BOSTON — The Nets team that walked into TD Garden Friday night had spent the past month being buffeted by mega trades and mega losses.
The result is they were a franchise with no superstars, a four-game losing streak, nearly zero defensive chops and little realistic hope of holding their own against an elite team like the Boston Celtics.
Instead, they managed to put together a monster second half to defeat the Boston Celtics, 115-105.
The Nets came back from a 28-point, second-quarter deficit for the win. It was the biggest comeback of the season in a NBA game and tied for the biggest comeback in Nets history.
“There was a point in the second quarter when we looked at each other and it was like ‘we’re not going out this way,” said Cam Johnson, who finished with 20 points.
The win over a team with the best second-best record in the Eastern Conference was the first sign since the Nets dealt away Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant that this team might be able to right the ship and get into the playoffs.
“Oh boy, how about that?” a smiling Jacque Vaughn said. “We figured it out as the game went on….. We’ve shown glimpses of what he can be tonight.”
The Nets outscored the Celtics, 60-41, in the second half as they picked up one of their biggest wins of the season.
Mikal Bridges led the Nets with 38 points on 13-for-22 shooting. Dorian Finney-Smith tallied 17 points (5-of-10 from deep) with nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks. It was Finney-Smith's third game with five or more three-pointers made this season and his first since Dec. 6 with Dallas at Denver. Spencer Dinwiddie also had 17 points.
The Nets held Jayson Tatum to 22 points and 0-for-8 shooting behind the arc. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 35 points.
For the first time since Durant and Irving were traded, the Nets (35-28) looked like a team that is beginning to understand each other.
The Nets have had a horrible time overcoming bad starts all season. When they lost to the Celtics here on Feb. 1, they all but gave up after falling behind by 30 points in the first quarter. In their 142-118 loss to the Knicks on Wednesday, the Nets fell behind by 18 points early in the second quarter and never recovered.
First, they made 62% of their shots in the second quarter, narrowing the Celtics' lead to 64-55 at the half on Finney-Smith’s alley-oop. The Nets kept on the accelerator to start the second half and managed to take their first lead of the game when Cam Johnson hit two free throws with 6:11 left.
The Nets' defense, which has struggled to find its rhythm since the trade deadline, held the Celtics to just 20 points in the third quarter, allowing the Nets to take an 88-84 lead. After that, the Nets never trailed.
Friday morning, Nic Claxton had talked about how hard it was to form a defensive identity.
“We’re trying to adjust our defense," Claxton said. "And we’re trying to figure it out. The last few games have been bad as you can see, giving up way too many points. But we’re having practices and walk-throughs and we’ll figure it out.”
Friday night, they may just have done that.