Celtics

7 takeaways as Nets demolish cold-shooting Celtics, snap winning streak

The Nets looked like a complete team.

Nets Celtics takeaways
James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket against Al Horford of the Boston Celtics. Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics got run off the court against the Nets on Wednesday in a 123-104 loss.

1. The Celtics aren’t as bad as they looked on Wednesday, as evidenced by their run in the fourth quarter that closed the gap from 29 to 13. While digging their hole, they missed a ton of 3-pointers, Jayson Tatum broke his streak of 30-point games, and they were — by their own admission — thrown off on both ends by the officiating (more on that in a minute).

But the Nets looked great, even though James Harden and Kevin Durant weren’t particularly dominant. LaMarcus Aldridge adds an element they didn’t have for much of last season, Patty Mills opens up the floor, and even rookie Cam Thomas had his second good game in a row (13 points). Meanwhile, their defense was smothering, especially at the rim.

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“Ball and body movement is what we’ve stressed today,” Ime Udoka said after the game. “If you get stagnant and isolation-heavy against this team, they load up, and that’s why they’re really good. So you want to move bodies.”

The Celtics — who, it should be noted, had just won seven of their last 10 — still have a difficult path through the Eastern Conference. On Wednesday, the Nets reminded them what the top levels of contention look like.

“I told the group, ‘Good homestand, but it could have been a great one with this game,'” Udoka said.

2. While the Nets won the game by being the better team, the Celtics shot their way out of a chance to win with a horrific 11-for-47 from 3-point range. The main offenders were Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (a combined 1-for-17) but even removing their attempts, the Celtics were just 31.2 percent from deep.

The Celtics were 21st in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (12th in attempts) entering Wednesday’s game. That total can be partially attributed to Tatum’s struggles, which still seem likely to turn around at some point, but Brad Stevens might need to consider adding a shooter before the trade deadline.

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Udoka noted that the Celtics are among the teams that take the fewest contested shots in the NBA and that many of their 3-point attempts were reasonably open.

“It is a balance,” Udoka said. “I think we are at our best while we’re mixing up and getting downhill to the free-throw line like we have these last three games at home. And then the court shrinks and you make the right read. So it is a balance when you’re not shooting it and they’re giving you that look and it starts getting in your head a little bit and guys start pressing.”

3. Jayson Tatum finished 4-for-16, including 1-for-9 from 3-point range for the second game in a row. He scored just 15 points despite taking eight free throws (6-for-8).

For a three-game stretch prior to the Rockets game on Monday, Tatum’s 3-point shooting seemed to have righted itself. A one-game regression wasn’t particularly concerning, but two in a row is a little more so.

4. Al Horford admitted the officiating affected the Celtics.

“I think it definitely had an impact on our guys, on our group,” he said. “At the end of the day, we can’t let that stuff get to us. …

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“I think we let it affect us too much at the core of our group. It’s something that we need to learn from and we need to understand that at the end of the day, calls are going to be made. We may not agree with them but we have to be able to play through that stuff. That’s just the reality.”

Udoka, meanwhile, called out the referees a little more directly.

“Could have been better as far as the officiating,” he said. “I thought we did foul a lot in the first quarter and then got a tough whistle in the second where I felt we had some good defensive plays that went the other way against us.”

5. Spurred on to an extent by the officiating, the game got very chippy, particularly in the fourth as Marcus Smart tried to fire the Celtics up by defending James Harden with extra intensity. It nearly worked: The Celtics went on a run, as Harden committed an offensive foul and a pair of turnovers. A 29-point fourth-quarter lead, however, is a little difficult to overcome.

“I like the way we fought back,” Udoka said. “We junked it up a little bit. We were a shot or two away from probably a 10-point game midway through the fourth quarter, but can’t let the offense affect our defense. We’ve talked about being constant on that end and being consistent there and relying on that when shots do not fall, and I think that affected us in the wrong way tonight.”

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6. Despite a tough night from the field (5-for-15, 0-for-8 from 3-point range), Jaylen Brown said his hamstring felt better Wednesday than it did on Monday, although he called Wednesday’s outcome “tough.”

Still, he said the Celtics weren’t discouraged by the loss.

“Not discouraging at all,” he said. “We have been playing good basketball, and we’ve got to continue to play good basketball. We can’t let this loss dictate the rest of the next four, five, six, seven games.

“We have to bounce back. That’s what good teams do.”

7. Brown — a Georgia native — was asked about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot to death while running in a Georgia suburb in February 2020. Arbery’s three killers were convicted on Wednesday.

Brown paused when asked what the conviction does.

“I’m not sure what it does,” he said. “Obviously to see that go in the direction that it went is what people wanted to see. But Ahmaud Arbery still lost his life and his family is not going to ever see him again. So, yeah, the decision was made, but it should have been obvious. It shouldn’t even have been a discrepancy, I feel.

“That’s the part in society that we’re not at yet. We say that’s justice, but is it? That’s all I really have got to say.”

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