Game over, 95-83: What a way for Rajon Rondo’s streak to end. After 37 straight games with at least 10 assists, the Celtics point guard was given the heave-ho with 29.5 seconds remaining in the first half.
The ejection only accelerated the inevitable, though. Rondo had only three assists at the time he was ejected for getting into a scrap with Nets forward Kris Humphries. Kevin Garnett, who may also face further discipline once the league takes a look at the swing he appeared to take at Gerald Wallace on replays, left with a little more than three minutes left in a sign that the Celtics had waved the white flag. Garnett had 16 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes.
Paul Pierce had an extremely rough game, although his stat line of 14 points, nine rebounds and seven assists might suggest otherwise. Pierce shot 4-for-13 from the floor and 6-for-11 from the foul line, where he missed five of his first six shots. He also struggled to keep up defensively with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and even Andray Blatche, who finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, eight of which were offensive.
Fourth quarter, 4:20, Nets 82-71: Scratch that part about having only seven players. Green returned to the bench and gave Boston another man. Lee appeared OK to play, if needed, but was flexing his left forearm on the bench.
Of course, just how able-bodied Pierce was could be open for debate. He was having a forgettable game, shooting 3-for-12 from the field. He did have seven points, seven assists and nine rebounds for one of the roughest potential triple-double watches ever.
Fourth quarter, 6:27, Nets 78-67: And then Lee went down. The swingman tried to go up for a rebound and was toppled by Evans. Lee went down the floor in a heap and did not get up, clutching either his left side or his left forearm.
If Lee could not return, the Celtics were down to seven players and zero reliable perimeter defenders.
Fourth quarter, 7:19, Nets 78-65: Pierce’s man just kept scoring. If it wasn’t Johnson completely embarrassing him with a sick dribbling move for a step-back jumper, it was Blatche beating him to the offensive glass for a layup. This is not fun to watch, whether you are a fan of the Celtics or not. Pierce is struggling just to cover basic NBA moves, and that is not just in this game, either. Remember what Jameer Nelson did on Sunday?
Fourth quarter, 8:55, Nets 73-63: With Rondo gone and Lee taking a much-needed rest after a strong third quarter, Barbosa and Terry tried to lead the comeback for Boston. Barbosa hit an off-balance bank shot to open the quarter and Terry delivered two three-point plays — the old-fashioned kind and the new-fangled (if you’re from the 1970s) kind — but the Celtics still had difficulty getting the deficit to single digits.
Only eight players remained active for the Celtics after Green went to the locker room with a sprained right knee. This could be gut-check time.
End of third quarter, Nets lead 70-55: The amazing thing was, after three quarters of mostly shoddy play and poor rebounding, with their point guard ejected, the Celtics were within relatively realistic striking distance heading into the final quarter.
Of course, a comeback would have necessitated a few runs that the Celtics might not have had in them. Lee may have been Boston’s second-best player (Garnett is almost always the best), and while that is great for Lee, the Celtics needed more from another source.
Third quarter, 2:40, Nets 66-49: If Pierce wanted to carry the Celtics to a victory in the second half, he got off to an inauspicious start. Pierce muffed two more free throws to make him 1-for-6 from the line in the second half.
All of Pierce’s shots came with a chance to pull the Celtics within a reachable distance. Not only was Pierce struggling from the stripe, he was also 0-for-3 on 3-pointers and 3-for-10 from the field overall.
Third quarter, 5:12, Nets 60-47: There might not be many bright spots to playing without Rondo, but one of them early in the second half for the Celtics was Courtney Lee’s defense. Lee blanketed Williams and got his hand in to strip the ball away from Reggie Evans. Lee then led the break and found Pierce with a bounce pass on the break, although Pierce missed the layup.
That miss did not loom nearly as large as Pierce’s two misses earlier in the quarter. The Celtics captain went to the line with a chance to narrow the deficit to single digits, but he missed both gimmes to break a streak of 27 straight makes from the field.
Halftime, Nets lead 51-38: OK, I missed the last 30 seconds. What happened?
Just kidding. Things got mighty interesting when Humphries sent Garnett to the floor with a hard foul at the 29.5-second mark. Rondo took exception to the roughness of the foul and went to Humphries’ chest, pushing the much larger Nets player past the basket and into the crowd. Calamity ensued.
In real time and in replays, it appeared Garnett and Wallace threw a couple punches, but there was no way to tell what happened between Rondo and Humphries underneath a pile of bodies. Somehow, Rondo’s jersey came off, much like Rondo himself came off the court after he received a deserved ejection.
Humphries and Wallace picked up their second technicals to join Rondo on the naughty list, and Garnett managed to come away with just one tech for his trouble. The full count at halftime: Six technicals, three ejections. (I believe Rondo’s was not a double-tech and was just a flat-out ejection.)
With or without Rondo, though, the Celtics had issues that needed to be addressed in the second half. They had only eight assists and just three by Rondo, which meant his streak of games with double-digit assists ended at 37 contests. Boston also had 13 turnovers and allowed Brooklyn to grab 10 offensive boards.
Garnett was the game’s high scorer with 10 points at the break. That is correct: In a battle of two excruciatingly deliberate teams, the leading scorer had 10 points in the first half.
Second quarter, 2:31, Nets 47-28: It is not often that the Garden crowd gets impatient with Rondo, but it happened in the second quarter. Rondo twice passed up potential layups to dish the ball to an unsuspecting teammate. One was a wide-open look off a drive. The other was a contested, but makeable, fastbreak layup that he instead dropped behind him to Bass, who fumbled the ball away.
Rondo’s assist total was at just two assists, so he may have been worried that his streak of 37 games with double-digits assists was in jeopardy. If he was worried and his pursuit of the streak is going to start hurting the team, the streak might as well end now.
Second quarter, 6:02, Nets 44-26: Here is an idea: Stop letting Jerry Stackhouse hit corner threes.
Stackhouse was one of the unsung heroes of the Nets’ win over the Knicks on Monday, when he shot 4-for-6, and he was back to his corner-sniping ways early in Boston. Stackhhouse was 3-for-4 from the field, all corner threes, and his triple after Rondo and Jeff Green failed to hook up for an alley-oop dunk stretched Brooklyn’s lead to 18 points.
Second quarter, 8:53, Nets 35-24: Just a bit more than 15 minutes into the game, Blatche had double-digit rebounds. He was all over the place. Tell me you saw that coming and I’ll call you a liar.
Not only did Blatche have 10 boards, he also had five offensive rebounds — or five times the amount Boston had as a team.
End of first quarter, Nets lead 28-20: For about half a quarter (or as your math teacher might call it, an eighth), the Celtics were humming and in control. Then Garnett took a seat, though, the C’s went from clicking to tripping. Tell us where we’ve heard this story before.
The Nets outscored the Celtics 19-6 over the final 6:53. Worst of all, they were able to tack on a few points at the end thanks to some sloppy play by the Celtics. Wallace capitalized on careless defense to score five straight points, and Wilcox fouled Andray Blatche on a dunk attempt that the Nets big man might not have even gotten off before the buzzer.
First quarter, 2:44, Nets 17-16: Joe Johnson is defined by his contract, and rightly so. But along with that absurd salary comes the fact that Johnson is also a really good player. The guard/forward can shoot the lights out, and he showed those skills by draining 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, following a floater by Deron Williams, to push Brooklyn into the lead.
Then Aly Raisman was shown on the video board and the Garden crowd gave its biggest cheers of the night.
First quarter, 6:41, Celtics 14-9: Limit his minutes all you want, Garnett is going to get his.
Garnett came out firing, as usual, taking five shots in the first five minutes and hitting three of them. He also nabbed three boards to pace the Celtics.
Garnett’s last basket continued a 8-2 run, highlight by Rivers picking up his first technical foul of the season. The Celtics coach appeared to be exasperated with a call — or a non-call — and sat down on the bench. The referee must have thought Rivers sat down a little too hard or something, because he slapped the tech on him.
Give credit to assistant coach Armond Hill for keeping Rivers from getting that second T.
7:15 p.m.: Doc Rivers’ bond with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is well-documented, but the Celtics coach admitted prior to Wednesday’s game that Avery Johnson might even be one of his closer friends in the game. Rivers and Johnson’s friendship goes back to 1994, when the two were teammates with the San Antonio Spurs.
Johnson called his relationship with Rivers similar to Brook Lopez’s relationship with Reggie Evans. Lopez, the Nets’ talented young center, has had his toughness and defensive presence questioned, but Evans’ blue-collar style has forced Lopez to focus more on the dirty work. Rivers had the same sort of impact on Johnson, who admitted he was never a superior defender.
“I was a below-average defender at best,” said Johnson, who began his career as an undrafted free agent out of Southern and later hit a memorable baseline jump shot to clinch the 1999 title for the Spurs. “Doc made me average.”
This game should be anything but average. Both teams are coming off tight victories and would like to get an early-season win over a division foe.
The projected starters appear below.
10 a.m.: On Monday night, the Nets took a cue from their part-owner, rapper Jay-Z, and provided the blueprint for how to beat the suddenly scuffling Knicks.
On Wednesday, the Nets can give themselves sole possession of the Atlantic Division with a win over the Celtics and a Knicks loss to the Bucks. After close to a decade of the hard knock life, the Nets could be big pimpin’.
Rajon Rondo will try to pass John Stockton with his 38th straight game with 10 or more assists, and the Celtics will try to win their third consecutive game, although they needed overtime to outlast the Magic on Sunday. This game is about more than just bragging rights, though. The Celtics are 1-2 in the division and cannot afford to suffer many more losses in the Atlantic if they hope to secure a strong seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Nope, it is never too early to start thinking about playoff scenarios.
Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.
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