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Nets bask in home court, edge Celtics

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NEW YORK -- They felt the crowd surging with them down the stretch, the Brooklyn Nets no longer a team in limbo, but one that could confidently claim a home-court advantage.

And they did, along with a big win over the Boston Celtics, 102-97 before a sellout crowd of 17,732 at the Barclays Center on Thursday night.

In the past couple of years, as they waited to move to their permanent new home in Brooklyn, the Nets had often seen Celtics fans infiltrate their arena, feeling as outnumbered as they had been out-manned while the Celtics dominated them.

But Thursday night, the Nets didn't just savor their screaming fans' exuberance. They rewarded it with their first victory over the Celtics in four games and just their third in the past 21. The win was the Nets' fourth in a row, while the Celtics, playing without injured point guard Rajon Rondo, ended their win streak at three.

"It was one of the biggest games that we've had," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "When the Celtics came to our arena over the past two years, they would have 75-80 percent of the fans, so it's great to see our fan base shouting 'Brooklyn,' and giving our team the support. It is fun to be a part of."

The Nets led for most of the first three quarters. But, more impressive, they were able to come back after watching the Celtics pass them in the third quarter -- and they then held off the stubborn Celtics in a tense final minute. After blowing early leads earlier this season, the Nets took pride in closing it out down the stretch with key field goals from Joe Johnson and free throws by Deron Williams.

"It just takes time. Every game like this, it's good for that," said Williams, who scored 24 points despite being hampered by a leg injury after tripping early in the third quarter. "When you play in these type of situations, you tend to get better in them. ... We're getting better at closing out games."

Celtics forward Paul Pierce missed a pair of key free throws in the waning minutes but hit a 3-pointer to bring Boston within three. That prompted Avery Johnson to have his players foul because he feared a game-tying 3-pointer in the final minute.

Pierce, who scored 22 points, said the Celtics have to get better at starting games.

"We can't wait to turn it around, decide we want to play," said Pierce of the Celtics, who trailed by 11 in the first half and did not lead until late in the third. "It was just a lot of little things we have to correct. We have no room for error with Rondo out."

Rondo's sub, Leandro Barbosa, helped Boston erase what had been an 11-point lead in the second quarter and take their first lead of the game late in the third quarter.

But the Nets, who had blown a 22-point lead against the Timberwolves earlier this season when Minnesota was missing two top players, rallied in the fourth.

Joe Johnson, who scored 19 points, scored four consecutive points at a pivotal time down the stretch for Brooklyn. Brook Lopez, who scored 24 points, put back a miss by Johnson during a six-point spurt that helped the Nets go up 93-87 with 1:45 left.

"I thought Brook and Joe were great down the stretch for us," Avery Johnson said.

Pierce, who missed two free throws in the final minute, brought the Celtics within 97-95 when he hit a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left.

Williams then hit two free throws with 23.4 seconds left to put the Nets up 99-95. Pierce countered with two free throws of his own, but Williams again hit a pair to make it 101-97, and the Celtics got no closer.

Barbosa stepped up in Rondo's absence, scoring 17 points after entering the game averaging 5.9 points in 12.5 minutes.

Kevin Garnett scored 14 points for the Celtics, 10 in the second half.

Having not trailed for most of the first three quarters, the Nets found themselves playing catch-up for most of the fourth. They tied the game, 85-85, on Jerry Stackhouse's 3-pointer with 6:20 left in the game, to cap a 5-0 run.

When Johnson hit a jumper with 3:02 left to put Brooklyn up 89-87, it was the Nets' first lead since late in the third.

The Celtics turned a nine-point halftime deficit into a 79-74 lead entering the fourth quarter after outscoring the Nets 29-15 in the third.

Boston took its first lead of the game, 73-71, on the second of back-to-back jumpers by Pierce, with 3:48 left in the quarter. The baskets were part of a 17-2 run, led by Pierce, Barbosa and Chris Wilcox.

The Nets ended the first half with a 59-50 lead, thanks to a 10-4 run, with Williams and Johnson scoring five points apiece.

NOTES: Rondo, who left Wednesday night's game in the third quarter, was declared out shortly before tip-off Thursday with what the Celtics said was a right ankle sprain. Celtics coach Doc Rivers was not definitive about when Rondo could return. ... Williams said his leg injury had bothered him before the game, but he would be able to play Sunday. ... MarShon Brooks (sprained left ankle) was activated by the Nets after he missed three straight games. ... Nets forward Gerald Wallace (sprained left ankle) was out for the fourth consecutive game. ... Williams was initially credited with a 2-point field goal with 9:57 left in the first quarter to give the Nets an 8-2 lead. At 5:52, the play was reviewed, and he was credited with a 3-pointer.
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