Celtics cut down Nets, 94-82

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Celtics cut down Nets, 94-82

NEWARK, N.J. For the second time in as many nights, the Boston Celtics were a bit late in ratcheting up their play defensively.

But the outcome was a far different one on Saturday night, as the C's pulled away with a strong third quarter surge for a 94-82 win.

Boston's frontcourt of Paul Pierce (17 points), Brandon Bass (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Kevin Garnett (21 points, 12 rebounds) all had big games for the Celtics.

But this game, like so many this season, turned in the C's favor because of strong play defensively.

After allowing the Nets to shoot better than 50 percent in the first half, the Celtics clamped down and limited New Jersey to just 24 percent shooting in the third as the C's doubled up the Nets, 26-13.

Boston began the third quarter with a 9-0 run and finished it with a 7-4 surge to lead, 74-61 going into the fourth.

In between those runs, the Celtics got a huge lift from Avery Bradley who scored 11 of Boston's 26 third-quarter points. He finished with 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting along with four rebounds.

Setting up many of Bradley's points was Rajon Rondo, who delivered yet another strong game passing the ball with 14 assists which extended his franchise record 21st straight game with double-digit assists.

New Jersey was led by Deron Williams' 12 points and 14 assists, in addition to former Celtic guard Gerald Green chipping in 15 points of the bench.

The fourth quarter was more of the same as Boston (35-25) bounced back from a disappointing loss at Toronto on Friday night.

In that loss, Boston never at any point in the game established their defensive identity, which more often than not positions them for success.

That was not the case on Saturday, with the Celtics delivering the kind of physical, in-your-face brand of basketball that they'll need to have come playoff time later this month. For most of the game, Boston was the more aggressive team, the one making all the tough plays around the basket and on the perimeter, which put the Nets on their heels and eventually, flat on their backs.

But the C's have no time to kick back and relax, not with a third game in as many nights at Charlotte on Sunday.

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.