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Celtics defense, team play too much for Nets again, win 109-103 to take 3-0 series lead

There was a moment with 4:25 left in the game: The Celtics were up by eight when Jayson Tatum made a clever cut to the rim, Marcus Smart found him with a good pass, and when the Nets’ defense collapsed on Tatum, he kicked it out to a wide-open Al Horford in the corner, who had time to set his feet and splash a three. It was a beautiful bit of team basketball and the kind of chemistry that comes over the course of playing together since September in training camp, then working on good habits through an 82-game season.

It was the kind of chemistry the Nets just do not have.

Once again, the Celtics’ defense was able to keep Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — both with 16 points — in check, pulled away with excellent team play late and won Game 3 109-103.

Boston now leads the series 3-0 and the preseason title favorite Nets are one loss away from being bounced in the first round. Ben Simmons is set to return for the Nets in Game 4 Monday, but that feels like a footnote now.

How good a job has the Celtics defense done on the Nets’ stars? Brooklyn’s leading scorer and shot taker in Game 3 was Bruce Brown. He had 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting — the Celtics will live with that every day of the week. Durant took 11 shots all game, that’s not enough for one of the best scorers the game has ever seen. Nash laid part of the blame for that on the push the Nets had to make at the end of the regular season just to make the playoffs.

All that speaks to the lack of cohesion all season in Brooklyn (for which James Harden can take some of the blame).

As much as Durant has struggled, this has been a “put me in your upper echelon” party for Jayson Tatum, who outscored Durant and Irving combined — Tatum had 39 to their 32 — and had the primary defensive responsibility of Durant. Tatum has played like an MVP this postseason and has been the best player in this series.

Tatum has help. Jaylen Brown scored 12 of his 23 in the fourth quarter, and Marcus Smart added 14 points to his strong defense all night.

Robert Williams returned and played 16 minutes off the bench for Boston, a good sign going forward. He showed flashes of his vintage self.

In Brooklyn, there is plenty of blame to go around. Steve Nash is getting outcoached (he has to get Durant some clean looks). Durant and Irving get some blame, as do the role players who have not lived up to the hopes for this team. The front office in Brooklyn put this roster together. We could go on down the list, but you get the point. Nothing has really worked for the Nets.

Boston can close this series out Monday in Brooklyn or a few days later at home. Either way, with the Time Lord back in the paint, this more and more looks like a team that could come out of the East.

Which is what Brooklyn was supposed to be but is a long way from.