Celtics pushed before holding off Nets
BOSTON — It wasn’t easy, but the Boston Celtics managed to turn back the clock to a special time in franchise history on Sunday.
Boston held off the feisty Brooklyn Nets 108-105 to improve to 30-10 on the season, with the franchise reaching 30 wins at the earliest date since 1964-65.
In fact, it was the third-earliest arrival at 30 victories in team history. The 1959-60 team got there on Dec. 28, the 1964-65 group on Dec. 30.
Both of those teams went on to win the NBA title.
And now, the first try at win No. 31 comes with the Cleveland Cavaliers visiting on Wednesday night.
“Really, really tough task (against the Cavs), obviously,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said after his team failed to hit a field goal for the final 4:27 on Sunday but still hung on. “They’ve had everybody’s number in the East for a couple of years now, and we’re amongst that list. So we’ll see — we’ll see whatever Wednesday (brings).”
The final day of the calendar year almost brought pain as the Celtics actually had to repel the Nets (13-23) on four different occasions.
The home team, getting out to a quick 16-5 lead through 4:54, led by 13 in the first half, then fell behind for the only time in the game before a 12-2 third-quarter spurt re-established control. Back came the Nets again, and Boston used a 9-0 run to take over yet again.
Brooklyn, ending a 1-4 road trip, trailed 98-84 with 5:59 left but had a chance for a tie when Spencer Dinwiddie fired up a long bomb off an inbounds pass with 14.5 seconds left that didn’t come close.
“I think it was open, I think he could’ve gotten closer,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think if he curled it tighter, that was the play for him to come off that screen. ... I think they botched a switch or whatever and he came off. Even so, it was longer than we wanted but it was an open catch and shoot. So I told him take it, come off that thing and take it. Wish it was a little closer.”
Boston’s Kyrie Irving registered his 11th straight 20-point game, scoring 28 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
“You’ve got to give credit to just how talented that team is,” Irving said of the Nets. “They play extremely hard for all 48 minutes. Well-coached, and he gives them the utmost confidence and freedom to play to their strengths.
“A few great takeaways from this game, but especially down the stretch. We’ve just got to close out better.”
Marcus Morris finished with 15 points off the Boston bench. Terry Rozier, another reserve, had 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Jaylen Brown scored 13 points. Al Horford had 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Aron Baynes contributed 10 boards.
Talking about Morris, Rozier said: “It was great. We’re a team that has a lot of players that can play. You never know who’s going to give you a boost off the bench, and tonight it was Marcus Morris. He lifted us a lot.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the Nets with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Caris LeVert, playing his second consecutive strong game off the bench despite a hip pointer, had 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Quincy Acy scored 14 points, DeMarre Carroll and Crabbe both scored 12, Carroll grabbing seven rebounds, and Dinwiddie had 10 points and nine assists.
“Just about your focus,” Hollis-Jefferson said of the late rally that came up just short. “I think it’s your preparation that at the end of the day we prepared for this before the game. It’s about being locked in.
“Sometimes you’ll have a slip-up like we did at the beginning of the first quarter, but it’s the overall outcome that you kind of want to base it on and we kind of stayed with it, we locked in. So give them credit, Boston’s a really good team.”
NOTES: The normally turnover-prone Nets coughed it up only once in the first half. ... F Jaylen Brown (knee) returned to the Celtics’ lineup after missing two games while F Semi Ojeleye (back) remained out but was improved. ... Nets coach Kenny Atkinson on his team: “Listen, I think like a lot of mediocre to below-average teams, we’re searching for consistency. That’s the magic sauce we’re looking for.” ... The Nets came in with the No. 2-scoring bench in the NBA. The Brooklyn bench outscored Boston’s reserves 46-43. ... Brooklyn comes off its five-game trip and opens a five-game homestand against the Orlando Magic on Monday.