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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A little humbler, Celtics visit Nets

A little humbler, Celtics visit Nets


A little over seven months ago, the Boston Celtics completed a four-game sweep of the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs to start their run to the 2022 NBA Finals.

After falling short in their bid for an 18th championship, the Celtics now own the best record and the league’s top scoring offense.

Meanwhile the Nets endured a turbulent summer, a tumultuous start to the season, and only now are starting to find their footing.

When the teams get together Sunday in Brooklyn, the Celtics will be attempting to avoid their second losing streak of the season while the Nets seek their fifth consecutive victory.

The teams are meeting for the first time since April 25 last season when Jayson Tatum averaged 29.2 points a game in Boston’s first-round sweep. The Celtics also won the last three matchups of the regular season.

Tatum is averaging 30.8 points but is coming off his least productive showing of the season. He was held to a season-low 14 points Friday in a 120-116 overtime loss to Miami — shooting 5-of-18, including 0-of-7 from 3-point range — as the Celtics committed a season-worst 20 turnovers.

That came two nights after Tatum scored a season-high 49 points and hit eight 3-pointers in a 134-121 win over the visiting Miami Heat.

“It keeps us humble in a sense,” Boston’s Grant Williams said. “It keeps us understanding that we’re not some perfect juggernaut that can’t get knocked off.”

Tatum’s performance ended Boston’s five-game winning streak though the Celtics nearly pulled out the game thanks to 37 points from Jaylen Brown, who hit the tying 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left in regulation.

“This isn’t going to be the last game like this,” Boston guard Marcus Smart said. “There’s going to be other games. For us to be able to learn this lesson early, figure it out and to be able to go watch this film and have something to look back on and say, ‘We’ve been here before. We know what to do now.'”

The Nets head into Sunday on an upswing after setting season highs for points in a first quarter (41) and a first half (72) in Friday’s 114-105 win over the visiting Toronto Raptors. Brooklyn led by as many 36 in the second quarter and improved to 4-0 on its season-high seven-game homestand.

Brooklyn is 11-5 in its past 16 games following a 2-6 start that featured coach Steve Nash getting fired on Nov. 1 and replaced by Jacque Vaughn, who often calls quick timeouts.

Friday was mostly a stress-free outing, even though the Raptors got as close as seven in the final minute. Kyrie Irving scored 27 points and is averaging 24 points over his past seven games.

“(We’re) just playing with a lot more confidence, everybody’s accepting their role,” Irving said. “We just want to keep it going.”

Irving’s showing was part of a night when the Nets placed had six players score in double figures, including Kevin Durant, who finished with 17 points. Joe Harris added 17 and is shooting 55.1 percent (16-of-29) in his past three games.

“We’re learning,” Durant said. “As time goes on, we’re trying to figure out how to play off of each other through different defenses and it’s been working so far, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

And the Nets are figuring it out just in time to face the Celtics, who held Durant to 38.6 percent from the field in the playoffs last spring.

“We gotta be solid, be ready to play,” Durant said. “I’m excited about it.”

–Field Level Media

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