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Deron Williams returns to lead the Nets over the first place Celtics, 104-96

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Al Bello

BROOKLYN - It was a near-perfect night in Brooklyn, as the Nets saw Deron Williams and Paul Pierce return to the lineup for their game against the first place Boston Celtics. Williams was in the starting lineup for the Nets, as Pierce came of the bench, with Jason Kidd saying before the game he wanted him to "test out" his protective glove coming off the bench.

Deron Williams was back to his All-Star ways, leading the Nets over a good Celtics team, 104-96. Brooklyn is now 7-14 on the season and have won two in a row, three of the last five and four of the last eight.  There were other milestones as well. It was the first time that all five starters were available since November 15, the first time  Williams and Brook Lopez had played a full game together since November 13 while the 17-point lead in the third was the Nets' largest since November 4 against the lowly Jazz.

Williams and Lopez led the way early for the Nets, combing to score 16 of the team's first 20 points. Still, the Nets weren't able to distance themselves all that much with the Celtics on the defensive end, as Boston stretched the floor early with their 3-point shooting and used their athletic advantage to get to the rim and get fairly open looks. Then, the bench entered the game, and with energy from Andray Blatche, Pierce and Shaun Livingston, the Nets went on a 13-2 run to end the first, carrying a 31-20 lead after one.

Alan Anderson had the hot hand in the second quarter, as the Celtics pulled to within three points late in the quarter. Finally, the Nets were able to stretch out minutes for their starters and use their depth. Fresh bodies, so to speak, against a young Celtics team was the key to Brooklyn being able to carry their lead throughout the second.

At halftime, the Nets led the Celtics, 56-47, after outscoring the Celtics 30-18 in the point in the first half.

The third quarter started off like a "typical third quarter," as the Nets came out struggling. Boston started the third on a 13-4 run to tie the game up at 60-60.

Brooklyn settled down after letting the Celtics tie the game up, as Williams took charge in running the offense and setting off an 10-0 run for the Nets. Williams looked about as good as he has all season on that run.

Lopez, Anderson, Williams and Blatche really carried the Nets through the third, a quarter they've long struggled with. Brooklyn outscored Boston in the third 29-25, shooting 57.1 percent from the floor. They led 85-72 heading into the fourth.

Boston made a bit of a run late in the game. They cut the lead to five at one point, late in the fourth, but that was as close as it got. The Nets used their depth, their size and showed plenty of fight in this one.

This was, without a doubt, about as good of a game as we've seen from Deron Williams all season, giving fans plenty of reason to be optimistic about what the Nets are capable of when healthy.

Williams finished with 25 points and seven assists in 37 minutes, while Lopez went for 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Anderson scored 13 points to go a long with Blatche's 11 points and nine rebounds. Garnett with a strong showing, finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes.

After the game, Garnett used a few four- and six-letter words (not 13, however) to describe how difficult November was for the Nets and in the process set himself up for a fine.

"You have to be optimistic," Garnett said. "It's a long year. November was a s---ty year for us."

Realizing that he was in dangerous territory, KG continued, "I don't care if you (print that). They'll probably fine me for that." The man who's made more than a quarter billion dollars in his NBA career will probably wind up with a five figure fine, just as Gerald Wallace did last month.

Next up is Thursday night at home against Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers.

For more on the Celtics, see: CelticsBlog