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The end of this tumultuous season is in sight for these flawed Celtics

Celtics center Tristan Thompson and the rest of his teammates had no answer for Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant in an unsightly loss to the Nets in Game 4 that brought Boston to the brink of elimination down, 3-1.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

This had nothing to do with effort or fortitude. The Celtics just were too far from good enough to compete with an unstoppable offense during Sunday’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

The Brooklyn Nets were punched in Game 3, tasted their own blood and then came back Sunday with fury, especially former Celtic Kyrie Irving who somehow viewed this as a revenge game and dropped 39 points on his former team.

A long and tumultuous season is winding down for the Celtics. Once again injury played a major role in this game, with Kemba Walker and Robert Williams joining Jaylen Brown on the sidelines with injuries, leaving Jayson Tatum and well, a bunch of other guys against three potential Hall of Famers.


The result was predictable, the Nets battered the Celtics, 141-126, in front of 17,226 a TD Garden, the first time this season a full crowd has been allowed to watch the Celtics in Boston.

What was heartening about the atmosphere is the crowd roared at every Celtics basket, even when they were down 20 in the fourth quarter. They had so much pent up enthusiasm after being left out of the NBA equation all season.

Also, they were cheering a team that was trying its best, playing its hardest despite being shorthanded, which had not always been the case this season. The Celtics represented themselves well in what is likely their home finale, playing with the type of passion that had been expected since they were ousted from the NBA bubble in October.

And the Celtics were undermanned and lacked the talent, but they didn’t relent. Brooklyn coach Steve Nash kept the trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Irving in until the final minutes but the Celtics continued to compete and didn’t finish this game on their back.


“I don’t have any issues at all with our approach, our effort,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But we got a little haphazard defensively. That’s the part that we can control and clean up. Again, there are some individual tendencies that we need to do a better job of but the effort was good, all the way through.”

Can Brad Stevens and the Celtics come back from a 3-1 deficit?Maddie Malhotra/Getty

There is no such thing as moral victories, not on this level, but Game 4 wasn’t a complete disappointment. It’s just a sign the Celtics need to spend this offseason upgrading this roster because Brooklyn isn’t going anywhere.

It was almost unfair Sunday when Stevens played Semi Ojeleye, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford along with Jayson Tatum against Brooklyn’s Big Three. The Celtics have a roster depth issue and that’s been the case all season. It’s almost unfair to expect them to compete with the Nets, who have championship aspirations and are trying to prep for a potential showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks in the next series.

The Celtics are just trying to compete and stay close from possession to possession. They don’t have the weapons. Robert Williams, who blocked nine shots in Game 1, had a boot protecting his left foot. Walker wanted to play but was held out with a bone bruise in his left knee.

Without those two, the Celtics had little chance. They relied almost solely on Jayson Tatum, who followed his 50-point performance Friday with 40 on Sunday. But no other Celtic scored more than 16 points. Marcus Smart and Evan Fournier each struggled from the field. Stevens countered losing Walker by starting second-year forward Romeo Langford.


It’s been a grueling season in Boston, and the crowd was on its best behavior until after the buzzer when a fan was arrested, according to a league source, after throwing a bottle at Irving as he exited the tunnel. It put a damper on what was a celebratory night for Celtics faithful because they were allowed in full to return here.

But there should be no disappointment this home finale. The Celtics never played up to their potential. They have been besieged by inconsistency, COVID-19 issues and injuries. But they have been able to offer the juggernaut Nets some resistance in this series, even making it enjoyable at times.

Jayson Tatum reacts after he was whistled for a foul against James Harden.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Celtics players know they’re shorthanded. They are not entering games with the delusion that they can shut down the Nets. They gave up 141 points on 57.8 percent shooting and yet walked away knowing they gave their best.

Durant is a brilliant shooter, unfazed by any Celtics defender as he splashed jumper after jumper. Irving played as if he was on a mission, knocking down pull-up 3-points or rising for dunks off rebounds. James Harden gashed the Celtics defense with constant drives and also finished with 18 assists.

Brooklyn is a machine and the Celtics may have had an opportunity to extend this series with a healthy Brown. But they aren’t whole. They are just a flawed team trying to play its best basketball during the playoffs. They will enter Game 5 as heavy underdogs, expected to crumble under the pressure of winning in Brooklyn.


They will try to fight, prepare a game plan to contain Brooklyn but it’s not going to be enough. This is pretty much all they have.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.