THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Stops were a positive sign

Defense the key to securing win

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / February 17, 2011

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The defensive effort of the Celtics in the first and fourth quarters of last night’s win over the Nets was exactly what Doc Rivers stressed to his team before the game.

The garbled mess in the middle was not. But the Celtics were able to do enough to secure a 94-80 victory at TD Garden. A sporadic defensive effort left the Celtics battling with a team that entered the game 17-39.

The Celtics’ 15-point lead in the first quarter withered away as the Nets rode the baskets of center Brook Lopez into a contest that was knotted at 70 entering the fourth quarter. The Celtics corrected the defensive lapses and held the Nets to three field goals (3 of 24) and 10 points in the final 12 minutes. The Nets were so flustered, they managed just one basket in the final 6:18.

“I think the second half we had a better flow of defense,’’ said Kevin Garnett (14 points, 10 rebounds). “In the first quarter we came out very explosive and you could tell right away. Doc kept stressing energy, energy. I think for the most part we did that, didn’t sustain it. Second half, we did a better job of just being more consistent with what we were doing.’’

The breakdowns in the first half were what left Rivers frustrated as his team played its final game before the All-Star break. After his starters built the 15-point lead, Rivers gave some of them a break. But the subs struggled to keep the lead and watched it slowly evaporate.

“Our second unit watched how much we were scoring and they forgot that the reason we were scoring was because we were playing great defense,’’ Rivers said. “I think with 2:32 left in the first quarter they only had 10 points and we subbed out, and they ended up with 22 [for the quarter]. So they scored 12 points with the second unit in. So I was a little upset at that. After that, we held on in the third, and then the fourth quarter was terrific.’’

The best quarter for the Nets was the second, when they converted 10 of 21 field goal attempts and outscored the Celtics, 24-19, to enter halftime tied at 46. Lopez finished with a team-high 18 points, but did a lot of his damage in the second quarter (8 points).

“He hit some tough shots,’’ Kendrick Perkins said. “I mean, a hook shot from the free throw line, I kind of have to tip my hat to him. He hit some tough shots, I couldn’t say anything about it.’’

The Celtics outscored the Nets, 24-10, in the fourth quarter, coming within a point of the best defensive fourth quarter in franchise history.

So, what was so different about the fourth quarter?

“We defended back to where we did at the beginning of the game,’’ Rivers said. “[Glen Davis] and [Perkins] did a better job on Lopez, and Lopez carried them.

“I thought overall we did it more with team defense.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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