Final, Celtics 93-76: Nobody got thrown out, no punches were thrown and only three technical fouls had to be assessed. Those things, as well as the final score, added up to a Merry Christmas for the Celtics.
Kevin Garnett played one of his finest defensive games of the season, making contributions well beyond his eight-point, 10-rebound stat line. Rajon Rondo played masterfully despite only dishing out five assists as he piled up 19 points and three steals while helping to hold Deron Williams to only 10 points on 3-for-7 shooting. Gerald Wallace provided 15 points off pure energy, getting 10 of those points in the fourth quarter alone.
Jeff Green came through with 15 points off the bench, and Paul Pierce took over Rondo’s playmaking duties with 10 assists. Jared Sullinger posted arguably his best all-around game of his career with 16 points and seven boards. The Celtics (14-13) moved over .500 while getting their four-game holiday road trip started on a winning note.
Fourth quarter, 2:57, Celtics 89-75: Watch out, Celtics fans. Wallace intends to be the Grinch this Christmas. As Boston reached the end of a potential easy win over their division foe, Wallace had other ideas. In addition to his own personal 7-0 run (he tacked on two free throws to his aforementioned 5-0 run), he also went to the hoop hard to get fouled twice. Do not turn off the TV for that Christmas dinner yet.
Fourth quarter, 5:17, Celtics 85-70: Wallace came prepared for action. Whether that action is playing or fighting is to be determined.
Sullinger and Terry converged on Wallace on an open-court layup, and Sullinger delivered hard contact above the shoulders to Wallace. That is a tailor-made flagrant-1 foul, and it was called as such. But Wallace reacted like he wanted to touch off another brouhaha.
To Crash’s credit, his energy was not completely devoted to violence. He also scored five straight points to help Brooklyn narrow the gap to 14 points with plenty of time left to close in on the Celtics.
Fourth quarter, 7:31, Celtics 82-64: Once that got all sorted out, Terry drilled a three to extend Boston’s lead to 19 points before C.J. Watson responded with a three of his own. Then Sullinger, who may be playing his best all-around game of the year, hit his second foul-line jumper of the game to give him 16 points on the afternoon.
Fourth quarter, 9:31, Celtics 77-60: Ah, just another Celtics-Nets game. This time, neither Humphries nor Rondo was in the game, but these teams still exchanged a few holiday greetings.
After a tussle for a rebound, Wallace for some reason held onto Garnett’s shorts much longer than would be acceptable — if it was necessary at all — and Garnett took exception. Andray Blatche decided to step in, too, before Lee broke in to separate the scrum.
The result was a strange quadruple-technical on Garnett, Blatche, Wallace and Lee.
End of third quarter, Celtics 73-58: Joe knows scoring. Joe wants to know winning.
Johnson led the Nets’ push back within striking distance, contributing seven points to the Nets’ 14-2 run to close the gap to eight points.
But Rondo responded by knifing into the lane and finding Sullinger for a difficult layup, then pushed the ball up court and pulled up for a transition three that banged home. The pass-first point guard has 19 points entering the final quarter.
Third quarter, 6:30, Celtics 64-47: So far, the Celtics have gone into a bit of a role reversal. Pierce is the distributor with eight assists and just eight points, while Rondo has taken a team-high 12 shots and leads the club with 14 points.
Even Collins, a defensive specialist, chipped in a couple of points via a dunk. It was wild.
Garnett continues to do what he does. He has eight points, seven rebounds and is playing one of his best all-around defensive games of the season. One explanation might be the presence of Collins. When Garnett and Collins converge on a Nets player in the paint, Garnett can be more physical, knowing Collins will most likely get hit with the foul if there is undue contact.
Third quarter, 8:39, Celtics 58-42: These two teams are a match made in Heaven. Both play a excruciatingly slow paces (although the Celtics are less slow than they have been in the past) and neither defends or scores very well consistently. As such, Rondo drilled a a jumper at the 8:41 mark to register the first points of the second half.
So, yeah, it was that kind of start to the third quarter.
Halftime, Celtics 56-42: It is tough to decide which was more incredible about the Celtics’ first half: The fact that they won the rebounding battle 24-15 or that rookie Jared Sullinger finally got a few calls in his favor.
Sullinger, who has been the victim of some questionable officiating — “He’s a rookie, that’s all I’ll say,” Rivers said after the last game — took six free throws in the first half and got the benefit of the doubt in drawing a charge late in the second quarter.
As for the rebounding, Sullinger helped there, too. He and Garnett tied for the team lead with six boards each as the Celtics controlled the offensive and defensive glass.
Sullinger, Rondo and Lopez tied for the game-high of 10 points while Boston’s defense held the Nets to 18 points in the second quarter.
Second quarter, 5:03, Celtics 41-31: Johnson has been searching for some offensive consistency this season, but the Celtics know he is still a skilled scorer. On three consecutive possessions, the Celtics defended the big shooter with Pierce, then Rondo, then Bass in an effort to give Johnson as many different defensive looks as possible.
Second quarter, 8:26, Celtics 32-29: Jerry Stackhouse had not done anything of consequence in the NBA for years before this season. Now he is a pivotal part of the Nets’ offense.
Stackhouse hit a pair of difficult — some might say lucky — fadeaway jumpers over Lee, then drained a more conventional corner 3-pointer. Fortunately for the Celtics, Pierce has a bit more left in his 30-something legs than Stackhouse.
Pierce hit a short jumper, then found a trailing Green in transition for a dunk to give Boston its largest lead since it was ahead 4-0 in the opening minutes. The 6-0 run, which was started by Green with a pair of free throws, prompted a timeout by Brooklyn.
End of first quarter, Nets 24-22: Since this game is nationally televised, we have already penciled in Rondo for a triple-double. He has to get on his horse to catch up to that pace, though. After 12 minutes of play, the Celtics point guard has seven points, two rebounds and two assists.
Rondo has not been quiet, though. He played strong defense against Nets guard Deron Williams, something the Celtics struggled to do against the Nets overall. Brooklyn shot 56 percent and took six free throws in the opening quarter.
Bass brought some energy off the bench with a tough layup and a dunk to follow his own miss, but he and Sullinger had difficulty dealing with the much longer Lopez and Blatche on defense.
First quarter, 2:37, Nets 18-16: The inconsistency of the bench has been a sticking point for Celtics coach Doc Rivers, yet the early returns in this one are good for Boston. With Garnett taking a rest, the Celtics actually cut into the lead, from six points down to two, over just a few minutes.
What will probably bring warmth to Rivers’ heart is seeing the second unit get it done defensively first. Lee forced Johnson into a difficult fallaway and Rondo drew a charge, the second drawn by the Celtics in the game.
First quarter, 5:53, Nets 12-10: Matchups are always a key, but pay special attention to the frontcourt matchups here. The Nets went with Lopez defending Garnett and Wallace defending Collins in the early going, as they should, since Collins is much less of an offensive threat than Garnett (not that Lopez is any standout defensively, either).
The Celtics immediately capitalized when Wallace picked up Garnett one time down the floor, with Rondo looping a pass over the top to Garnett for an easy basket. The Nets want to go small, but they need to avoid going too small.
11:32 a.m.: This could mark the NBA debut for Jarvis Varnado, the leading shot-blocker in NCAA history. The Celtics announced his signing on Monday to help fill the void left by Chris Wilcox, who is out three to four weeks with a sprained thumb.
Varnado might not be needed, though, as the Nets have gone with smaller lineups of late. Humphries never got off the bench in Sunday’s win over the Sixers, as Gerald Wallace and Keith Bogans manned the two forward spots. The Nets are following the trend — shared by the Celtics — of valuing speed and shooting over pure size.
The projected starters are below.
11:15 a.m.: Merry Christmas. Now put away your toys. It’s time to play basketball.
The Celtics and Nets kick off a day packed with NBA action at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. A Celtics win gives the teams identical 14-13 records, which is not very important this time of year. What is important is that it would sustain the Celtics’ hopes of at least earning a split in the season series with the Nets.
A tie could be crucial for the Celtics, because it could be the determining tiebreaker in playoff seedings if the Celtics and Nets finish with the same record. Since the Celtics do not seem likely to run over their competition for the rest of the regular season, they cannot afford to lose any more tiebreakers with closely matched teams, as they already have with the Bucks.
Oh yeah, and Humphries is out with what is being called an abdominal strain. Riiiiiiight.
8 a.m. ET: If ESPN tries to play up the angle of Rajon Rondo versus Kris Humphries on Tuesday, go ahead and finish unwrapping your presents, because a repeat of the Nov. 28 fireworks between those two is unlikely.
Humphries did not play in the Nets’ last game, a 95-92 win over the Sixers, and he played less than 18 minutes against the Knicks last Wednesday. It appears that getting tackled by 6-foot-1 Celtics point guards is not the only weakness in Humphries’ game. His scoring is down in December to 5.8 points per game, and he is still an atrocious defender. Most damning of all, his rebounding — one of the few reliable parts of his game — is down to 6.3 boards per game this month.
On the other hand, if ESPN bills this as a matchup of two Atlantic Division foes who consider themselves championship contenders despite rough stretches, set aside your stocking for halftime and keep it locked here for your in-game infotainment. The Nets (14-12) had lost three straight before Sunday’s win and have lost eight of their last 11. The Celtics (13-13) have one win in their last five tries.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at noon ET.