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Nets close to sealing top-four seed

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BOSTON -- Brooklyn Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo believes Deron Williams is playing like one of the elite point guards in the league.

Veteran teammate Jerry Stackhouse took it even further.

"I think since the break he's been as good as anyone playing -- not just any point guard," Stackhouse said. "He's been as good as anybody who's playing."

It was hard to argue the case Wednesday night.

Williams was relentless in attacking the rim and finding open teammates, scoring 29 points and dishing out 12 assists while leading the Nets to a convincing 101-93 victory over the Boston Celtics.

The pesky point guard shot 9-for-18 from the floor, including 5-for-6 for 11 points during a second-quarter surge that helped the Nets turn a two-point deficit into a 10-point halftime cushion that they never would relinquish.

"We're saying the same thing every game. He's playing at Deron Williams' level," Carlesimo said. "People don't see him screening and him distributing the ball and defending. Everyone picks up the stat sheet and goes, 'Look, he had 29, he didn't miss any free throws, he shot 9-for-18.'

"There's so many other things. That's the thing that's really, really important for us."

Brook Lopez scored 21 points and Joe Johnson added 20 points for the Nets, who won their third straight game to remain in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with four games to play. Brooklyn (46-32) is three games behind the Indiana Pacers and 3 1/2 ahead of the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks, in excellent position to secure home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

"This was a big win for us, and I think these next (four) games, we'll be able to tell where we're at, too," Williams said. "We've been up and down a lot this season, but these last two wins have been something to build on.

"Hopefully we cannot take any more steps back and just keep moving forward."

The Celtics seem to be heading in the opposite direction.

Boston (40-38) has lost nine of its past 13 games yet still sits comfortably in seventh place in the East, three games in front of the Milwaukee Bucks with four to go.

Paul Pierce scored 23 points for the Celtics, and Kevin Garnett chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds in just his second game back after missing eight due to left ankle inflammation. Jeff Green also scored 11, and Brandon Bass had 10.

"We didn't play well tonight," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought they had a clear sense of purpose tonight -- them -- and I thought we kind of showed up to play. I thought they really took it to us."

Boston and Brooklyn hadn't met since the Celtics crushed the Nets by 17 on Christmas Day in a game featuring three ejections.

Wednesday's contest, however, was a one-sided fight.

The Nets -- who hit 25 of 28 free throws -- opened up a 13-point lead early in the fourth after four straight points by Kris Humphries before Garnett converted a three-point play to trim the deficit to 10 with under nine minutes to go.

Boston crept within eight when Green delivered a three-point play, but the Celtics had no answer for Williams down the stretch.

He scored six straight points for Brooklyn, sinking a long jumper and then knifing through the lane for a layup that all but put the game away at 95-82 with 4:35 to play. Lopez later capped an 8-0 run with a dunk that made it 99-82.

"Really comfortable (tonight) for the most part," Williams said. "I was able to attack the rim a lot, get to the free-throw line 10 times. That helps build confidence, getting to the free-throw line and knocking them down."

On the heels of a game-altering 18-6 run to the close the first half and take a double-digit lead at the break, the Nets picked up in the third quarter right where they left off.

Johnson hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, Williams sank a long jumper and Stackhouse added a baseline jumper that put Brooklyn in front 60-45.

"We don't talk on defense, we let constant dribble penetration from the guards without helping," Pierce said. "It's obvious who the stars on their team are ... Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. We can't let the stars go out there and have huge nights.

"You know they're going to go to them every night. We've got to do a better job of communicating with each other and getting the ball out of their hands so they don't have nights like they did tonight."

Pierce twice sliced the lead to 12, but Brooklyn ballooned the lead to 68-52 with 5:37 to play in the third behind six points from Lopez and another jumper from Stackhouse.

Boston whittled the deficit to eight following a 3-pointer from Green and three points from Pierce, but Brooklyn weathered the storm and maintained its 10-point cushion entering the fourth.

"I'm sure every coach in the league talks about finishing quarters. But that's been an elusive thing for us," Carlesimo said. "The games we've played really well, we've done that. Tonight we did that when it was really important.

"That's what the elite teams do, they finish quarters."

NOTES: Brooklyn improved to 32-18 since Carlesimo took over as interim coach, giving him the best start as head coach through 50 games in franchise history. ... Johnson played in his 900th career game. ... Boston's Jason Terry and Pierce both played in their 1,100th career game. ... Garnett passed John Stockton on Wednesday and moved into sixth place in NBA history in minutes played during the regular season. ... Brooklyn's MarShon Brooks and Johnson were both drafted by Boston. Brooks was selected in the first round (25th overall) of the 2011 draft before being traded to the Nets, while Johnson was the 10th overall pick of the 2001 draft. ... When the teams met on Nov. 28, Boston's Rajon Rondo and Brooklyn's Gerald Wallace and Humphries were all ejected from the game following a second-quarter skirmish.
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