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Kevin Durant’s 37 points not enough to stop Jayson Tatum’s 54-point explosion. Nets lose, 126-120

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

It was a high scoring affair in Boston that didn’t go Brooklyn’s way down the stretch.

The Nets were defeated by the Celtics, 126-120, at TD Garden Sunday afternoon. With the defeat, Brooklyn falls under .500 to 32-33 on the season and 19-15 on the road. The win for Boston (39-27) also gives them a 3-2 season series lead. The Nets are now 2-2 with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving playing together. Irving is now 5-11 in his 16 games as a part-time player.

More worrisome, the Nets are now tied for the eighth and ninth seeds, barely inside the NBA’s play-in tournament. Moreover, their first round pick, owed to the Rockets, is now technically a lottery pick.

It was a classic game worthy of a playoff contest, but in the end, the Nets simply couldn’t keep up with the Celtics.

Entering the final two minutes of play, Kyrie Irving connected on a nifty 11-foot jumper to put the Nets within a point with 1:44 left. That was as close as Brooklyn got for the remainder of the game. Jayson Tatum (game-high 54 points on 16-of-30 shooting from the field and 8-of-15 shooting from 3-point range) answered with a 17-foot jumper and Marcus Smart followed it up with two points of his own. After a Jaylen Brown shot-clock beating three that served as the dagger to put Boston up 121-115 with 39.4 seconds left, there was little to no hope left of escaping with a win.

“The biggest thing was transition. He got five, six walk-in threes in transition, layups. When a guy gets hot like that, you can’t give him the freebies. I know we put him on the line a little bit too much. You add it all up and when a guy has an exceptional game instead of having 39 and you have a chance, he has 54,” said Steve Nash on Tatum’s performance. “I think we started the second half letting him walk into some threes that got him going, and then he took off from there.”

With 14.6 seconds left on the game clock, Irving drilled a deep 35-foot three off a Durant assist to make it a four-point game (124-120) but Tatum hit the pair of free throws on the other end to bring the lead up to six points with 12.1 left. Out of an inbounds pass by Goran Dragic, Durant caught the ball with his foot on the baseline and Tatum dribbled out the ball to conclude the Nets loss. The end.

“I think the fourth quarter. They executed down the stretch. We talked about it with the group. We look like a brand new team that has never played together before as a group. They look like a team that knew exactly what they were doing,” said Nash after the 126-120 defeat at TD Garden Sunday afternoon. “That’s the gap for our group is to find that cohesion, that understanding, and be able to execute in those situations. To me, that was the difference.”

Durant, who became just the 23rd player in NBA history to score 25,000 career points, ended his milestone game with 37 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the field and 4-of-9 from 3-point range. The superstar grabbed six boards, dished eight assists, had one steal, and swatted two shots in the losing effort.

“They made more threes than us. I think that’s about it,” said Durant on the deciding factor in the defeat. “We outrebounded them. The turnover game was pretty much the same. We made more total field goals than them. But they hit 17 threes to our 12 and won by six. You look at the stat sheet and it’s pretty much the game. I think it was an even game all the way up. I think that was the separator was 3-point shots and their free-throws.”

Irving opened the game strong but remained quiet, even unaggressive, offensively throughout the contest. He finished with 19 points on 8-of-18 shooting overall and 2-of-6 shooting from behind the arc in 37 minutes. He also had four rebounds, six assists, and three steals in the loss filled with TD Garden boos.

“I know it’s going to be like that the rest of my career coming in here,” said Irving on being heavily booed in Boston. “It’s like the scorned girlfriend who wants an explanation on why I left but still hoping for a text back. I’m just like, it was fun while it lasted.”

Bruce Brown, who kept the ship afloat in the third quarter, had himself yet another impressive outing. In front of his hometown Boston crowd, Brown tallied 16 points, six rebounds, five assists, a steal, and a block in 30 minutes. He shot a consistent 6-of-10 from the field and 1-of-3 from 3-point range. LaMarcus Aldridge was the only other Net to finish in double-figures with 14 points in 23 minutes.

“I’m all about winning. I don’t really care about numbers,” said Brown on having big performances in losing efforts. “I’m just trying to win ball games.”

Brooklyn finished the loss shooting 50.6 percent (45-of-89) from the field and 44.4 percent (12-of-27) from 3-point range. The team dished 24 assists on their 45 made shots but coughed up a total of 16 turnovers for 18 Celtic points. Boston dominated in fast-break points with a 21-7 advantage but Brooklyn held a 45-37 rebounding margin in the loss.

The Nets started Irving, Curry, Durant, Brown, and Drummond in the nationally televised game against the Celtics. Brooklyn’s stars got rolling early, scoring 14 of the Nets’ first 16 points. Although Durant started strong, he got in foul trouble by picking up his second foul with 7:03 left in the quarter. By the 6:43 mark, the Celtics held a two-point lead (18-16).

Unlike their last two meetings, Brooklyn ran its offense through Durant, which created open looks for perimeter shooters. Meanwhile, Boston attacked the basket and kicked out to their perimeter shooters, which gave the Nets problems. Either Irving or Durant (combined for 18 points in the first) was on the hardwood for Brooklyn in the first with Irving taking a breather midway through the quarter and Durant getting the final three minutes of rest. The Nets lead the Celtics, 34-29, after one.

It wasn’t the second-quarter start Brooklyn wanted. The Celtics forged a quick 8-0 run to retake the lead. In the run, the Nets failed to contain Jayson Tatum in Boston’s early offense. Out of the Nets’ timeout following the burst, Brooklyn regained their offensive composure but like the first quarter, the defense didn’t follow.

Thomas, who took a hard fall on his lower back off a charge, was favoring his back. After coughing up a turnover at half court, Thomas reached his limit, and the rookie headed to the locker room at the 3:30 mark of the second. He did not return and was ruled out for the remainder of the loss with a back contusion.

Irving remained quiet offensively in the second, tallying only eight points at the break. Durant led the Nets into the locker, finishing with a team-high 19 points but the Celtics star duo, Tatum and Jaylen Brown, combined for 30 points, and Boston shot a total of 17 free throws compared to Brooklyn’s eight. But Brooklyn still held lead at halftime, 60-58.

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics got a big scoring explosion from Tatum to start the third. The superstar wing quickly found a rhythm after being constantly left open and drilled a series of 3-pointers to give Boston a 74-70 lead in the opening minutes of the period.

The Nets answered with an 11-0 run behind the play of Brown, who played tenacious defense and connected on a pair of tough finishes around the basket. That put Brooklyn up by 10 with a little under three minutes left in the third. In the final minute, Boston forged a 6-0 burst to trim Brooklyn’s lead down to a single-point (90-89) entering the final 12 minutes of a game that went down to the wire.

In the end, Brooklyn’s lack of continuity between players showed and Boston hit a pair of timely shots down the stretch to pull away with the home victory.

“We had plenty of lineups out there tonight that haven’t played a basketball game together before. You can feel that when the game got tight. There was a little bit of not doubt on our performance but on just the sharpness on our execution,” Nash said. “That takes time. That takes reps and we can do all we can in the film sessions and walkthroughs, but largely it’s gonna have to come in the games.”

Milestone Watch

With his 37 points, Kevin Durant finished the game with 25,004 points for his career. He’s the 23rd NBA player — and third active — to make the 25,000 mark and is now less than 200 points behind No. 22, Jerry West who finished with 25,192. KD is the seventh fastest to 25,000 all-time.

“It’s pretty cool. I should be at thirty (thousand) to be honest,” said Durant to reaching 25K+ points in his NBA career. “It’s cool. It’s cool to set that milestone and be amongst the greats. I just got to keep pushing and keep going to see where I end up.”

“That’s an impressive, impressive resume and it’s because of all the work on top of the gifts he has,” Steve Nash added.

It was Jayson Tatum’s fourth career 50-point game, tying him with Larry Bird for most 50 point games in Celtics history. Tatum got his fourth at age 24, Bird at 32.

Kyrie Irving shoutout to Mayor Eric Adams

After the Nets 126-120 loss to the Celtics in TD Garden, Kyrie Irving was asked about Eric Adams’ recent comments about lifting the indoor venue vaccination mandate while maintaining the private sector mandate.

The Nets guard praised the Mayor’s efforts during the current climate while also mentioning that he hopes one day the controversy over his refusal to get vaccinated and the city’s mandates can all be put aside and the two “can break bread together.”

“Man, shoutout to Eric Adams. It’s not an easy job to be the mayor of New York City, and with COVID looming, vaccination mandates, everything going on in our world with this war in Ukraine and everybody feeling it across the world right now, I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes right now trying to delegate whether or not one basketball player can come and play at home.” Irving said. “I appreciate his comments and his stance. He knows where I stand and I know one day we’ll be able to break bread together and he’ll be able to come to the games. Hopefully, we’ll move past this time like it never happened in our sense, but it’s just the reality that it’s been difficult on a lot of us in New York City, so I know he’s feeling it and I’m just grateful that he’s on my side as well as the commissioner.”

Of course, it was Adams who on Thursday specifically ruled out a return to play for Irving under the city’s private employer mandate which prohibits employees of companies with more than 100 workers from entering the workplace.

Adams, asked if there was a plan to lift the city’s private sector mandate, said, “Not at this moment. It’s part of our continuation of releasing as the better and better we get with these numbers. Not at this moment.”

When asked directly if that mean Irving cannot play at Barclays Center, Adams replied, “Under existing rules. he cannot.”

On Monday, the indoor vaccine mandate — which had also prohibited Irving from playing home games — will be lifted. As Barclays Center noted in a tweet aimed at its patrons noted...

Big Baby moved

Glen “Big Baby” Davis, a member of the 2008 Celtics title team, was enjoying the game from a courtside seat during the second half when ... whoops.

Davis famously dissed Kyrie Irving last year for stepping on the TD Garden’s “Lucky” logo following the Nets 4-1 first round series win over the Celtics.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

San Antonio Spurs v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

The Nets will return to action on Tuesday, March 8 when the team travels to Charlotte to face the Hornets. The game is slated to tip at 7:00 p.m. ET. Charlotte and the Nets are tied for 8th and 9th in the East.

“We know what we gotta do. We know what situation we in. We want to win every game. We’re going to come out there (Charlotte) and try to win that game,” said Durant looking ahead to Tuesday’s game. “It’s a sense of urgency but we not putting pressure on us every time we’re around each other.”

For a different perspective on Sunday afternoon’s game in Boston, check out CelticsBlog — our sister site covering the Celtics.