This was bad.
Considering the stakes, the venue and the fact their opponent was playing on consecutive nights while they spent the previous day resting, the Nets' 110-91 loss to the Celtics at the Barclays Center last night ranked right up there with some of their worst efforts of this season, the ones they thought they had flushed out of everyone's memory.
When they officially threw in the towel with 1:34 remaining, and coach Lionel Hollins yanked his key players, a clear chant of "Let's go Celtics!" reverberated throughout the arena, signaling just how rough of a night it was for the Nets (29-40).
"It hurts because obviously we wanted to come out and win this game," Joe Johnson said. "We understand where we are in the standings, so to keep climbing this was a game that we had to be better in, to be honest. I thought we had two great tough wins and for whatever reason, other than the first quarter, we were pretty flat the rest of the game."
Rather than rising up to meet the challenge, keeping the momentum going gained by wins over the Bucks and Pacers, the Nets reverted to the maddening ways that have many scratching their heads. They trailed for the game's final 29:10 and dropped to 11/2 games behind the Celtics (31-39), who took over eighth place in the East.
Boston led by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter, evoking boos from an annoyed crowd, and the Nets couldn't trim it below 10.
In a game that was supposed to have a playoff feel, the squeaking sounds of sneakers could be easily heard in the closing minutes -- almost with the same tenor of those chants.
Brook Lopez paced the Nets with 31 points, and Deron Williams just missed a triple-double, posting 10 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.
Avery Bradley had 20 points and seven assists, and Evan Turner had a triple-double -- 19 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds -- for the Celtics.
Defense was nonexistent for lengthy stretches for the Nets, creating driving lanes the width of Atlantic Avenue for the Celtics, and Boston punished the Nets seemingly whenever they left them open on the perimeter. Brooklyn's pressure wasn't intense and certainly didn't intimidate the Celtics very much, instead infusing them with plenty of confidence. Boston pick-and-rolled the Nets to death.
"They had a small guy in the pick-and-roll and they had a big guy who could pop threes," Hollins said. "It was a combination of things."
Things really started spiraling for the Nets in the second quarter, when they couldn't buy a shot and Boston picked them apart. As if the quarter wasn't frustrating enough, thanks to their 34.6-percent shooting, the Celtics nailed 13 of 20 attempts, including 7-footer Kelly Olynyk's buzzer-beater. Olynyk fired up a desperation three-pointer from the top of the key and got a generous roll, watching it bounce off the backboard and fall through the net. The shot handed the Celtics a 54-49 advantage at the half and rendered the Nets' 16-0 edge in second-chance points moot.