Clinging to a one-point half time lead, and requiring a win in order to prevent falling in to a tie for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot with five games to move, the Nets left their lockerroom well aware that this was a match they only couldn’t let getaway.

“We were giving them a lot of exactly what they were getting. We knew we had to buckle down and tense up.

“We knew exactly what we needed to do.”

It had been a sentiment Russell took to heart, since he scored 20 of his 29 points in the third quarter to lead the Nets to a urgently needed 110-94 victory on the Celtics Saturday night — just one which allowed Brooklyn to keep pace on a night after all four teams fighting for its last three playoff spots in the East came out with wins.

“We know all of these games coming are play off games,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson stated. “It’s just how we need to check at it. We’re in it. We can’t shy away from it.

“They’re all play off games, but it had been crucial that you find this one.”

Mary Altaffer/AP

Atkinson said that prior to knowing that the results of the other games around the East — such as the sixth-place Detroit Pistons beating the Portland Trailblazers , the eighth-place Miami Heat beating the New York Knicks and the ninth-place Orlando Magic beating the Indiana Pacers.

Consequently, the standings at the start of Saturday appeared exactly the same because they did by the conclusion of itBoston and Indiana in a tie for fourth spot, followed by Detroit, Brooklyn, Miami and Orlando — with 1.5 games separating the teams in sixth through ninth.

The tightly bunched standings only highlight the significance of any win for each of the teams fighting to reach the playoffs. Nevertheless, it had been specially critical for its Nets to claim a victory while they fight through a brutally difficult final stretch to really make the playoffs.

“I believe this is the word: excited,” Atkinson said. “There’s no fear, there’s no trepidation. Look at the schedule. I think, quite frankly, and I said this before the street trip, we probably are not favored in all the games, but it’s almost like we need to pull some NCAA upsets.

“We’ve got to overcome some teams we’re not supposed to overcome. That’s just plain and simple.”

Using one hand, Atkinson is — that the Nets have been in the midst of a barbarous closing schedule that has them playing 12 of their final 14 games (including the last eight in a row) against teams now in the playoffs, and all but one of these against teams with better recordings than Brooklyn.

On the other hand, the Nets were playing with in the home on Saturday night using a Celtics team which had played at the night before and had been resting the top two players, including Kyrie Irving and Al Horford.

In short: it is a match that the Nets only had to win.



D’Angelo Russell scores 20 points at the 3rd quarter to give the Nets a large lead on the Celtics.

And, due to Russell, they did. His additional 3 quarters were to write home about, as he had been a combined 4-for-12 shooting, including 0-for-5 from 3-point variety, also had four turnovers. But he more than made up for it with his outburst at the next, in which he scored 20 points about 8-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-7 in 3-point variety, in just 7 minutes and 44 minutes of game time.

“There’s two halves in every match,” Russell stated. “The first half has been a little suspect — costly turnovers, questionable shot selection — so I only knew I had to tighten .”

Once he did, the rest of the Nets followed, pushing the lead to double digits against a tired and undermanned Celtics team. And, compared to this countless close games that the Nets have seen themselves in throughout this year, Brooklyn was able to preserve a large lead throughout the fourth quarter to emerge from this one with a comparatively comfortable — and hugely significant — win.

Boston, on the other hand, caught a break when Indiana — which lost in Boston the night before on Irving’s game-winning lay up with 0.5 minutes remaining — lost in the home to Orlando, which supposed the Celtics stayed in fourth place in the East. The Pacers and Celtics will square off again Friday night in Indianapolis in a game which will probably determine who holds dwelling court in the inevitable first-round series between them that will begin a couple of weeks from now.

Entering this year, the Celtics were assumed to be fighting home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs with just two weeks to go in the regular season — maybe not fighting only to have it in the very first round of the playoffs. But, power forward Marcus Morris said that Boston is going to be ready once the postseason rolls around — and that, in the point, every thing which happened before won’t matter.

“We’ve been having criticism all year,” Morris said. “It can’t be worse than what it is now. We only tell ourselves, keep going, man.

“Everybody is going to uncertainty us due to this entire year we had, but as soon as the playoffs hit it’s basically a brand new season, therefore we still have a chance to turn this thing around. Probably 10 years from now they’ll perform A30 to get 30 on this team.”


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