If you had looked up the word “unconscious” in the dictionary Monday night at Barclays Center, the definition would have been accompanied by a picture of D’Angelo Russell. The burgeoning star had the house rocking, scoring 13 of his 34 points in a 29-7 run at the end of the third quarter that launched the Nets toward a 109-102 victory over the Celtics.
At one point early in the fourth period, the Nets’ lead reached 27 points. The Celtics being the Celtics, they trimmed the deficit to seven on Jaylen Brown’s layup with 1:28 left, but the Nets avoided a complete collapse and ended a 10-game losing streak against the Celtics. It was their longest active losing streak against any NBA team.
“We know it is coming,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said of the Celtics’ rally. “You’re not beating that team by 30 . . . considering we haven’t beaten them since I’ve been here. I also think we played eight guys and there was some fatigue. I’m going to talk to our 22-year-old point guard [Russell] about being a little more secure with the ball, but overall, we hung on and closed it out.”
Russell, who had seven assists, shot 13-for-26, including 7-for-13 from three-point range. Jarrett Allen had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Rodions Kurucs added 19 points and DeMarre Carroll had 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Nets (22-23).
Jayson Tatum topped the Celtics (27-16) with 34 points and Brown added 22, but they were outrebounded 55-41.
The Nets again were shorthanded. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (adductor strain) was given one more game to rest, although he practiced Sunday, and Shabazz Napier (right hamstring tightness) joined the injury list. But the Celtics were missing their starting backcourt as Kyrie Irving was idled by a quadriceps contusion and Marcus Smart was out with an illness.
The first half was a defensive struggle that ended with the Nets holding a one-point lead, and they were up by two when Russell really got going. He had 18 points as the Nets outscored the Celtics 44-21 in the third quarter. The Nets finished the quarter on a 29-7 run that included 13 points from Russell, who had a three-pointer wiped out by Spencer Dinwiddie’s offensive foul, and nine from Kurucs.
Explaining how it felt to go nuclear, Russell said, “Confidence. I trust my craft and my teammates are putting me in a position to do that. They’re finding me when we have the hot hand. I know what I’m capable of.”
At a time when the Nets have been decimated by injuries, Atkinson said he has called upon Russell to carry more of the scoring load, and he also praised him for his improved defense.
“There’s no fear,” Atkinson said. “He believes in himself. He’s got tremendous, tremendous confidence. With guys out, we’ve given him a little more of a green light. We need him to be aggressive. He and I have talked about it. We need him to keep doing that.”
Russell is averaging 24.0 points and 6.9 assists in the past eight games. He has topped the 20-point mark in a career-high five straight games and seven of eight.
When he was asked if he should be an All-Star, his answer was unequivocal.
“For sure,” he said. “I’m a confident guy, so of course I’m going to say that. But I believe that, too.”
Now the Nets face a tough two-game trip to Houston and Orlando, but Russell believes they are forging a new identity. “You’ve got to respect us,” he said. “I can’t speak for them, but I feel like teams aren’t really respecting the Brooklyn Nets. But we’re coming in with our hard hats every night, home or away, and trying to make teams feel us.”