BOSTON -- Even though he was hundreds of miles away, the presence of Kyrie Irving was in the air.
First, there were “Ky-rie sucks” chants. As the game wore on, Irving who was not with the Nets (shoulder injury) in what would have been his first game back at the TD Garden since leaving this past summer, was indeed on the minds of those in attendance.
But the current Celtics?
Their focus was on themselves, the return of their best player (Kemba Walker) and more than anything else, figuring out a way to beat a scrappy Brooklyn team that was dangerous even without Irving.
The Celtics pulled ahead by double digits in the fourth quarter and never looked back in defeating the Nets 121-110.
All five starters for Boston scored in double figures, and a sixth Celtic - Brad Wanamaker - made it a six-pack with 13 points including a driving lay-up with just under eight minutes to play which capped off a 9-3 run that gave Boston a 104-92 lead.
You never know how a player will respond the first time back on the floor following an injury, especially one like a neck strain. Kemba Walker didn’t come back looking like his old self; he actually looked better. The in-and-out dribble, the pull-up jumper, getting his hands in passing lanes … it was all that fans have come to love about Walker in a larger, more consistent dose. He would lead the Celtics with a season-high 39 points on 13-for-24 shooting from the field to go with six rebounds and four assists.
It was good to see him come back playing well, not only in terms of what it meant for the Celtics against the Nets but the boost of confidence a healthy Walker means to this team going forward.
He didn’t lead the Celtics in scoring, but Brown’s play for long stretches on Wednesday stood out for all the right reasons. He delivered the kind of balanced performance that reinforces his status as one of the Celtics’ top players and one of this season’s most improved players.
The defense, timely shot-making, above-the-rim athleticism and all-around impact was a big part of Boston’s fourth-quarter surge towards victory on Wednesday. And along those lines, Brown’s play this season as a whole has been a huge factor in the Celtics enjoying the kind of early-season success few anticipated this group being able to deliver. Brown had his third double-double of the season, scoring 22 points to go with 10 rebounds.
The Brooklyn Nets kept firing away from 3-point range, so you know the odds are in their favor of knocking down more than most of Boston’s opponents.
But Brooklyn’s 3-point shooting through the first three quarters (43.6 percent on 17-for-39 shooting) gave the Nets hope that it could very well carry them to victory.
But to the Celtics credit, they were significantly better at closing out on the long-range shooters in the fourth quarter by limiting Brooklyn to 4-for-16 shooting from long range.
You’re not going to shut down all teams the way they did in the fourth quarter from 3-point range, but they have to do a better job than what we saw through the first three quarters of play.
Get ready for Celtics-Nets on Friday with Celtics Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., then Mike & Scal have the call at 12 p.m. on NBC Sports Boston, or you can stream them here through the MyTeams App.