It had to be hard for them not to wonder if another collapse was staring them straight in the face.

As the Nets were fighting their way back from a five-point fourth-quarter hole against the Celtics in Thursday's night 102-97 win, that thought crept into the head of the very guy who ignited the offense. Would this be another letdown, with the Nets losing a home game after watching a double-digit second-half lead turn into a deficit?

"We've been down this road before and we let one get away here [already]," Joe Johnson said after the game, referring to the 107-96 loss to the Timberwolves Nov. 5 in which the Nets had led by 22. "That sticks in the back of our mind. We were up on [the Celtics], they came back and took the lead. Coach said down the stretch, just give it to our scorers, our playmakers, and guys did that."

The Nets have had their share of troubles closing out opponents, but they found a way to finish off Boston with some late offense by Johnson and Brook Lopez and some clutch free throws by Deron Williams.

The Nets hope to use that victory over the Celtics -- which gives them a four-game winning streak heading into their three-game West Coast trip that begins Sunday in Sacramento -- as a model.

There's more than a handful of Nets players who lack quality time on winning teams, so they're learning on the fly. That's where veterans such as Jerry Stackhouse come in. Part of their job is to help instill a sense of swagger.

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"I feel like if we just keep battling, something good is going to happen," Stackhouse said. "We've got a good group of guys that have to get more of that mentality. I don't think they've been in situations before where they feel like they can grind it out, grind it out."

Stackhouse said he plays by a Rick Carlisle mantra. "Work the game, work the game from beginning to end," he said, "and if you continue to work the game, good things happen in the end."

One of the Nets' biggest deficiencies has been their inability to consistently maintain control of games on both sides of the ball in the second half, especially right after halftime. They average only 19.2 points in the third quarter, which ranks last in the league, something coach Avery Johnson wants to rectify as soon as possible.

"Our third quarters haven't been good at all, and we've been outscored at an alarming rate throughout the season," he said. "My coaches are always on me about it. Hopefully, we will figure it out.

"I know one of the things we can point to are our turnovers in the third quarter. I also want to see why our defense has been struggling there in the third quarter. But that's why we are not a finished product. We won this [Celtics] game, we've got a tough trip coming up and we've got to get off to a good start at 3 o'clock [Pacific time] Sunday."