Surging Nets crush Celtics for fourth straight victory

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BOSTON — The Nets played their best game of the season.

And Boston was on the wrong end of it.

Brooklyn routed the Celtics 123-104 before a sellout crowd of 19,156 at TD Garden, one that got testy in the third quarter but ran for the exits by the fourth.

“Yeah definitely,” James Harden said when asked if his Nets had played their most complete game. “So far, yeah. And we can continue to build on this.”

The Nets (14-5) won their fourth straight, and 12th in their last 14. And with Miami and Chicago both losing, they stretched their lead in the East to two games.

For the first time since last season’s playoffs — when they drilled these same Celtics in the first round, before seeing injuries and the eventual-champion Bucks stop them in the second — the Nets actually looked like a title team.

Kevin Durant, who scored 21 points, goes up for a dunk during the Nets' 123-104 win over the Celtics.Kevin Durant, who scored 21 points, goes up for a dunk during the Nets’ 123-104 win over the Celtics.Getty Images

“I just liked how we stuck to the game plan. We went over how we were going to guard this team in shootaround, and the transfer was something we’re all proud of,” Kevin Durant said. “That’s really what it is: Transferring what you learn in practices and shootarounds and try to execute it in the games, and [this] was one of those nights we took a step in the right direction.”

And used the Celtics as a stepping stone.

Patty Mills had a team-high 23 points, while Durant added 21 and Harden finished with 20 points, 11 assists and seven boards.

James Harden, who scored 20 points, shoots a 3-pointer during the Nets' win.James Harden, who scored 20 points, shoots a 3-pointer during the Nets’ win.NBAE via Getty Images

“I feel like we have our identity,” Durant said. “We know what type of team we want to be. We know the formula for us to play well.”

The Nets have scored more and shot better this season, but that was against Orlando and Detroit. To do this to Boston — in Boston — is a blowout of a different color, arguably their finest performance yet.

And who was to argue? Certainly not the Celtics.

Not after the Nets held them to 37.4 percent shooting, and 11 of 48 from deep. Not after Brooklyn smothered both Jayson Tatum (4 of 16) and Jaylen Brown (5 of 15). Not after the Nets looked like a contender on both ends of the court.

“If we don’t guard, we can’t win,” Harden said. “If we don’t give ourselves a chance on the defensive end, offensively, we’re not able to get out and be ourselves. So [this] was a great example of that and I think we’ve been doing that consistently.”

Up to this point, Brooklyn had compensated for the ongoing absence of Kyrie Irving by grinding out defensive victories. Its offense got even more hamstrung by the ankle injury to Joe Harris and Blake Griffin’s shooting struggles.

No matter. Steve Nash pushed the right buttons, giving rookie Cam Thomas more minutes and benching Griffin for LaMarcus Aldridge. The moves came up golden.

Aldridge had 17 points and nine rebounds. But more important, his midrange game unlocked the offense, giving the Nets spacing and helping them shred the usually stout Celtic defense for 50.6 percent shooting.

After taking a 29-22 lead through the first quarter, the Nets went on an 11-3 run to start the second. Harden’s 3-pointer capped it and gave them a 40-25 edge.

The Nets mounted another charge to begin the third, this time an extended 18-3 run. It was Harden who found sixth-man Mills — starting in place of Harris — for a 3-pointer, and an 80-52 lead.

The cushion got padded to 29, at 89-60 on Harden’s step-back 3 and then at 91-62 on Aldridge’s free throw with 3:50 left in the third.

That proved more than enough. The Nets eventually took their foot off the gas, and Boston made the inevitable run, cutting the lead to a dozen.

The Celtics got within 97-85 on Tatum’s running dunk with 9:23 to play, but no closer.

“We came to play from the jump. We were really strong defensively. We, for the most part, rebounded, and we took care of the basketball. We moved. We got stops. We got out and played early — created opportunities for one another. That’s a good defensive team and we were able to play after stops,” Nash said. “Overall, a great road win.”

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