Celtics Ace Tests in Brooklyn, Down Nets

BROOKLYN – The Boston Celtics were tested in a multitude of ways Wednesday night in Brooklyn.

They aced their way to a 109-104 win.

Believe it or not, the obstacles began to surface way back in Europe, where the C’s played their first two preseason games. Illness seeped its way through the roster and finally found Marcus Smart, who was diagnosed with strep throat this week. Terry Rozier also suffered a left knee injury that will keep him out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.

Smart and Rozier both missed Wednesday’s game, but more importantly, so did two of Boston’s starters. Brad Stevens chose to rest Avery Bradley and David Lee ahead of Friday night’s showdown with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

That’s 25 percent of the current Celtics roster that missed Wednesday’s game, yet the team cruised to an easy win over the Nets.

“It’s just next man up,” said rookie R.J. Hunter, who poured in 11 points and four steals. “Like I was telling somebody earlier, that’s the league. That’s going to happen throughout the year so you have to be mentally ready. Whether you’re going to get in or not, just stay ready. That’s what we did tonight.

The obstacles didn’t end with Boston’s missing players. Although the C’s controlled this game, they could have let it slip away on multiple occasions.

No moment of the night was more intense than the 9:56 mark of the second quarter. Jared Sullinger had ripped a steal from Nets point guard Jarrett Jack just two seconds earlier and tossed a pass to Jonas Jerebko for what should have been a fast break layup. Instead, Jack chased Jerebko down from behind and took him to the floor with a hit that was more suited for an NFL field than an NBA court.

Rather than lose their cool following Jack’s dirty play, the C’s showed maturity and remained poised. They essentially had no reaction to the play, other than to continue to showcase impressive ball movement and teamwork throughout the remainder of the half.

“We kept our composure,” Jerebko said, “and we did what we were supposed to do: we beat them.”

Boston rallied toward that win by assisting on a whopping 80 percent of its first-half baskets. The C's finished with 28 assists on the night.

The ball was certainly hopping, and that’s exactly how the C’s like it.

Still, another obstacle stood in front of them. Brooklyn refused to keel over after trailing 54-43 at halftime.

The Nets, led by a hot streak from Brook Lopez (11 points), Thaddeus Young (seven points) and Joe Johnson (six points) pulled back to within four points with 3:39 left in the third period.

At that point, the game hung in the balance, and Boston’s positive play could have easily morphed into a dejecting loss.

But it didn’t.

Stevens called upon the fivesome of Hunter, Kelly Olynyk, James Young, Jordan Mickey and Corey Walden to close the game out. Despite never playing together as a group, as Stevens was sure to note, those players pushed the lead up to 18 points before holding on for a five-point victory.

Was this win flawless? No, but it was a win nonetheless – one that built character for this Boston team.

In just their third game of the preseason, the Celtics overcame a lot. They showed strength in numbers, impressive poise, a will to respond when the going got tough.

Not a bad night in Brooklyn.

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