Nets vs. Celtics takeaways: Kyrie Irving puts on a show to lead Brooklyn past Boston

The All-Star break is over, and we’re right back in the swing of things with this unique NBA season. On Thursday night, two of the Eastern Conference’s top teams met for a primetime game that lived up to expectations. After a back-and-forth game, the Brooklyn Nets pulled away in the final few minutes for a 121-109 win over the Boston Celtics

Kevin Durant missed out yet again due to his hamstring injury, but Kyrie Irving stepped up in his absence and led the way with 40 points, eight rebounds and three assists. James Harden went for 22 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a near triple-double, while Landry Shamet hit six 3-pointers and chipped in 18 points off the bench. 

The Celtics had their moments, but they just didn’t have enough answers on either side of the ball down the stretch. Jayson Tatum put up 31 points, and Marcus Smart added 19 points off the bench in his return to action, but the rest of the team struggled. Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker combined to shoot 10 of 35 from the field, and it’s hard to win when that happens. 

Here are some key takeaways from the Nets’ win:

Kyrie puts on a show

The Nets are being extremely cautious with Kevin Durant’s hamstring injury, and as a result he missed his 10th straight game on Thursday night. That put extra pressure on Brooklyn’s other stars, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, to step up. The latter certainly did his part. 

Irving shot 15 of 23 from the field and finished with 40 points, tying the season-high he set against the Kings last month. The All-Star guard was at his very best in this one, using his dazzling combination of dribbling and shot-making to keep the Celtics’ defense off-balance and unsure of his next move. 

In the fourth quarter, he saved his best for last. With the Celtics hanging around in the final few minutes, Irving hit two 3s and scored eight points in the span of about 90 seconds to put the game out of reach. 

Smart returns for Celtics

In late January, the Celtics were locked in a tight battle with the Lakers when Marcus Smart went down screaming in pain. He was grabbing his left leg near the calf and Achilles tendon area, and based on the replays and his reaction, everyone feared the worst. The good news was he hadn’t turn his Achills, but he had torn his calf, which kept him on the sidelines for nearly six weeks. 

On Thursday night he made his long-awaited return, though he was limited to 21 minutes, and will hover in the 20-22 range for at least the next few games. Still, even in shorter stints, Smart found a way to make his usual impact. He finished with 19 points, two rebounds and two assists, and as head coach Brad Stevens put it, “did a lot of good things.”

It’s no secret that Smart is the heart and soul of this Celtics team, and they sorely missed his energy and defensive prowess while he was out. Now that he’s back, we’ll finally get to see the Celtics at full strength. Prior to Thursday night, Smart, Tatum, Brown and Walker had played just 28 minutes together all season, which is a major reason they’re barely above .500. 

Nets’ bench catches fire from downtown

The Nets have one of the best offensive units of all time, and the 3-point shot is a major part of their attack. They are seventh in the league in attempts, at 37.8 per game and second in efficiency, making 40.8 percent of those looks. If they can maintain that level, they’ll join the 2013 and 2016 Warriors as the only teams in the past decade to shoot over 40 percent from 3 for the season.

On Thursday they had one of their best shooting nights of the season, going 19 of 42 from downtown to outscore the Celtics by 18 points in that department. It’s hard for opponents to overcome that kind of deficit from 3-point land, and it was a major reason for the Nets’ win. 

But aside from the sheer number of 3s the Nets hit, what stood out was who was making them. Of course Joe Harris and Kyrie Irving got in on the action, but the bench was the star of the show from outside. Landry Shamet led the way with a season-high six triples, and the Nets’ reserves combined to shoot 10 of 16 from deep. It was a big time performance from Shamet and Co., especially with Durant not playing. 

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