The Nets were done in Tuesday night by The Man Behind The Mask.
The Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, wearing a mask to protect a small fracture beneath his right eye, scored seven points and made a key steal in the final four minutes as Boston held off the Nets, 109-102, before a sellout Barclays Center crowd of 17,732 with more than a smattering of Boston fans.
The Celtics (13-2) extended their winning streak to 13 entering Thursday night’s game against the defending champion Warriors in Boston.
Spencer Dinwiddie found Allen Crabbe for a three-pointer with 4:04 to play to get Brooklyn within 95-91. Irving sank a jumper and drove for a layup on Boston’s next two possessions, and the Celtics were able to keep the Nets at arm’s length the rest of the way.
Irving also made three of four free throws in the final two minutes and stole away Trevor Booker’s offensive rebound with 59 seconds left. That started a fast break punctuated by Jayson Tatum’s alley-oop from Jaylen Brown.
Irving suffered the fracture in a Friday collision with teammate Aron Baynes and missed Sunday’s game. The mask may have been the reason he shot only 8-for-20, but he had a game-high 25 points and five assists.
“It’s just a piece of plastic on your face,” Irving said, “and, you know, there’s a difference.”
The Nets did not play badly. They shot 41 percent on three-pointers, had 27 assists on 39 baskets and gave up only one more fast-break point than they got. Still, there were stretches when they struggled to score.
“It just goes to show that when you play great teams, you can’t just have little (stretches) here and there,’’ Joe Harris said. “You have to have the complete game, and that’s what we were lacking.”
The Celtics’ play down the stretch impressed Caris Levert.
“They really closed out the game well,’’ Levert said. “They made tough shots late. We competed all night. I feel like we played a good game. That’s what Coach said — he was proud of the way we fought. We competed. We shot well. They’re a good team and you have to give them credit.”
Harris had a team-high 19 points, including five three-pointers. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 16 points and nine rebounds, and LeVert and Crabbe each scored 15 for the Nets (5-9). Dinwiddie, starting at point guard because D’Angelo Russell was out with a knee contusion, had 12 points and tied a career high with 11 assists.
Marcus Morris had 21 points, including nine in a 13-2 fourth-quarter run in which the Celtics turned a one-point game into a 95-83 lead with 5:12 to play. Tatum had 19 points, and Al Horford had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics.
A 10-2 spurt early in the fourth got the Nets back within striking distance after they struggled in the third. That’s when they shot 8-for-23 and committed four turnovers against the NBA’s leading defense.
The roughest stretch was a 19-3 Boston burst near the end of it in which the Nets were 1-for-7 from the floor with four turnovers. The surge ended with Brown’s two free throws for an 80-67 Celtics lead.
Coach Kenny Atkinson said that with Boston clicking on defense in that stretch, the Nets got away from the crisp passing that fueled runs of 17-10 and 22-5 in the first half.
“The third quarter really kind of got us,” he said. “They turned up their defense and we couldn’t handle it. We didn’t handle it.”