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Nets vs. Celtics: Brooklyn Aiming to Close Out in Boston

MIAMI — The Brooklyn Nets played the NBA’s sixth-rated offensive team on Saturday night, and on Tuesday, they’ll play No. 5 when they visit Boston to play the Celtics.

The Nets were coming off some unusually lackluster defensive efforts in the previous week when they arrived in Miami. They’re in the top 10 in the NBA in defensive rating, but gave up 141 points to Atlanta on Friday before taking on the Heat on the second half of a back-to-back.

They started to shore things up against the Heat, particularly down the stretch where they came up with enough stops to turn a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit into a one-possession game in the final seconds.

“Obviously, to me, Atlanta was a little bit of an outlier; 141 (points),” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson after a practice session at the University of Miami on Monday afternoon. “I think we had another game, Phoenix, and they do happen. That being said, that was a question of defensive execution and physicality. I thought against Miami we were much better with our physicality but there was some execution breakdowns. I don’t want to confuse you guys, but every game has its own story. Those are the kind of the stories of those two games. If you look at the broad picture, offense has kind of struggled all year and defense has been pretty solid.”

CLOSE, BUT …

The Brooklyn Nets have lost four straight games and five of their last six since the All-Star break, with three of the losses coming by a total of nine points and a fourth in overtime. Against the Magic, Wizards, and Heat in the last week, the Nets had a possession to tie or win the game in the final 10 seconds. The Nets are now fifth in the NBA in clutch games — defined as a game with a margin of five points in the final five minutes — with 34.

“The average margin of victory over NBA history is five points,” said Joe Harris. “This isn’t anything different for anybody. This is how the league goes. In late-game situations, you’ve got to be able to buckle down and execute and get stops when you need them. It’s execution and focus on both ends of the floor. Sometimes, you get a little luck to go your way. We’ve been in that situation a lot except for the Atlanta game, and we just need to do a better job of locking in at the end of games and getting stops when we need them and executing offensively.”

Against the Heat, the Nets whittled down a 14-point Miami lead early in the fourth quarter to five, then, trailing 112-103 with just over two minutes remaining, scored seven straight points to cut the deficit to two. Harris had a 3-pointer in that stretch, then another with 11.4 seconds left to make it a one-point game.

Brooklyn got every shot it needed down the stretch against Miami, except one to go ahead. And while much of Monday’s practice had a defensive focus, they finished up keying in on offensive execution.

“There are so many pockets during the game that I could refer to,” said Atkinson. “Sure, it’s the end of the game, but it’s also the end of the third quarter, the beginning, were just having too many pockets where the other team goes on a run, and that’s part of the NBA. And yeah, part of it is end of the game too; defensive and offensive execution. Because we had a couple of defensive breakdowns there in the last three minutes. Not physical mistakes, mental breakdowns.”

Last season, the Nets had a similar string of narrow losses that was snapped by a win over the eventual champion Toronto Raptors, launching a seven-game win streak.

“Winning is one of those things that is a confidence thing,” said Harris. “Once you get one win under your belt against a quality team, that can translate into another win. That’s why tomorrow’s game is so important for us. It’s the first night of a back-to-back against two really good teams (Tuesday at Boston and Wednesday at home against Memphis). It was the same thing before the break. We beat a good Indiana team and that translated to a win over a good Toronto team. If you get a good win against the Celtics, that can translate to a lot of great wins.”

ALLEN GETS ASSERTIVE

In three of Brooklyn’s last five games, Jarrett Allen has posted a double-double. In the other two, consecutive games against Washington and Atlanta last week, he scored a total of 10 points, attempting just four shots.

“Jarrett, it's always a case of assertiveness,” said Kenny Atkinson. “How assertive is he going to be? When he's assertive and aggressive he's a hell of a player. When he has that hit-first mentality he's a hell of a player. When he's running the court, I always tell him he's a world-class sprinter when he's running the court, he's a hell of a player. When he's rebounding for us, he's a hell of a player. There are moments when that energy and; he's 21 years old. That's the hard thing in this league is to do it over and over and do it consistently and he still has his ups and downs. When that energy is high he's one of the best centers in the league.”

Against Miami on Saturday night, Allen scored six of Brooklyn’s first nine points and finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, his 26th double-double of the season. Last year, he had a total of 24 double-doubles for the full year.

“That’s the Jarrett Allen that we need,” said Atkinson. “I really thought he had a good response coming off last night’s game.”

LEVERT IN, TEMPLE QUESTIONABLE

Kenny Atkinson said Caris LeVert is good to go against Boston, with no issues from the right hand contusion that had him listed as questionable before he played against Miami on Saturday. However, Garrett Temple is questionable with a right shoulder sprain from the Miami game.

ABOUT THE CELTICS

The Nets and Celtics split their first two meetings this season, each team winning at home in consecutive matchups sandwiched around Thanksgiving Day. Boston has the league’s fifth-best home record, 23-6, while the Nets are 10-20 on the road, including losses in each of the first three games on this road trip that wraps up at TD Garden on Tuesday night. The Celtics are 41-18 and in third place in the Eastern Conference, a game behind second-place Toronto, which makes them a potential playoff opponent for the Nets.

Three Celtics — Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown — are averaging at least 20 points per game. Tatum is averaging 23.5 for the season, but over Boston’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 31.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists, shooting 47.3 percent from 3-point range and 50.5 overall.

Boston is third in the NBA in net rating (6.9), fifth in offensive rating (112.8), and fourth in defensive rating (105.9).