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Depleted Nets hammered by Celtics to fall further back in battle for No. 6 spot


The Nets came out of the break the same way they went in: Decimated and defeated.

Opening the proverbial second half of the season Thursday, shorthanded Brooklyn got drilled 129-106 by Boston before a sellout crowd of 17,986 at Barclays Center.

The loss’ predictability didn’t make it any less damaging. While this is called the second half of the season, the Nets (31-29) really have little more than a quarter of the campaign left, and a whole lot of ground to make up in short order.

Brooklyn is mired in eighth place in the East, with the defeat dropping it a daunting 3 ½ games behind Boston for the sixth spot and a guaranteed playoff berth. And winners of 10 of their last 11 — with the league’s best defense since the calendar flipped — these Celtics haven’t shown any signs of willingly giving it up. The Nets are going to have to seize it.

But after Thursday’s defeat, they’ve stumbled even deeper into the play-in. Brooklyn — just 4-18 since Kevin Durant got hurt — is 2 ½ games behind seventh-place Toronto, whom they play a home-and-home against Monday and Tuesday of this coming week.

Seth Curry, who had a team-high 22 points, looks to keep possession as he drives between Celtics defenders during the Nets' 129-106 loss.
Seth Curry, who had a team-high 22 points, looks to keep possession as he drives between Celtics defenders during the Nets’ 129-106 loss.
Corey Sipkin

While Seth Curry had a team-high 22 points, James Johnson was just 2 of 12 from the floor and Patty Mills continued his extended funk with just a single point on 0 of 9 shooting, 0 of 5 from deep.

The Nets — who saw seven Celtics in double figures, led by Jayson Tatum’s game-high 30 — could get reinforcements next week. And considering they have a trip to defending champion Milwaukee looming on Saturday, it can’t come soon enough.

“[We need] just continued growth,” coach Steve Nash had said of what he hopes is a healthier stretch run. “The effort, intensity, I thought our guys have really played hard. They’ve been extremely focused. They’ve come together under a lot of duress. A lot of teams in adverse situations pull apart. Our guys have come closer together. The spirit is outstanding, so more of the same. More of the same.

Cam Thomas goes up for a layup as Al Horford defends during the Nets' loss to the Celtics.
Cam Thomas goes up for a layup as Al Horford defends during the Nets’ loss to the Celtics.
Corey Sipkin

“There’s so many technical things you could look at, but it’s the spirit that I’m most concerned with. The technical things are great, however, when you’re missing your — quote, unquote — top four players, it’s not fair to say, ‘I want you guys to fix A, B, and C.’ I want guys to approach it with the right attitude, the spirit, compete, and continue to grow. That’s what I’m looking for.”

It’s arguably their four top players, and a starting five that could contend for a title.

Durant, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Joe Harris and Goran Dragic were all out Thursday for a various reasons. But while some are closer to taking the court than others, none was around against the streaking Celtics.

The last time the Nets faced Boston back on Feb. 8, they’d fallen behind 28-2 and trailed by as much as 35 points. This wasn’t quite that ugly, but it was one-sided.

“They’re playing incredible basketball,” Nash said of the Celtics. “They’re far and away the best defensive team in 2022. They have great continuity with their starters, so it will be a great challenge for us.

“We take a lot from the first game of how good they are, what a quality team and how well they’re playing, what a great job Ime [Udoka, Celtics coach] and his staff have done and how that team’s been there for a while growing together. This is what we want. We want to be challenged. We want to be pushed and continue to grow.”

The Nets opened shooting 4 of 14 from the floor against that vaunted Celtics defense, falling behind 22-10 when Derrick White found Grant Williams for a running layup.

It grew to 48-26 on White’s free throw with 9:35 left in the half.

The Nets never got closer than a dozen the rest of the way, falling behind by 29 on Williams’ 3-pointer to make it 115-86 midway through the fourth.

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