The good news for the Nets, in their first game after losing starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season, was that they played pretty much as they did when Jack was here. They showed effort and energy and they had a good run in them. They were just a little short.
As Lionel Hollins said, “It’s still a team game.” And the Celtics had a bit more of a team in their 103-94 victory Monday night at Barclays Center.
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With Shane Larkin starting at the point and Donald Sloan playing major minutes in the second half, the Nets kept chipping away at a 19-point first-half deficit and drew within five late in the fourth quarter.
Thaddeus Young had 23 points and 15 rebounds, Joe Johnson scored 21 points, Brook Lopez added 19 and Bojan Bogdanovich had his first double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds). Larkin and Sloan totaled nine points and five assists.
It was not quite enough, but the Nets insisted that it was not because of the changing of the point guards — Larkin and Sloan replacing Jack.
“If you want to make excuses, there’s always a rationalization for everything that happens on the court and in life,” Hollins said. “We had some magical moments with Jarrett and we had some ugly moments with Jarrett.”
Johnson, who will be taking on more responsibility as a playmaking forward, said, “I think we’ve gotten past the fact that Jack is not going to be back with us this year. Other guys have got to step up. It was the first quarter that killed us. I take ownership, the majority of it.”
He was guarding Jae Crowder, who scored 14 of his career-high 25 points in the Celtics’ 37-22 first-quarter splurge. It sure looked as if the Celtics came out determined to reverse what they saw as an ugly loss to the Nets in Boston on Saturday. They took their cue from Crowder and Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 19 points.
Boston also nudged the Nets into eight of their 14 turnovers in that first quarter. The Nets wouldn’t say “forced” was the right word.
“They were kind of unforced. That falls back on me,” said Larkin, who started. “I’ve got to do a better job for my teammates. It’s a process. I’ll get better, we’ll get better. We’ve just got to keep working.”
General manager Billy King said Monday that he will let Larkin and Sloan show what they can do. Sloan was on the floor for much of the second-half push.
“I felt good. I felt like I belonged,” he said. “I felt like we were doing the right things, feeding Brook, feeding Thad, feeding Joe, running the court.”
Larkin was out there at the end, when the Nets cut the deficit to five.
“I don’t think there was a point out there that I wasn’t comfortable,” the new starting point guard said. “I’ve had great games this year, I’ve had not-so-good games this year. I’ve got to stay aggressive and be consistent for my team and I’ll be better, for sure.”