Clinging into a one-point half time lead, and requiring a win to avoid falling in to a tie for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot with five games to move, the Nets abandoned their lockerroom well aware this was a game they only couldn’t let escape.
“We weren’t playing the very best,” D’Angelo Russell said. “We were providing them with alot of what they were getting. We knew that we had to buckle and tense up.
“We knew what we needed to complete.”
It was a belief Russell clearly took to heart, as he scored 20 of his 29 points in the 3rd quarter to lead the Nets to a urgently needed 110 94 victory on the Celtics Saturday night — one that allowed Brooklyn to maintain pace on a night after all four teams fighting for the last three playoff spots in the East came away with wins.
“we all know each of these games coming are playoff games,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It is just how we now have to check at it. We’re inside. We can not shy away from this.
“They are all playoff gamesbut it was important to get this one.”
Atkinson stated that before realizing the results of the other games around the East — including the sixth-place Detroit Pistons beating the Portland Trail Blazers, the eighth-place MiamI Heat beating the New York Knicks and also the ninth-place Orlando Magic beating the Indiana Pacers.
Consequently, the standings at the start of Saturday seemed exactly just like towards the ending of this Boston and Indiana tied for fourth spot, followed closely by Detroit, Brooklyn, Miami and Orlando — with 1.5 games separating each spot from sixth through ninth.
The tightly bunched standings only highlight the significance of almost any win for every one of those teams struggling to reach the playoffs. Nevertheless, it was specially critical for the Nets to maintain a triumph of all kinds because they fight through a cruelly challenging closing stretch to make the playoffs.
“I think that is the word: enthused,” Atkinson said. “There is no fear, there’s no trepidation. Take a look at the schedule. I do think, quite frankly, and that I said this before the road trip, we probably are not favored in any of those games, however it’s almost like we now have to pull some NCAA upsets.
“We have to overcome some teams we aren’t supposed to overcome. That’s just basically.”
On the one hand, Atkinson is right — the Nets are in the midst of a brutal closing schedule that’s them playing 12 of their final 14 games (including the last eight in a row) against teams now in the playoffs, along with all but one coming against teams having a better album than Brooklyn.
On the flip side, Saturday night saw the Nets playing at home against a Celtics team that had played at the evening before and was resting its top two players, including Kyrie Irving along with Al Horford.
In short: it was a game the Nets only had to triumph.
And, thanks to Russellthey did. His other 3 quarters were to write home about, because he was a joint 4-for-12 shooting, for example 0-for-5 from 3-point variety, along with 4 turnovers. However he more than made up with his own outburst in the next, in which he scored 20 points about 8-for-12 shooting, for example 4-for-7 from 3-point variety, in just 7 minutes and 44 minutes of game time.
“There is two halves in every game,” Russell said. “The first half was a little suspect — costly turnovers, suspicious shot choice — I only knew I had to tighten up.”
Once he did, the rest of the Nets followedpushing out the lead to double digits against a weary and Under-manned Celtics team. And, unlike many close games the Nets have found themselves on both sides of throughout this season, Brooklyn was able to maintain a sizable lead throughout the fourth quarter to emerge from that individual with a relatively comfortable — and massively important — triumph.
Boston, on the other hand, caught a break with Indiana — which lost in Boston the night before on Irving’s game-winning lay up with 0.5 minutes remaining — losing at home to Orlando, which supposed Boston stayed in fourth place in the East. Those two teams will square off Friday night in Indianapolis in a game that will likely find who holds home court in the inevitable first-round series between the two teams that will start a couple of weeks from today.
Entering this year, the Celtics were supposed to be fighting home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs with two weeks to go in the regular season — maybe not fighting in order to contain it in the first round of the playoffs.
“We have been having criticism annually,” Morris explained. “It can not be worse than what it currently is. So we only tell ourselves, continue moving, man.
“Everyone is going to doubt us because of this entire year we had, nevertheless when the playoffs hit it’s basically a fresh season, so we have a chance to turn this thing around. Probably 10 years from now they’ll execute a 30 to get 30 on this team.”