BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics saw their five-year run of owning the Atlantic Division come to an end last night (officially) and tonight the Brooklyn Nets took claim to being the second best team in the division.
Brooklyn’s Big Three -- Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson -- combined for 70 points to lead the Nets to their third win in four games against the Celtics this season, 101-93.
It was the defense of Brooklyn, however, that was really impressive. The Nets allow just 94.8 points per game and in the first half, didn’t send the Celtics to the line for even a single free throw.
On the other hand, Brooklyn went 25-28 (89.3%) from the free throw line.
Some may look for blame in the refs, but Celtics’ head coach Doc Rivers went a step further putting the onus on his own team.
During an interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke before the fourth quarter began, Rivers said the Nets were “attacking us and we’re settling. That was the first quarter which we were attacking and that’s how we have to play.”
A lot else went wrong for the home team. Jeff Green (4-17 from the field) and Brandon Bass (5-11 from the field) had poor shooting nights. Avery Bradley, Boston’s defensive stalwart, was saddled with foul trouble picking up two fouls within the first four minutes of the game and his fourth 39 seconds into the fourth quarter.
That allowed Williams to roam free and distribute the ball freely. He can shoot the ball pretty well too. Williams scored a game-high 29 points -- while dishing out a game-high 12 assists -- on 9-18 shooting from the field while hitting all 10 of his free throws.
After Jordan Crawford climbed the proverbial ladder (and physical back) of Reggie Evans for a put-back slam with 6:07 left to play, Williams responded. The star point-guard sized up Crawford on the other end and drilling a 20-foot jumper to give Brooklyn a 93-82 lead that Boston wouldn’t truly threaten.
The lead actually grew to 99-82 less than two minutes later after baskets by Williams (a strong drive to the hoop), Johnson (a turnaround, fadeaway mid-range jumper), and Lopez (an easy dunk off a nice feed from Johnson).
Paul Pierce was easily the best option on offense, scoring a team-high 23 points, but only managed to hoist up 11 shots. He made seven of them, went 3-5 from beyond the arc, and connected on six of his seven free throw attempts.
Boston is fairly secure in the 7-seed at this point. The Celtics are three games up on the Milwaukee Bucks with four left to play.
However, with the red-hot Knicks on the horizon (most likely), things don’t look too good for Boston.
It’s true that Kevin Garnett is just getting his legs back under him since returning from an ankle injury, but the team is as healthy as they’ve been in a while. They didn’t show a ton of energy, as Rivers alluded to in his conversation with Burke. Perhaps, at the end of the day, you have to give Brooklyn a ton of credit for taking Boston out of their game with their defense.
The Celtics will face the Heat in Miami on Friday night though they may not have to face LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.
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