NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The Celtics’ Big Three had never lost in New Jersey, which often feels more like the TD Garden than the Garden State when they visit.
Even they have to admit things are different now from the Nets — who won’t rule out yet having the Celtics back here for the playoffs.
Brook Lopez scored 20 points, Deron Williams added 16 and made the clinching 3-pointer, and the Nets extended their longest winning streak in three years to five games with an 88-79 victory Monday night.
Kris Humphries had 16 points and 15 rebounds, following his strong performance against Blake Griffin by turning in one against Kevin Garnett to help the Nets snap a nine-game home losing streak against the Celtics.
“We knew they’ve been playing well lately, playing with a lot more energy,” Garnett said. “D-Will, he’s come over here and gave them sort of like a winning mentality, seems to be working for them. Kris is playing really well for them, Brook is playing really well. They have players that are playing really well, just they’re trying to put it together it seems like.”
It’s working. New Jersey has won five in a row overall for the first time since Dec. 28-Jan. 5 in 2007-08 season, the Big Three’s first. And though a huge long shot with a 5 1/2-game deficit to overcome in the last month, the Nets aren’t out of the postseason race yet.
“I think we are playing good right now, we are gelling pretty well, having such a short time together. We’re having fun,” Williams said. “These games are important right now, not only because we have a chance to make the playoffs, but for the future and going forward next year.”
Ray Allen scored 19 points and Garnett had 18 for the Celtics, who couldn’t overcome horrible shooting nights from All-Stars Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo and fell back into a tie with Chicago for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
A night after allowing a franchise low in points in the shot clock era in an 87-56 victory over Milwaukee, the Celtics wasted a good defensive effort with a bad offensive one. Pierce was 2 of 10 for seven points, while Rondo shot 1 of 10 and scored two.
Rondo, who went down after a hard pick in the first half and briefly went to the locker room in the third quarter, missed his first seven shots before making a jumper with 3:10 left in third quarter. He said he tweaked his ankle but was otherwise fine.
“Obviously we didn’t shoot well. I didn’t shoot well,” Rondo said. “We’ve got to get better looks at the basket. I know we had a lot of wide-open shots, some shots we made, a lot of shots we missed tonight that we usually make.”
The Nets beat the Celtics in New Jersey for the first time since April 16, 2006, and agreed this victory had extra meaning, since the previous four in their winning streak came against losing teams.
“I think so. It’s five in a row,” Humphries said. “Five in a row, it’s definitely something we haven’t done this year, so it says something.”
The Nets announced their second straight sellout and third of the season at the Prudential Center, but the arena was decorated in so much green it seemed the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations had started a few days early.
But the Nets started to win the crowd with a strong finish to the third quarter, when Anthony Morrow and Sundiata Gaines made 3-pointers in the final 34 seconds, with Gaines’ coming at the buzzer to give New Jersey a 67-61 lead.
The Nets extended it to 74-62 on Travis Outlaw’s 3-pointer with 9:34 remaining. The Celtics quickly cut into it, but missed a chance to grab a lead when Allen missed from 3-point range with about 4 minutes left, and botched a chance to tie inside 3 minutes when called for a 3-second violation.
After Rondo missed a jumper that would have tied it with about 1 1/2 minutes to go, Lopez made a short jumper for an 83-79 edge with 1:14 remaining. The Celtics failed to score and Williams, back after missing the last two games following the birth of a child, nailed a 3 with 35 seconds to go to make it 86-79.
“I can’t say enough about the bench. It was the bench’s game,” Lopez said. “When I got in there, I said it was the bench’s lead so we could not give it up. We had to get in there, it got kind of close, but our defense kept up. We were just telling each other, ‘One stop, one stop’ for the last minute and a half.”
New Jersey took a 14-9 lead with 6:28 left in the first quarter, then missed its final 10 shots while going scoreless for the remainder of the period while the Celtics took a 23-14 lead.
The Nets missed two more to open the second, but the Celtics couldn’t extend their lead while giving plenty of time to their reserves. With Rondo missing all six shots in the half, Boston scored only 15 points in the period and led 38-36 at the break.
Notes: Celtics coach Doc Rivers said G Delonte West (sprained right ankle) could return Wednesday against Indiana. … Troy Murphy, who spent most of the season away from the Nets while awaiting a trade, then was bought out after being dealt to Golden State and signed with Boston, was booed when he entered. Murphy was a New Jersey high school star. … The Nets will send reserve G Ben Uzoh to Springfield on Tuesday to begin a stint with their NBA Development League affiliate.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)