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Nets show grit late but fall to Celtics in season opener, 122-117

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Brooklyn Nets basketball is BACK! The vibe is different, the players are different, but basketball never changes, and for that alone, life is back to normal.

In Kenny Atkinson’s debut as a head coach and the Nets season opener, they fell to the Celtics, 122-117, Wednesday night in a crazy game in Boston.

The Nets trailed by six at halftime, but a 33-point third quarter from Boston put the Nets down by 16 heading into the fourth. They had zero answers for Boston’s attack, allowing them to shoot 54 percent behind 25 points and nine assists from Isaiah Thomas.

Late in the fourth, Brooklyn trailed 118-99 when Kenny Atkinson inserted both Isaiah Whitehead and Chris McCullough. It appeared to be the white towel, but instead the Nets went on an 18-2 extended run and cut the deficit down to three with 18 seconds left after a Bojan Bogdanovic three.

They had a chance, but Justin Hamilton missed on Brooklyn’s 42nd 3-point attempt on the night. They took 44 – a franchise record – but nailed only 15 of them.

The Nets allowed 111 points per game in the preseason. They allowed 122 Wednesday. This may not be an anomaly. This team really struggled to defend besides the final 5 minutes.

The plan was simple and it didn’t include Brook Lopez. As a matter of fact, he was an afterthought. In just 21 minutes of action, Lopez shot 1-for-7 – the one conversion coming from beyond the 3-point arc. He played the first six minutes of both the first and second quarter, and then Luis Scola started over him in the second half for “matchup purposes”.

“What we’re trying to do with Brook is take the long-term approach, just build him up as the season goes on and increase his minutes. We have a plan in place,’’ Atkinson said. “It’s learning the system, it’s looking at a long-term approach to how we’re going to build him up in terms of minutes as the season goes on. He’s got some miles on him.”

Lopez said the comparison of a pitch count is fair. “That’s a pretty good metaphor for it,” he said.

So, that was the game plan: shoot 3-pointers… and shoot a whole lot of them. Justin Hamilton (19 points) nailed three and Joe Harris (16 points) nailed four from deep. Bogdanovic led all Brooklyn scorers with 21 points in 23 minutes, continuing his aggressive offense that marked his Olympic summer. Hamilton’s total was a new career high, Harris tied his previous high.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin finished with 18 points but had only three assists and lost Isaiah Thomas more than once. Kenny Atkinson emphasized in the preseason that Lin needs to get into “one” form and distribute the ball. Trevor Booker had a nice line of: 8 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, one of which led to a late dunk that tightened the game.

Atkinson got an endorsement from Al Horford, playing his first game as a Celtic.

“I told people about three or four years ago that he was going to be a head coach. I just saw it,” Horford said. “He was always very humble, head down, keep working. Brooklyn couldn’t have gotten a better guy. The biggest thing for everyone to know is they’ve got to stick with him because he’s going to be great.”

Bench vs. Starters:

The Nets starters outscored the bench 59-58. They’re going to need more from Lopez in order for that to change.

Assists:

Boston dished out 36 assists compared to Brooklyn’s 22. Again, Lin and Greivis Vasquez need to do a better job of distributing the basketball.

The grit:

Despite the game getting out of hand in the second half, there’s plenty of good signs. First off: the fight. The grit. They were down by 19 with a little over four minutes left and still made this a game. It all changed when they started to play scrappy defense. It’s the epitome of what to expect: they may not win many games this season, but they will play hard every night under Kenny Atkinson.

Bojan passed Drazen ... again:

In the third quarter, Bogdanovic passed Drazen Petrovic in three point goals. It was the latest milestone that the Croatian passed or surpassed his idol. Last season, he tied Petrovic’s single game scoring record with a 44-point score against Philly. Over the summer, his 25.3 point average in the Olympics was the highest ever for a Croatian (and for a Net), again passing Petrovic.

Inactives: Randy Foye, Caris LeVert.

Of the active players, only Anthony Bennett didn’t play

Next up: Friday’s home opener against the Indiana Pacers.