Facing the hottest team in the NBA was going to be an uphill climb for the Nets under the best circumstances. But doing it without their two point guards — and arguably two best players — proved too much to handle.
With D’Angelo Russell out indefinitely with a knee injury and Jeremy Lin already sidelined for the season, also with a knee injury, the Nets were game, but woefully shorthanded against the Celtics. And scalding-hot Boston predictably proved to be too much, with the Nets falling 109-102 in a tightly contested affair Tuesday.
Hearing Boston fans take over the Barclays Center was just salt in the Nets’ various wounds, and listening to them serenade New Jersey-bred Celtics star Kyrie Irving with chants of “MVP!” as he took free throws with two minutes left was an added insult. But to be fair, Irving looked the part, dominating in his return from a facial fracture and then giving his shoes to some troops seated courtside.
The Nets (5-9), who were back at home following a five-game western swing, have lost seven of their past nine.
The Celtics (13-2) won their 13th straight as Irving scored a game-high 25 points and added five assists and three rebounds against that injury-riddled Nets backcourt.
Spencer Dinwiddie went a long way toward showing that what the Nets have left in the backcourt isn’t half bad. He had 12 points and 11 assists, tying his career-high set Oct. 27 against the Knicks. He orchestrated an offense that put six players in double-figures, led by Joe Harris (19 points on 5-of-10 from 3-point range).
“When you’re in the starting spot, especially with the way we are going to play, I just think it means there are going to be more possessions to work with,” Dinwiddie said before the game. “It’s just on me to convert those possessions and help the team.”
But the Celtics are an entirely different animal than the Knicks. Behind Irving and Marcus Morris (21 points, 10 boards), they were too versatile and too deep.
Dinwiddie’s calm controlled floor leadership — and his driving layup — gave the Nets a 65-61 lead with 6:37 left in the third. But Brooklyn allowed a 19-2 run, including 11 straight Celtics points to start the game-changing spurt.
Al Horford (seven points) and Irving (four) scored every point in that 11-0 run, with Horford putting Boston ahead 72-65 with a long jumper. By the time the run ended, the Nets had shot 1-of-7 from the floor, committed four turnovers and missed three straight free throws.
Oh, and they had fallen into an 80-67 hole with 56.5 seconds remaining in the third.
The Nets didn’t fold, mounting a 14-2 run to try and rally. An acrobatic drive by Caris LeVert got them within a point at 82-81, and sent Boston into a timeout with just 9:54 left. But the Celtics slammed the door shut, reeling off 10 consecutive points to pad their lead to 11 and put the game on ice.
The Nets never got closer than five, 99-94, the rest of the evening.
“Spencer’s playing well, Isaiah [Whitehead] had a good second half in that Denver game,” coach Kenny Atkinson said of the guard situation. “We’ll have to do it by committee.
“The way we play, we do have different guys bringing it up, so it’s not that traumatic. … [Russell] was playing at a pretty high level, [so] obviously it’s a blow. But on the other hand, I do think we’re much better equipped this year. Spencer has made a jump up. Isaiah has a year under his belt. Obviously, Sean [Kilpatrick] played a lot of minutes last year. I feel a lot more confident.”