BOSTON — During their remarkable midseason turnaround, the Nets have relied on a deep well of talent to help them overcome injuries and string together improbable victories. But with a roster down to 10 healthy bodies, two of which spent most of the season in the G League, they finally hit the bottom of the well in a 112-104 loss to the Celtics on Monday night at TD Garden that ended their winning streak at six games.
The Nets found themselves playing a fourth-quarter lineup that included Theo Pinson and Mitch Creek from their Long Island Nets G League team, while leading scorer D’Angelo Russell sat out the final 8:42. Pinson scored 19 points against the Knicks in the Nets’ previous win but managed only three against Boston. Creek came into the game with one NBA point to his credit and scored six.
Despite their makeshift lineup, the Nets managed to lead by three in the third quarter after Russell scored 11 points in a 17-2 run, and they still trailed only 91-90 early in the fourth period. But that’s when they hit the wall, committing five turnovers and missing two shots as the Celtics put together an 11-0 run to take control at 102-90.
“Our guys gave it their all,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We got it close. It was [91-90], and they kind of went on a run. I was proud of how our guys played and how they competed.”
Looking ahead to a back-to-back against the Bulls on Tuesday night at Barclays Center, Atkinson added: “We’re a little fatigued right now. This is fatigue time in the NBA, so everybody is fatigued. But we’re feeling it, quite honestly. We’re just going to manage that the best we can.”
Russell led the Nets (27-24) with 25 points, Shabazz Napier added 20 and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 14 points and nine rebounds. But the Nets shot only 37.9 percent from the field, committed 17 turnovers leading to 27 Celtics points and had 16 shots blocked.
The Celtics (31-19) had six players score in double figures, including 21 each from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart and 16 from Aron Baynes. Al Horford added 14 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
With the Nets trailing by 12 early in the third period, Russell caught fire, scoring 14 points in the quarter, including three straight three-pointers that gave the Nets their first lead of the game at 71-68.
Creek, who is on a 10-day contract, gave the Nets their final lead at 88-87 just before the end of the third quarter, but the Celtics blew it open early in the fourth when Atkinson pulled Russell.
“I felt like there were a couple of rebounds he could have gotten,” Atkinson said. “Teachable moment. Then I thought the subs were playing good, so I kept it that way, also with it in mind that we’ve got another game [Tuesday] night. All that played a factor.”
Russell accepted Atkinson’s decision with equanimity, saying: “Whatever Coach’s decision was, I’m buying [into] it. He’s got us this far, so I’m trusting his moves . . . I think I missed a rebound, a 50-50 play that set him off a little bit. I’ve got to be better. We need those plays.”
Russell brushed off the Nets’ manpower shortage, saying: “Everybody has to step up. It’s definitely tough, [but] I’m not using fatigue as an excuse.”
The game was special for Creek, whose mother and sister flew in from his native Australia. “It’s an amazing feeling,” Creek said.
“As soon as they found out [he was called up], they got their visas done and they both jumped on flights and arrived last night,” he added. “I hadn’t seen them in about 12 months. It’s a beautiful feeling when your family is here to enjoy these moments.”