Graveyards have shown more life than the Celtics showed Wednesday, when they put forth arguably (or, almost inarguably) their worst effort of the season.
But Friday, they had a pulse. They tried and played together, even — all novel ideas that culminated in a 91-84 win over the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden, which helped the Celtics recover from Wednesday, when they trailed the Golden State Warriors by as many as 31 points at home.
“We talked about it: you don’t feel good walking out of the arena when you play like that,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “There was a collective kind of resilience to play better.”
Of course, it helped that the Nets shot a ghastly 4 of 30 from 3-point range, the worst 3-point percentage (.133) by a team with at least 30 attempts in at least 29 years. (The New York Knicks shot 5 of 37, .135, vs. Phoenix in 2008.)
“I’d like to say it was this outstanding 3-point defense,” Stevens said, “but I think when you rewatch it, it’s a lot of open threes they missed.”
All of those bricks from long range helped the Celtics overcome a season-high 28 total turnovers, topping their previous high of 23 in a Nov. 3 loss to Detroit.
“I remember Bobby Knight on ESPN said the team that has the most turnovers is going to lose,” said forward Jared Sullinger, who grabbed 12 rebounds off the bench. “I guess we exceeded that expectation. I don’t know how you’re going to win turning the ball over so many times, honestly. Maybe we were just lucky that they had a bad shooting night.”
Lucky is a good way to put it, because the Celtics were 0-2 since 1985 when they had 28 or more turnovers, and they had not won in regulation with 25 or more turnovers since 2001 against Memphis.
“That just goes to show you that it’s a make-miss league,” said Nets forward Paul Pierce, who had 10 points against his former team. “We defended — you hold a team to 91 points, that’s right on point. We usually give up like 98, 99 points a game. We just couldn’t score the ball.”
The Celtics ended a two-game losing streak and improved to 21-41.
They can pin the win on Rajon Rondo, who had 20 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds in 35 minutes, offering up a spirited performance against a fellow star point guard, Deron Williams.
Rondo, who declined to talk after the game, also provided another showcase of his improved shooting stroke from 3-point range, as he hit 3 of 6 from beyond the arc.
He shot 3 of 3 from long distance in the first quarter, the most he has hit in any quarter or one half.
Rondo has 20 3-pointers in 17 games this season, a career high, besting his previous best of 17 3-pointers over the course of 81 games in 2009-10.
“He’s unstoppable,” Pierce said. “I’ve always said, the more he improves, the more he expands his game — he’s one of the best.
“He’s coming down, knocking down threes It’s almost impossible to keep him out of the game, the way he has the floater, the way he finds people in traffic. If he continues to consistently knock down that shot, watch out.”
The Celtics led by as much as 18 points, but the Nets (30-30) came to within 70-68 after Joe Johnson sank a free throw with 2:01 left in the third quarter.
The Celtics closed the quarter on a 8-2 run and held on during a low-scoring fourth quarter, when the Nets scored just 14 points and the Celtics scored 13.
Jeff Green added 15 points, Jerryd Bayless scored 14, and reserve Kelly Olynyk added 13 points and seven rebounds.
Johnson led the Nets with 21 points, Williams scored 20. Former Celtic Kevin Garnett (back spasms) missed the game for the Nets
At halftime, the Celtics only held a 53-41 advantage, despite making 6 of 13 from 3-point range while the Nets were 0 for 17.
In the second half, the Nets made their first 3-pointer, but it wasn’t a sign of things to come. All those missed 3-pointers resulted in long rebounds, and the Celtics came up big, holding a 51-28 rebounding edge.
“That was obviously the difference in the game for us,” Stevens said. “That, and they missed the threes.”
And now, the Celtics have 20 regular-season games left. Barring a miracle run, their season will expire after that.
“I was just talking to Rondo a few minutes ago, [and said,] ‘Let’s just have fun. Let’s just play hard and have fun. Whatever happens, happens,” said Celtics forward Kris Humphries.
“Basketball is a fun game. If we just lay it out there, it’ll be fun for us, it’ll be fun for the fans. That’s kind of the heart of why we got into this game.”
Yet Sullinger said the win help sets the tone of how the Celtics want to play their final 20 games — not like Wednesday, but like Friday.
“I just think this team is special not because I play for them, I just think it’s special because we come out every night and we want to win,” he said.
“Anybody can just kind of throw in the season, can also say ‘what are we playing for?’ But you never know what can happen. Tonight was a big night for us.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@BaxterHolmes.