Brooklyn Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson General Manager Sean Marks. right,...

Brooklyn Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson General Manager Sean Marks. right, and Coach Kenny Atkinson have a light-hearted moment as they speak with the media at HSS Training Center in Brooklyn, NY on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. Credit: James Escher

BOSTON — For the first time in three seasons since general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson took over, the Nets are free from the shackles of the disastrous 2013 trade with the Celtics that cost them a slew of first-round picks in exchange for aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

The Nets lost to the Celtics, 116-95, at TD Garden on Monday night, but after floundering for two seasons under Marks and Atkinson, they are 20-22, have won 12 of their last 16 games and occupy the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens raved before the game about how much progress the Nets have made. “In Brooklyn’s case, I love the way they play,” he said. “They play hard, they play together. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do, and they do it every night. They look like a team. They’ve done a great job of building that over time.

“I’d be surprised if this team’s not in the playoffs. They’re awfully good. Again, they’re really well-coached.”

Stevens said point guards D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie are the key to the Nets’ spread offense, but he also praised the play of centers Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis in the pick-and-roll game and noted that a lot of other Nets are playing well too.

Asked if he thinks about the link between the two teams, Stevens said the Celtics paid attention only to the draft, which is understandable. They received the Nets’ first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 and swapped picks in 2017, when they got the No. 1 overall pick belonging to the Nets.

“We haven’t thought about it a ton,” Stevens said. “We’ve just paid attention to what Kenny and his staff and Sean have been building, and they’ve done a great job. They deserve a lot of credit for that, and it started with building a way of playing. You can see it. It jumps off the TV screen. I look at it more as what they’ve accomplished in a short amount of time.”

In that same vein, Atkinson said he and Marks never have discussed how much that trade helped the Celtics and damaged the Nets. “We just kind of put it in a box, and we never really talk about it,” he said. “But I do love the fact that it’s Brooklyn and Boston. This is what the NBA is all about. I hope we can improve to where these games become more and more meaningful as we go down the line.”

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