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Tatum drives NBA-best Celtics past Nets

Red-hot Boston wins eighth straight visit to Barclays Center

February 14, 2024 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Perhaps they should start calling them the Brooklyn Celtics.

Jayson Tatum and his Boston teammates continued their mastery of the Nets Tuesday night before a sellout crowd of 18,053 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center, many of whom slogged through the slush to see what they’ve come to expect from these Atlantic Division rivals.

Tatum scored 41 points and ripped down 14 rebounds in his latest virtuoso performance in our borough, driving the league-leading Celtics to a 118-110 triumph, Boston’s eighth straight win in Brooklyn and 15th in the last 16 meetings with the Nets, including a first-round sweep in the 2022 playoffs.

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“We’ve got a really good team where in any given possession we could have two, three advantages and it’s not always just going to be me,” Tatum said. “So just understanding that and knowing that I need my teammates. I need everybody, we all need each other.”

After putting up 32 points and grabbing 11 boards in his last visit here on Nov. 4, Tatum was even finer in his second trip to Brooklyn this season.

He put up 31 first-half points to give the Celtics a 72-57 cushion and finished 14-of-26 from the floor, including 5-of-11 from 3-point range.

“We rely on him to make those and he’s not afraid to shoot them,” Boston guard Jrue Holiday said of Tatum.

“But tonight, him taking those shots gave us a lot of energy. It definitely gave us a boost to go out there, lock in defensively and then get him the ball back.”

The Net nemesis also handed out five assists, picked up a pair of steals and blocked a shot in 39 scintillating minutes.

“These high-level guys, once they get going, we started to trap him a little bit, but they’ve got so much shooting out there,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn lamented as his team dropped the opener of a back-to-back, home-and-home set to Tatum and the Celtics.

“It’ll be interesting to watch it again and see what adjustments we can make,” he added.

The Celtics (42-12) won their fifth straight overall, but it didn’t come easy after they built a 23-point, second-half lead behind Tatum’s dominance.

The Nets (21-32) crawled back within 111-105 when rookie Jalen Wilson buried a 25-footer with 2:49 remaining in regulation.

But after Boston’s Derrick White and Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges exchanged 3-balls, Tatum hit a 3-foot floater and blocked Cam Thomas’ pull-up jumper before White’s thunderous slam settled matters.

“I think you have to look at (our ability to come back in the fourth quarter), especially when you play these guys tomorrow,” said Vaughn, whose squad dipped a season worst-tying 11 games below .500.

With one game left before the league-wide All-Star break, the Nets would love to go into their hiatus with a win over the league’s best and hottest team.

But Tatum will likely be back on the hardwood again Wednesday, and Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis, who missed the opener due to a lower-back contusion, will also be in the lineup for Boston.

Cam Thomas shook off a rough first half, but the Nets couldn’t end their home losing streak against Boston Tuesday at Barclays Center. AP Photo by Peter K. Afriyie

Jaylen Brown scored 19 points and Al Horford, filling in for Porzingis, added 16 for the Celtics, who edged the Nets on the boards, 39-37, and put up 50 points in the paint.

“The rebounding piece, the fouling piece, that’s staring us in the face,” Vaughn ceded. “We have to be able to contain them, keep the ball in front of us and rebound the basketball.”

Bridges finished with 27 points and Thomas had 26 despite a rough start that saw him manage just seven before intermission. The tandem went a combined 20-for-40 from the field.

“That was a great response by Cam Thomas,” Vaughn noted. “Get rewarded for continuing to fight. … A lot goes to his credit. That’s more than a physical battle, that’s a mental battle.”

Lonnie Walker IV added 15 points off the bench, but new acquisition Dennis Schroder, who had a smashing Barclays debut Saturday vs. San Antonio, only managed six points in nine minutes.

Brooklyn point guard Ben Simmons had five points, eight assists and six rebounds, but is not playing Wednesday as he continues to build up strength after sitting out 38 games with a nerve impingement in his lower back.

“He is not playing in back-to-backs, so he will not play tomorrow,” Vaughn confirmed of Simmons, who missed all but one of his five shots.

Whomever does suit up for the Nets Wednesday had better be ready to take aim at a Celtics squad interested in more than Brooklyn bragging rights.

Even though they have those dating back to April 23, 2021, when the Nets held on for a 109-104 victory over Boston here despite 38 points from Tatum.

Dennis Schroder and the Nets will try again to keep up with Jayson Tatum and the Celtics in Boston Wednesday night. AP Photo by Peter K. Afriyie

NOTHING BUT NET: Nets forward Cam Johnson could return Wednesday from an abductor strain that has kept him out of the lineup since Feb. 5. Brooklyn reserve center Day’Ron Sharpe did come back from a hyperextended knee against the Celtics, putting up six points and grabbing four rebounds in nine minutes. … When they return from the All-Star break, the Nets will continue a five-game road trip in Toronto on Feb. 22. That will be their first reunion with former point man Spencer Dinwiddie, who went to the Raptors last week in the NBA trade deadline deal that brought back Schroder.

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