NEW YORK - Guard Joe Johnson shook his head in disbelief after being informed that the Brooklyn Nets had won consecutive games for the first time this season.
Johnson found that fact hard to believe, but then many things have been hard to believe for the Nets in the opening month of the season, such as guard Deron Williams being sidelined with another ankle injury and the team not playing well in third quarters.
Williams returned after missing nine games with a sprained left ankle as he scored eight of his season-high 25 points in the fourth quarter.
The Nets withstood a third quarter run while leading for the final 40-plus minutes of a 104-96 victory over the Boston Celtics Tuesday night at the Barclays Center.
"Aw man, I didn't think about that," Johnson said of the modest win streak after the Nets improved their record to 7-14. "You have to smile and chuckle because it's something I envisioned."
"It's good obviously," Brooklyn center Brook Lopez said. "We've got to start somewhere and these are two good games for us to get back into it. We came out as a unit, executed, defended so we just got to keep it going now."
The Nets had anticipated nights like this when Williams would play as well as he did after the All-Star break last season. He had not played since Nov. 13 at Sacramento but hardly looked rusty while shooting 10-of-16 and handing out seven assists.
"D-Will set the tone for how we were going to play tonight," Brooklyn forward Kevin Garnett said. "I thought against their pressure, he went back at the pressure. He set up a lot of us for easy shots that we could make."
Brooklyn also was aided by one of Garnett's best games as he collected 11 points and nine rebounds while playing 26 minutes in his first meeting against the Celtics since he was acquired by the Nets along with Paul Pierce in July. Pierce made a surprise return from a broken hand and anchored the second unit, the fourth time in his career he did not start and first time since Feb. 9, 2007 at New Jersey.
However, the difference was Williams.
"He could be sore tomorrow, but I thought just his presence gave everybody a lift tonight." Nets head coach Jason Kidd said of Williams.
The Nets shot a season-high 55.7 percent (39-of-70), controlling the paint by a 48-30 margin and placing five in double figures. But the difference in having Williams was most notable in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics (10-13) were within 89-81 with 8:28 remaining, but Williams scored five consecutive points with a layup, a pull-up jumper and a free throw. Boston was within eight after guard Avery Bradley hit a 19-footer with 3:31 left. But Williams hit a 15-foot fadeaway to restore Brooklyn's 10-point lead.
"It's a huge difference," Garnett said. "Not only does he put the refs in situations to make calls, he understands flow. Not to say our other guys don't, but that's the reason he starts."
Williams also helped Lopez get into a first-half flow as the center scored 16 of his 24 points in the first half. The Nets led by 11 after the opening quarter and took a 56-47 lead into halftime.
The Nets allowed Boston to forge a 60-60 tie early in the third, but Williams hit two baskets during a 10-0 run that helped them take an 85-72 lead into the fourth.
Guard Alan Anderson added 15 points for the Nets, and reserve center Andray Blatche chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds.
Bradley scored 22 points for the Celtics, who shot 43.8 percent (35-for-80) while seeing their three-game winning streak end. Guard Jeff Green added 18 points for Boston, while forward Jared Sullinger and guard Jordan Crawford chipped in 15 apiece.
"Even before they had the players that they had (down) come back tonight, I still feel they were a very good team," Bradley said. "Obviously having two of their leaders back in Deron Williams and Paul, that definitely helps them out a lot and they played well tonight."
NOTES: G Paul Pierce came off the bench for two reasons, according to coach Jason Kidd, who said that he wanted to get him comfortable with the glove on his hand and that he didn't want to press him into the starting lineup. ... Kidd declined to address comments made by former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers to Bleacher Report about Pierce and Garnett not being able to be effective with limitations on their minutes. "That's Doc's opinion," Kidd said. "I respect that opinion, but minutes restrictions are due to games being out of reach." ... Boston rookie F Kelly Olynyk ramped up his basketball activities but missed his ninth consecutive game due to a sprained right ankle. ... Celtics G Rajon Rondo said at Tuesday morning's shootaround that he would meet later this month with the surgeon who repaired the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. However, until he gets clearance to resume full-contact drills in practices, he is not close to returning.