In the end, it was the Celtics' reserves that came up big in the fourth quarter in Boston's 86-77 win, the 30th of the season for the NBA's top team.
"We got down on the road and our starters needed some rest," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "The bench was able to dig it out and get us the win. They were huge for us. Every game, we try to get our big guys rest because its a long season and were trying to give the bench more confidence."
Boston scored 13 consecutive points without Garnett or Pierce on the floor to take a 76-70 lead with 6:12 remaining. The Celtics went ahead for good at 71-70 on a fastbreak layup by Glen Davis with 7:55 left. Following a Nets turnover on their possession, Eddie House had another fastbreak basket and Allen followed with a 3-pointer to close out the run.
"The defense started the offense and we did a good job all around," Davis said. "Our bench brought up the tempo in the fourth quarter and pumped up the energy. It was really big. Some nights, the big players are real factors and other nights, we have to step it up. Thats what the bench is for. We were able to get the lead with the other guys not on the floor. We stepped up at the right time."
Richard Jefferson led the Nets with 17 points, Vince Carter had 16 and Josh Boone added 14 and a career-high 16 rebounds. Jason Kidd just missed another triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
The Nets left a lot of points on the free-throw line where they were 9-for-24. New Jersey also struggled from the floor in the final quarter, going 3-for-19. Boston outscored New Jersey 23-9 in the fourth.
"We kept it close and we had a chance of winning," Carter said. "We just couldn't get anything going. We were right there in the fourth. We've got to get it done against the good teams. There are no excuses."
Nets coach Lawrence Frank felt his team simply ran out of steam.
"It was a combination of their defense and our shots that we couldn't make," Frank said. "There were a couple of poor possessions. We wore down. We exerted a lot of energy in the game."
It was the first meeting between the teams since the Celtics routed the Nets 91-69 on Nov. 14 in Boston. New Jersey, determined to put that embarrassment behind them, started strong, leading 30-22 after one period. Kidd was the dominant force in the period with six points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Nets extended their lead to 39-30 in the second before the Celtics started to find the offensive range. Boston closed out the half on a 17-5 run for a 47-44 advantage. Garnett paced the attack with nine points as Boston was 10-for-13 from the field in the quarter while the Nets made only 5-of-19.
The Nets hung tough with the NBA's top team, taking a 68-63 lead after three quarters. New Jersey got key 3-pointers late in the period from Carter and Nachbar.
- The assist by Kidd on Carter's jumper with 8:07 remaining in the third was the 9,062 of his career, moving him past Isiah Thomas into fifth place on the all-time list.
- Nets official scorer Herb Turetzky worked his 1,000 consecutive game, a streak that began on May 3, 1984, with a playoff game between the Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks. Turetzky has been the Nets' official scorer all back to the their inaugural ABA season in 1967.
- Allen and Davis were back in uniform after both missed one game, the Celtics 95-83 loss to Charlotte on Wednesday. Allen had a pinched nerve while Davis had a sore right knee.
- Rajon Rondo suffered a lower back injury late in the third quarter and did not return.
- Kidd left the arena without talking to the media. According to Nets spokesman Gary Sussman, the Nets captain was "under the weather" and took fluids intravenously at half time.