NEW YORK — The Celtics left their defense back in Boston, or at baggage claim, or at their Manhattan hotel, or on the bus.
Or somewhere else.
“Our defense wasn’t there tonight,” said Jeff Green.
Not even in the same zip code.
The Celtics could’ve used just a little stopping power Friday at the Barclays Center, where the Brooklyn Nets barbecued them, 114-98.
“We didn’t provide much resistance all night,” coach Brad Stevens after his team lost for the sixth time in seven games, falling to 23-47.
Perhaps most shocking of all is how the Celtics’ defense vaporized compared with two weeks ago, when the Celtics beat the Nets in Boston while holding them to 84 points.
The Nets (36-31) broke through that barrier midway through the third quarter Friday and hit the 100-point mark with 8:40 left in the fourth.
Stevens gave credit where he felt it was owed — to a team that improved to 26-10 since Jan. 1, the best winning percentage of any Eastern Conference team in that span.
“They are playing at a high level,” Stevens said. “We’ve gone through now and played some of the better teams in the East, and we’ll see Toronto and Chicago and Washington coming up over the next five games, but this team is starting to really play. That’s a different team than we played the first three times we played them.”
Green, who scored 16, also tipped his cap.
“It’s getting close to playoff time,” he said. “When it gets close to that time and you’re a playoff team, you amp it up a little bit. They turned it to another level.”
The Celtics trailed by as many as 22 and were never really in the game, as the Nets shot 56 percent from the floor. Many of their points came in the paint, where the Nets outscored the Celtics, 62-30.
The 62 paint points marked a season high for the Nets. It was also the third most that the Celtics have given up all season, trailing March 16 in New Orleans (70) and March 9 in Detroit (64).
“We have to be better in our paint,” Stevens said, diagnosing what has been a disturbing trend of late.
“We need to pull in more. It’s one of those times where you just have to say, ‘OK, it’s time to muck the paint up again,’ and we didn’t do it well enough. And never more evident than that they could take four or five dribbles in the post and we don’t react to it multiple times today in isolation.”
The Nets won their season-high 11th straight home game — the longest active home streak in the league — while the Celtics fell to 8-26 on the road, including 3-19 since Dec. 10.
But you knew the Celtics were headed for trouble when they gave up 34 points in the opening quarter. Sure enough, that was an omen.
There was a hot second quarter for Avery Bradley, when the Celtics guard made 8 of 8 shots and scored 18 of the team’s first 20 points in that frame.
Bradley’s hot shooting came after he briefly left the game in the first quarter when he tweaked his right ankle — the same ankle he sprained and kept him sidelined for most of this month before he returned last week.
Bradley retreated to the locker room, got his ankle taped, returned to the bench, checked back in, and started torching the Nets, though it didn’t change the outcome.
“I think that’s the only reason it was even respectable, to be honest,” Stevens said. “I think that we weren’t very good on the defensive end of the floor. And when Avery started going off, we just accepted trading baskets instead of really getting stops.”
The Nets countered in the third quarter, when Joe Johnson made 6 of 8 shots, including 3 of 4 from long range, and scored 16 points, giving the Nets a 92-76 lead entering the fourth.
Bradley tied his career high with 28 points, but he had just 5 in the second half. Afterward, he credited Rajon Rondo.
“When you play with a veteran point guard, he keeps calling plays for you,” Bradley said.
Rondo was rather complimentary of Bradley, his backcourt mate.
“He has a lot of talent,” said Rondo, who had 12 points and 12 assists. “The sky’s the limit for Avery. He works extremely hard. He’s one of the hardest-working guys on our team. Right now, it’s paying off for him.”
Johnson had 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Mason Plumlee had 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting Paul Pierce added 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes against his former team, though fellow former Celtic Kevin Garnett (back spasms) sat out his 11th straight game.
“The good thing is that in a week or two, whenever Kevin comes back, it’s going to make us that much deeper,” Pierce said. “So it’s good that we’re playing this way without a huge piece of the puzzle.”
The Celtics won’t have to face the Nets again this season, as Friday marked the fourth and final regular-season meeting, with the Nets winning three of them.
And in the final two minutes, when the game was well in hand, Nets fans broke into a chant:
“Thank you, Cel-tics!”
Then many filed out into the night, just as the Celtics were about to leave the floor again, another defeat to their record.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.