Brooklyn Nets Blake Griffin, in sweater, huddles with his new...

Brooklyn Nets Blake Griffin, in sweater, huddles with his new teammates before a game against the Boston Celtics on March 11, 2021. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

It took more than a quarter for the Nets to shake off their All-Star break rust, but they were able to reconnect with the principles that made them the NBA’s hottest team before the break and fashion a Kyrie Irving-led fourth-quarter finish to put away the Celtics, 121-109, when second-half play resumed Thursday night at Barclays Center.

They have won 11 of their past 12 games, and next up Saturday night at Barclays Center is the lowly Pistons team that knocked off the Nets in Detroit just before their current streak began. That game prompted an angry reaction from coach Steve Nash and lit a fire under some of the veterans who have led the Nets’ recent climb to second place in the Eastern Conference.

Asked if it felt like the Nets picked up where they left off before the break, James Harden said: "That’s exactly what we were preaching before the game is to be unselfish offensively, and then defensively, have each other’s back. That’s been our mindset, and that’s what’s been helping us on both ends of the ball."

Harden not only recognized Irving’s 40-point game against his former team but also praised role players such as Landry Shamet (18 points, 6-for-9 on three-pointers) and backup center Jeff Green.

"It’s going to be a different guy every night, and that’s what’s so great about this team," said Harden, who added 22 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. "It was a contribution from everybody on the team, everybody that checked into that game. Then in the fourth quarter, we held them to 23 points and we scored 33."

Indeed, the Nets built a 10-point lead with more than eight minutes left, saw it shrink to two at the 4:14 mark and finished with a 13-3 run that included eight points from Irving and was triggered by strong play on the defensive end.

"Obviously, Kyrie was sensational," Nash said. "James managed the game, as he does. But everyone made big shots. There were moments in both halves when Landry made big threes when we were struggling, Jeff Green made a big three, Tyler [Johnson] made a big three. Nic Claxton’s fourth-quarter minutes were better, I thought.

"Also, I just thought we got stops when we needed them. Didn’t turn the ball over in the second half like we did in the first. That’s the way it’s got to be. We’ve got to take care of the basketball, and we’ve got to find a way to go on defensive runs."

It helped that the Nets got an inspired performance from Irving, but Harden said it wasn’t just the Celtics who bring that out in Irving.

"I feel like that about Ky every night," he said. "He’s a different breed. He has that killer mentality. No matter who we play or where we’re playing, he is going to go out there and try to destroy the opponent.

"Tonight, he played great . . . But he does that every single game. His mentality is what sets him apart from a lot of guys in this league."

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