Nets embarrassed by shorthanded Celtics, 136-86, in 2nd-worst loss in franchise history

In their final game before the All-Star break, the free-falling Nets suffered an epic beatdown in Boston that nearly became the worst loss in franchise history.

Even that may be putting it lightly.

Facing the surging Celtics for the second time in as many nights, the Nets were completely outclassed by the NBA’s top team, trailing from start to finish in Wednesday’s 136-86 embarrassment.

It was the Nets’ second-worst loss ever, behind only a 52-point defeat by the Houston Rockets in 1978. Brooklyn barely dodged that dubious record with Wednesday’s game, during which the Nets trailed by 54 points with under three minutes remaining. In a show of mercy, Boston ran out the clock without attempting a shot on its final two possessions.

“We got our tails kicked,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said afterward.

The Celtics began the blowout by going up 26-8, led 68-32 at halftime and opened the third quarter on a 9-0 run. The Nets started the game 7-of-33 from the field, were outrebounded 51-31 and trailed by as many as 56 points in the fourth quarter.

The game got out of hand in the second quarter when Boston unleashed a 22-0 run, during which the Nets went scoreless for more than seven minutes. The Nets’ 36-point halftime deficit represented the second-largest by any team this season – and only got worse from there.

It didn’t matter that Boston, on the second night of a back-to-back, sat second-leading scorer Jaylen Brown (shoulder contusion) and sixth man Al Horford (big toe sprain). Payton Pritchard scored a game-high 28 points for Boston. Derrick White added 27. Jayson Tatum finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and nine assists without playing the fourth quarter.

The Celtics got back Kristaps Porzingis, who missed Tuesday night’s 118-110 win in Brooklyn with a low back contusion. The 7-2 Porzingis set the tone early Wednesday as both a shooter and interior presence, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the first quarter while demonstrating an excellent rapport with the pass-happy Tatum.

After scoring the game’s first basket with a long 3-pointer, Porzingis made three of his five first-quarter field goals on Tatum assists, including on a slick pick-and-roll and later on a short alley-oop. Tatum – who, along with Brown, is an All-Star for Boston – followed up Tuesday’s 41-point performance in Brooklyn by flirting with a triple-double.

Brooklyn’s starters combined for a season-low 29 points. Only Mikal Bridges (10 points) and backup forward Trendon Watford (15 points) scored in double-figures.

The lopsided loss dropped the Nets to 21-33, serving as a low point in what’s been a disappointing season.

The Nets fell to 0-4 against the Celtics, offering a humbling reminder of how much ground they still have to make up after trading away superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last February.

“We have some work to do,” Vaughn said. “We have to be OK doing the work. But I do believe this team can do the work.”

With the win, the Celtics improved to 43-12 and 26-3 at home.

The Nets were without point guard Ben Simmons, who has not been cleared to play both games of back-to-backs after returning in late January from a back injury that kept him out nearly three months.

Cam Johnson returned from a four-game absence for a left adductor strain and, with his playing time restricted, scored four points on 1-of-5 shooting in 18 minutes off the bench. Lonnie Walker, Dorian Finney-Smith and Day’Ron Sharpe also operated on minutes limits Wednesday after their recent returns from injuries.

Injuries have plagued Brooklyn all season, while last week’s trade deadline deals sending away Spencer Dinwiddie and Royce O’Neale and bringing back Dennis Schroder shuffled the Nets’ roster even further.

Vaughn said that lack of continuity is more to blame for Wednesday’s disaster than the possibility of his players looking ahead to the All-Star break.

“I have total confidence in this group,” Vaughn said. “Even at halftime, believing somehow we were going to try to climb back into the game. Now, there’s going to be a level of commitment, that we have to get things sped up pretty quickly, just because these guys haven’t played together, and the different combinations. But at no point did I think, going into the game, that we would lose by this amount.”

Brooklyn enters the week-long break in 11th place in the Eastern Conference after losing five of its last six games and 18 of its last 24.

None of those losses were worse than Wednesday’s.