

After Brooklyn used a quick spurt to tie things at 30, the Celtics responded with a 12-4 run, leading 42-34 halfway through the second. But, the Nets responded with eight straight of their own. As the series had been throughout three games, game four was also run-heavy, as Brooklyn trailed 45-44 with three and a half minutes to go in the first half.

The transition attack for Brooklyn was keeping them alive down 3-0. The Celtics offense was humming, but a few empty possessions paved the way for the volatile Nets to make a quick run, led by Durant, who drilled a three on the move to reach 16 points.

Boston closed out the second quarter with confidence, especially Grant Williams. Williams hit threes from the left wing and left corner, both assisted by Tatum. In addition to Williams’ threes, Brown sliced through the Brooklyn defense twice for easy looks inside.

The closing minutes of the second quarter were a microcosm of the first half – if Brooklyn could get moving after a miss, they could score easily. But, if the Celtics were set on defense, it was very hard for Brooklyn to keep up.

Grant Williams closed out the half with another three. He shot 4-5 from deep in the first half, helping Boston establish a 58-50 lead at the break. Once again, it was Tatum dropping the dime.

With nine minutes to go in the third, a Brown bucket gave Boston an 11-point lead, their largest of the night.

Tatum continued to take what the defense gave him, whether it was a smaller defender or free throws. On the other end, the Celtics defense was fouling Nic Claxton any chance they could get. Claxton started the game 0-10 from the free throw line. Ironically, he was 5-5 from the floor for 10 points.

Both teams traded body blows, and Boston kept their lead halfway through the third, up 73-66. Tatum had 18 points, and after a lob to Robert Williams, Smart reached 10 assists.

As the third quarter wore on, the two teams’ playing styles were made evident. Durant and Irving continued to take tough shots, while the Celtics attacked in transition and made extra passes. Tatum and Brown were focal points and converted tough shots, but key plays from Grant Williams and White helped keep Boston on top of the Nets.

With two minutes remaining in the third, the Celtics’ team ball kept them on top, 85-75. A great two possessions from Brown, where he assisted on a Horford three and then a White dunk got Boston five quick points, as they took a 90-78 lead into the final quarter.

The Celtics were able to keep a consistent lead as the Nets kept their small lineup in the game, trying to get instant offense. The league’s best defense kept giving them trouble, while the Boston offense kept attacking their weak spots on the other end.

The Nets were fighting to open the fourth, cutting the Celtic lead to six in the blink of an eye. After a Durant fader in Grant Williams’ eye, the Celtics called a timeout, up 90-84.

But, that run was without Tatum. Upon checking in after the timeout, Tatum scored five straight for the Celtics. The next trip down the floor though, Tatum was called for an offensive foul, a crucial fifth for him. The review was unsuccessful, so Tatum sat following the charge.

In Tatum’s absence, Goran Dragic was the difference maker, bringing the Nets back into the game with eight straight points. Brown answered on offense with an and-one floater, but the Nets were gathering momentum with five minutes remaining, down six. Following Dragic’s outburst, the Celtics scored five unanswered to force a Brooklyn timeout with 4:30 left, up 107-99.

With 2:48 left on a side out of bounds play, Tatum was called for an offensive foul, disqualifying him from the game with six.

Irving hit a three, bringing Brooklyn within one possession, 109-106. Durant hit a tough floater to get to 35 points.

Brown stuck with a loose ball and put the Celtics up three again with less than a minute to go, then a stop gave Boston a possession to ice it, which ended in a missed jumper from Brown. On the ensuing possession, Smart fouled Durant in an attempt to grab a game-winning steal.

After Durant missed one of two of his free throws, Al Horford made the play of the night, cleaning up a Smart miss to claim a four-point lead, 103-99 with just 13 seconds to go.

Boston made all of the free throws they needed to ice the game, and the determined Celtics got revenge for last year’s first round series, advancing to the conference semis.

For more postgame coverage of the game four thriller, tune into the the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavon, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown. Plus, the guys will discuss the Celtics’ next series matchup against the winner of Milwaukee/Chicago, and what this sweep means for the team’s title chances.