Total team effort in Jaylen Brown’s absence

Celtics-Nets takeaways: Total team effort gives C’s fifth straight win originally appeared on NBC SportsBoston

The Boston Celtics took care of business in Brooklyn as they defeated the Nets for their fifth consecutive win, 109-98.

They overcame the absence of Jaylen Brown, who was ruled out with right adductor tightness and could play a few games with the injury. Veteran big man Al Horford also was out on the second night of a back-to-back, and Brooklyn was short-handed with superstar Kevin Durant (MCL sprain) still sidelined.

It was a close game throughout as the C’s entered the fourth quarter with a two-point lead. There were 11 lead changes before Boston took control in the fourth quarter and escaped Barclays Center with an 11-point victory.

Celtics star Jayson Tatum finished with a team-high 20 points and 11 rebounds. Malcolm Brogdon had another strong night with 16 points off the bench. Marcus Smart returned to the lineup with 16 points and 10 assists.

Ex-Celtic Kyrie Irving led the Nets with 24 points. TJ Warren chipped in 20 off the bench, and Ben Simmons had 13 assists and nine rebounds but did not score a point on only three field goal attempts.

Here are our takeaways from the Celtics’ win, which brings them to a league-best 31-12 on the season. They’ll look to stay hot when they visit the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

Big night for C’s guards

The Celtics’ deep backcourt helped to pick up the slack with Brown out.

Derrick White was the catalyst with 12 points in the first half, including three 3-pointers. He hadn’t hit three 3s in a game since Nov. 30.

White was quiet for the rest of the game offensively, though he nailed to dagger 3 with 1:12 left on the clock. His presence was felt on the defensive end as he notched seven rebounds, a steal, and this emphatic block to go with his 15 points.

Marcus Smart also was a difference-maker in his return to the lineup. The veteran guard was on triple-double watch with six points, eight assists, and five boards in the first half — five of those assists coming in the first quarter.

He didn’t get the triple-double, but it was an admirable effort as he tallied 16 points with a team-high 10 assists and six rebounds. He also had two steals in what was a very Marcus Smart-like performance. An encouraging sight in his return from injury.

Malcolm Brogdon just continues to look like a Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner. He duplicated his efforts in Wednesday’s win with another standout performance Thursday night.

Brogdon finished with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting and five rebounds in 20 minutes. For Celtics radio voice Sean Grande, he trails only Sacramento Kings guard Malik Monk for most points among players with no starts this season with 505.

Payton Pritchard bounced back from a tough shooting night to go 4-for-7 from the floor and finish with nine points, including a couple of clutch shots in the fourth. He also remained a force on the offensive glass with three offensive rebounds.

For the second straight night, Luke Kornet gave the Celtics strong minutes at center.

Kornet was the unexpected offensive spark plug in the first quarter, tying Jayson Tatum with a team-high seven points in the frame. The 7-foot-2 big man stepped up in Horford’s absence and hit all five of his shots from him, including a 3 and this fancy reverse finish that caught himself off guard.

Kornet also brought down five rebounds, including three offensive boards.

There’s interim coach Joe Mazzulla can rest assured Kornet can hold his own with Williams and/or Horford out. That should help down the stretch if he looks to limit their minutes for the stretch run.

Time Lord returned to the starting lineup after taking Wednesday night off, and C’s fans should be thrilled with the result.

Previously, Williams’ season-high for minutes was 23. He reached that mark late in the third quarter and blew past it in the fourth to finish with 29 minutes. That’s a significant development as Mazzulla slowly but surely gives the fifth-year big man a longer leash.

Williams totaled eight points, five rebounds, one assist and one block. While the stat line doesn’t jump off the page, the number in the minutes column is what really matters. He’s back.

Ben Simmons is still scared to shoot

The Nets really could have used another scoring option to keep up with the Celtics’ balanced effort. TJ Warren (20 points) and Joe Harris (18 points) stepped up, but Ben Simmons’ reluctance to shoot once again proved costly.

Simmons ended up with a goose egg in the scoring column as he missed all three of his shots. He had a season-high 13 assists, including 10 in the first half, but his refusal to score was a major factor in his team’s demise.

As The Athletic’s Jay King pointed out, only three players have ever recorded at least 10 rebounds and 10 assists without scoring a point. Simmons was one rebound away from becoming the fourth.

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