The Celtics got contributions across the board for a hard-fought win.

Celtics Nets
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving keeps the ball away from Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The Celtics and Nets were both short-handed on Thursday, and the Celtics clawed out a hard-fought 109-98 victory.

Here are the takeaways.

1. That was a phenomenal win for the Celtics, even with the obvious caveat that the Nets were without Kevin Durant (and will be for at least a couple of weeks as he deals with an MCL sprain).

The Celtics were without both Jaylen Brown and Al Horford. They were playing their third game in four nights, and their second game in a row after traveling from Boston to Brooklyn the night before. Jayson Tatum front-rimmed his way to a 7-for-22 shooting performance. As a team, the Celtics made just 33.3 percent of their 3-pointers. The Nets are also significantly better than last season, even with Durant out — a more complete team with a lot of weapons all over the floor.

And still, the Celtics pulled away in the second half and won by double digits. Credit can be doled out up and down the roster. Tatum consistently drew two defenders all night, and the Nets don’t have elite defensive personnel to make a double-teaming strategy work against a team that moves the ball like the Celtics. Six Celtics scored in double figures. For the second time this week and their third time in five games, the Celtics held an opponent to fewer than 100 points.

Whenever the Celtics go through a tough stretch, they find a way to shake it off. Their blowout loss to the Thunder was embarrassing, but the five consecutive wins since help assuage the embarrassment significantly.

2. Perhaps no one showed the effects of the Celtics’ brutal schedule more than Tatum. Two of his 3-point attempts skied high in the air and came nowhere near the rim, apparently without being blocked. Getting to the hoop looked like a chore. He took only four free throws.

Still, Tatum contributed in other ways.

Tatum finished with five assists. Jaylen Brown is likely to miss “a week or two” with an adductor strain, according to Joe Mazzulla. Tatum’s ability to punish opponents who double-team him with great passing in Brown’s absence will be important.

When Brown does return, it might be time for Tatum to take some time off. He told reporters he is dealing with issues in his fingers and wrist.

“I got a lot of s— going on,” Tatum said.

3. With Horford sidelined, Robert Williams got the start and played a season-high 29 minutes. While he recorded just eight points and five rebounds, Williams looked healthy and bouncy, and his presence is impactful whether or not he gets the ball.

The Celtics are up to fifth in defensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass. In both of the games Robert Williams started this season, they allowed fewer than 100 points. The Celtics didn’t miss him too much at the start of the year when they were unsustainably hot from 3-point range, but having him now that they have cooled off is important.

4. A Tatum-less lineup that included Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White, Payton Pritchard, and Luke Kornet helped the Celtics build the lead that carried them through the final quarter.

Late in the third, Tatum checked out with the Celtics trailing 80-78. Over a five-minute stretch that spanned two quarters, the bench went on a crucial 12-4 run, scoring seemingly at will around the rim. Pritchard scored six points, all in the paint, while White slapped away another block and Brogdon laid in four points. By the time Tatum returned, the Celtics had an eight-point lead, which ballooned to 12 shortly afterward. The Nets never really made a serious push again.

5. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much White brings to the Celtics, but his wide-ranging game was on full display against the Nets. He made a couple of spectacular defensive plays, including a rotation block against T.J. Warren that looked like Robert Williams protecting the rim.

Offensively, White is rock solid as a ball-handler and mover, and he hit the dagger 3-pointer in the corner that clinched the game.

The Celtics are 7.2 points better than their baseline defensively with White on the floor, and 8.0 points better overall — their best on/off efficiency differential on Cleaning the Glass.

So actually, maybe quantifying Derrick White isn’t that hard. He makes the Celtics a lot better when he’s on the floor, which might help explain why Joe Mazzulla didn’t want to adjust the starting lineup even when Williams returned.

6. The Nets benefitted from a relatively obvious goal-tending call, which officials missed in the third quarter. Leading by six, Tatum drove to the hoop and tossed up a finger roll. Nic Claxton sent it packing, but the ball appeared to clearly be on its way down.

Instead, the Nets got a layup on the other end — a four-point swing that sparked a 9-0 run.

The game paid the Celtics back, however. With 7:14 remaining, the Celtics got away with a lob from Marcus Smart to Luke Kornet, which was almost certainly goaltending. Kornet was facing away from the basket, and he caught the ball awkwardly (and probably above the cylinder).

Kornet, who is very funny, clearly realized he got away with one.

Don’t worry about it, Luke. The ball is notoriously honest.

7. For your enjoyment, two impressive first-quarter passes by Marcus Smart.

Smart finished with a team-high 10 assists in his return after suffering a knee contusion against the Bulls on Monday.

8. It’s too early to watch the standings every night, but Thursday was very kind to the Celtics. In addition to their own win over the Nets, the Celtics got some help as the Thunder beat the Sixers, and the Heat beat the Bucks (the Cavaliers trailed the Blazers at halftime).

After slipping a bit recently, the Celtics are back up to a three-game lead over the Nets, 3.5 over the Bucks and 5.0 over the Sixers.

They now travel to Charlotte to take on the Hornets on Saturday and Monday.


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