7 takeaways as Jaylen Brown, Celtics beat Nets for the eighth-straight time

Jaylen Brown led the way with an impressive box score.

Celtics Nets
Kevin Durant shoots a 3-point basket against Jaylen Brown and forward Jayson Tatum. AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh

The Celtics exploded in the fourth quarter on Sunday, pulling away late for a 103-92 victory that boosted them to 19-5 this season as they opened up a six-game road trip.

Here are the takeaways.

The Big Picture

With Marcus Smart day-to-day with a hip contusion, the Celtics put Derrick White back into the starting lineup.

The Nets started hot, running up an 11-2 advantage in the first minutes. Joe Mazzulla refused to call timeout, and once again, he was rewarded — the Celtics went on a 14-0 run of their own to take the lead. The Celtics won the first quarter 35-27, then extended their lead to 62-50 at halftime with an impressive defensive quarter in the second.


The third quarter was one of the ugliest 12 minutes of basketball for the Celtics this season — just 13 points (a season-low for a quarter), shooting 4-for-16 with six turnovers. Four of their shots were blocked.

Still, the Celtics entered the fourth with a six-point advantage, and their defense — which was sparked by their stars — took over and turned into offense (the Celtics outscored the Nets 26-13 overall in transition). Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown scored 20 of their 63 combined points in the fourth, and both teams emptied their bench for the final few minutes.

Star of the Game

Jaylen Brown: 34 points, 10-for-20 shooting, 5-for-9 from 3, 9-for-11 FTs, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 steals, 0 turnovers.

Brown was masterful in the first quarter, knocking down all five of his 3-pointers, and his defense led to a couple of highlight baskets in the fourth as the Celtics put the game on ice.

What It Means

After falling to the Heat in a grind-it-out loss, the Celtics claimed a grind-it-out win against a Nets team that looks consistently overmatched in their meetings.


1. Brown is averaging 31.6 points per game in his last five games. A major tenet of the Celtics’ offense is that they should have more than enough scoring whenever teams focus on Tatum, and that’s much easier when Brown is playing at this level.


On Sunday, Brown had several impressive baskets in addition to his white-hot start, including a brutally tough finish in transition where he switched from one hand to two in mid-air, as well as an extended-arm layup after beating Kevin Durant with a smooth, quick first step. Meanwhile, Brown’s mid-range shooting is up to 54.5 percent for the season. Among all players shooting three or more mid-range shots per game, only Durant has a higher percentage this season at 55.4 percent.

“He’s been playing terrific,” Tatum said. “Just under control, while being aggressive, and he’s just been playing great. And we’ve needed every bit of it.”

Malcolm Brogdon, meanwhile, said Brown is playing at an All-NBA level. A reporter asked Brown if accolades like All-NBA mean much to him.

“Nah, I mean, I love to play this game,” Brown said. “And I work hard and I improve. To get caught up in accolades and how people feel and the politics of the game is not really my concern right now. I want to get to the playoffs, and I want to show what I can do there. I think I can play with the best of them.


“I know what my capabilities are, but my emphasis right now is on winning games and leading this team back to the Finals.”

2. Tatum was excellent down the stretch and finished with 29 points, but he struggled to get himself going and committed nine turnovers, including seven in the first three quarters.

“I’m just glad we won,” Tatum said. “Nine turnovers, that’s ridiculous. And some of them, I was just throwing that s— out of bounds.”

Almost apologetically, Tatum added that the ball was “kind of slippery,” noting one pass in particular to Al Horford where “that s— just went in the air.”

“But I mean, there’s no excuse,” he added. “The bright side is nine turnovers and we won, because I would have felt terrible had we lost the game. But obviously, can’t do that often or any more and expect us to win.”

3. Together, Brown and Tatum were disruptive defensively — Kevin Durant finished with eight turnovers, and Tatum added four steals to Brown’s four blocks and two steals. Four blocks for Brown was a career-high. Al Horford also pitched in three blocks, while Sam Hauser swatted away a chase-down in transition that Brown called “LeBron-like.”

“That’s what I like to see,” Brown said.

The Nets managed just 95.8 points per 100 possessions, one of the Celtics’ better defensive performances of the year. In a rare occurrence, the Celtics had just four players in double figures, two of which were Malcolm Brogdon (13) and Grant Williams (10), but only Joe Harris (13) joined Durant (31) and Kyrie Irving (18) in double figures for the Nets.


4. After Williams and Al Horford defended Durant well in the playoffs, they were matched with him surprisingly infrequently on Sunday — nine of Durant’s shots came against one of Williams or Horford (he made four of them), but they were never his primary defender.

Durant shot 30 percent from the floor in the postseason against Williams on 70.2 partial possessions — more than any other Celtic other than Tatum (who got the bulk of the assignments against Durant on Sunday as well).

One pure guess is that Mazzulla wanted to keep Williams and Horford off Durant as much as possible to prevent the Nets superstar from getting a rhythm against them in a semi-meaningless regular-season game. It’s also possible (and simpler) to guess the Celtics just wanted a taller player defending Durant, and Tatum is significantly taller than Williams. In either case, the Nets ask Durant to do a lot offensively.

5. The Celtics have now beaten the Nets eight consecutive times including last year’s sweep in the postseason. When the Celtics’ duo of Brown and Tatum outscores the Nets’ duo of Durant and Irving, the numbers simply aren’t friendly to Brooklyn, especially with players like Malcolm Brogdon on the floor as well.

“They’re a big team, they shoot the ball well, they got good length, so you got to match that if you want to be able to compete,” Durant told reporters afterward. “We don’t have a big margin for error. … They had 13 points in the 3rd and still be in good shape. You make up with that with your shooting and your length. They got a lot of it there.”


6. The Nets gave Blake Griffin a tribute video after his one-and-a-half seasons in Brooklyn, during which he averaged 18.5 minutes and 7.5 points per game.

Brown smiled slightly when asked about the video postgame by NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin.

“I support it,” Brown said. “Blake is a great guy, great teammate. Ever since he’s been around, he’s made everybody smile, he’s made everybody feel good, lifted up our locker room, so it’s great having his presence around.”

7. And finally, perhaps the best news for the Celtics on Sunday:

Williams is “progressing really well” and went through another session on Sunday, per Mazzulla.

“It’s just a matter of getting him back conditioning-wise and making sure he’s comfortable and ready to go,” Mazzulla said.

The Celtics travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors on Monday.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com