BROOKLYN — The Nets hung with the Boston Celtics until they couldn’t.
In their first game without Kevin Durant, the Nets fell just short to the Celtics in a 109-98 loss at Barclays Center. Boston went on a 12-2 run through the first five minutes of the fourth quarter to pull away from Brooklyn after the two sides were neck and neck through the first 36 minutes of the game.
Even without their franchise cornerstone, the Nets kept the game close most of the night with the Celtics’ largest lead being just 13 points. It was the fourth when Brooklyn let the game slip away, being outscored 25-16, which was the largest differential in a quarter all night.
“They picked up their pressure at the start of the fourth with a flurry of baskets and we called timeout, but they won the race to get the fourth quarter started aggressive,” Irving said. “A few times, calls could have gone either way when the results ended up the way they are, and I feel like we definitely could have taken some better shots in the fourth quarter, got some defensive stops, but it didn’t happen for us tonight. And when you give up any opportunities for them to capitalize, they’re a great team, they’re gonna do so.”
The Nets had only trailed by two going into the final frame of the game when the Celtics started to pull away. Payton Pritchard and Malcolm Brogdon combined for a quick eight points and by the 7:14 mark Brooklyn trailed by 12.
Irving cut the Nets’ deficit to eight with a driving layup in the final five minutes of the game, but a Robert Williams III alley-oop dunk put Boston back up by 10 and a three-point play by Jayson Tatum seemly put the game out of reach with 2:43 left in the game.
“Give them a lot of credit, their defense took the step up and we couldn’t produce on the offensive end of the floor,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Give them a lot of credit for really challenging every shot of ours and making every shot tough for us.”
The loss to the Celtics was the Nets’ ninth consecutive to Boston dating back to last season, which includes their four games against them in the playoffs.
Kyrie Irving finished the night with 24 points on 9-of-24 shooting from the field along with six assists. T.J. Warren added 20 points off the bench and Joe Harris shot 4-of-7 from three-point range while finishing with 18 points.
Nic Claxton had a big defensive effort with four blocks, which was the seventh consecutive game in which he had at least three blocks, and pulled down nine boards. Ben Simmons did record a single point, but had 13 assists and nine rebounds.
Thursday was the 18th time an NBA player didn’t score a point and had at least 13 assists in a regular season game. Among the names on that list was Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn, who had 13 assists and no points as a member of the New Jersey Nets on April 18, 2006.
The matchup was the first hurdle that the Nets were hoping to get over as they try to maneuver their upcoming schedule without Durant on the floor. The NBA superstar was injured on Sunday when Jimmy Butler fell into Durant during the Nets’ win over the Miami Heat.
Durant had suffered a similar injury last season roughly around the same time as the one that occurred on Sunday, which sent their 2021-22 campaign into a tailspin. Vaughn was encouraged by the number of threes that his side attempted, but didn’t like that the Nets shot just 40% from mid-range.
“That piece of it we talked about, that’s just inefficient,” Vaughn said. “With Kevin taking 32 mid-range we can roll with that. But the other guys, that’s not the basket that we want to fit in. We take 10 more threes or 15 more threes, I love it, but those shots are inefficient. You end up being 12-of-32. That’s why you have 16 points in the fourth (quarter).”