Wednesday, April 17

Celtics overwhelm undermanned Nets for sixth straight win – The Boston Globe

NEW YORK — Before the Celtics faced the Nets on Tuesday, coach Ime Udoka was asked about Thursday’s trade deadline, and whether he thought some changes could be in store. He acknowledged that the team could use some extra shooting, but he also pointed out that the fully healthy roster has been powerful.

“Until something happens, we’ll focus on what we have in-house and how we’re playing,” he said, “which is obviously pretty high-level right now.”

The Celtics took the court a little more than one hour later and pummeled yet another overmatched opponent, storming to a 126-91 win over the Nets. It was their sixth win in a row and their eighth in the last nine games. The Celtics made 54.9 percent of their shots and held the Nets to 38.4 percent shooting.

Boston catapulted to a 28-2 first-quarter lead and its advantage was never in danger after that. Jaylen Brown had 22 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds in 27 minutes, and Marcus Smart added 22 points. The Celtics’ starters watched the fourth quarter from the bench.

It was Boston’s sixth wire-to-wire win in its last nine games. During this stretch the Celtics also fell behind the Pelicans, 2-0, but never trailed again.

The Nets hardly resembled the NBA title contenders that they are when healthy. They were without Kevin Durant (knee), James Harden (hamstring), Kyrie Irving (COVID vaccine regulations), Joe Harris (ankle), Nic Claxton (hamstring), and LaMarcus Aldridge (ankle).

That has become a common theme during this Celtics hot streak that has included one opponent after another that’s been rocked by injuries, making it challenging to tell if Boston turned into a juggernaut overnight, or whether it is simply disposing of teams that don’t have a chance. The next week should offer some clues, though, with games against the Nuggets, Hawks, and 76ers, three capable teams that are also near full strength.

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Other observations from the game:

▪ The Celtics have been excellent in first quarters since getting their regular starting lineup back, and Tuesday’s eruption was the most severe of them all. The surge was once again sparked by the defense. Brooklyn was held scoreless for 4 minutes, 12 seconds before Blake Griffin ended Boston’s 14-0 start with a jumper.

But the Celtics responded by instantly unfurling another 14-0 run, stretching their lead to 28-2. Brown was at the center of it all, with 12 points and two assists. These Nets were completely overmatched, but even completely overmatched teams typically avoid 28-2 deficits.

▪ Despite the lopsided first-half score, Udoka stayed committed to his eight-man rotation, with Grant Williams, Josh Richardson, and Dennis Schröder the lone reserves to enter the game. He stuck with that group until the 1:59 mark of the third quarter, when Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith checked in with Boston up by 33 points.

▪ Jayson Tatum always draws plenty of attention from defenses, but the Nets were incredibly committed to getting the ball out of his hands. They constantly sent double-teams in his direction when he caught passes on the perimeter. Tatum didn’t try to force his offense, though. He willingly found open teammates with jump passes, and the Nets didn’t have time to recover.

▪ The Celtics’ effort waned after the scorching start. A 26-point first-quarter lead can do that. Brooklyn pulled within 37-25 on a Jevon Carter 3-pointer three minutes into the second quarter. Two minutes later David Duke Jr. came up with a steal at midcourt and the Celtics didn’t bother hustling back on defense. Carter missed a 3-pointer, and Griffin was alone for an easy tip-in. Udoka instantly called a timeout, but the lull didn’t linger. Boston stretched its lead back to 69-43 by halftime.

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▪ One small benefit of this collection of blowouts: It’s given Tatum some extra rest. Earlier this season Tatum was in the top three in the NBA in minutes per game. He entered this game eighth, at 36.2, and that number will dip slightly after sat out another fourth quarter and played 27 minutes Tuesday.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.

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