The Nets have played this type of game plenty of times through the first 15 contests this season. They battle, put a bit of a scare into a good team, but in the end don’t have enough to pull out the victory.
This would have been a sweet victory for the Nets on Thanksgiving Eve if they could have closed out Boston. But the Celtics weren’t going to let it happen even on a night when their Big Three wasn’t at their sharpest and the fourth member of the talented quartet was in a suit.
Too much Shaquille O’Neal and not enough good possessions down the stretch led to an 89-83 loss that felt eerily similar to the defeat to Orlando two weeks back and in Denver last week.
The Nets played hard enough to win, if only they made a couple more plays, got a couple more rebounds or took care of the ball a little bit better.
“We had a stretch where we were turning the ball over, giving them chances in transition and we had some defensive malfunctions late in the game and gave up big plays,” said Devin Harris, whose 20 points led the Nets. “Overall I thought we fought hard. We have to withstand that late run.”
That’s been the story of the Nets’ season. They’ve had leads, but squandered them because of some bad trips on both ends of the floor. That was the case again.
This was a game they lead for almost the entire second and third quarters. This was a game they led by 10 in the third quarter. But that margin wasn’t big enough in TD Garden, where the crowd was waiting for something to happen and constantly tried to urge on the Celtics defensively.
The fans got that in the form of O’Neal. He scored a game- and season-high 25 points. He had 13 in the second half and was a beat inside. He made only two baskets after halftime, but he drew fouls as he went to the line 12 times and hit seven of them.
“Boy, he got it going, especially in that second half,” coach Avery Johnson said. “He’s always been a tough cover and more than anything he got them in the bonus quicker in the second half, which put pressure on our defense.”
It was timely for the Celtics as Kevin Garnett was just 4-for-12 with eight points and five rebounds and Rajon Rondo was out with a hamstring injury. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were quiet for most of the game, but came to life late. They combined for 33 points, 27 coming in the second half.
The Big Three of Pierce, Allen and Shaq outscored the Nets 40-37 in the second half.
“Anytime you’re playing against a good team like the Celtics – a really good team – you are going to have to withstand their pushes in the second half,” Kris Humphries said.
In these games, the Nets are going to have to hit some shots to stop the proverbial bleeding. For a 6:20 stretch in the fourth, the Nets missed 11-of-13 shots and three-of-four free throws and were outscored 15-6.
“Once our offense starts clicking I think we’ll be a tough team to beat,” Brook Lopez said. .
“We definitely played defense,” Humphries said. “We just got to be able to score the ball.”
That definitely sounds familiar.
“Tough, tough loss for us. On the road, in a back-to-back game against a team that’s been in the Finals two out of the last three years and boy we were right there. Not a good third quarter. Just bad turnovers, we couldn’t get in our offense. They raised the volume up on their defense. We just didn’t do a good job in the third quarter especially offensively. We turned the ball over. We were late in the shot clock so that third quarter will be a good teaching tape for us.”
- Johnson after another narrow defeat
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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)