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Nets lose defensive battle to Celtics 87-85

Kyrie Irving led the Celtics to a 87-85 victory over the Nets in a defensive battle Saturday night in Brooklyn.

Irving led all scorers with 21 points on 8-22 shooting from the field. Jayson Tatum added 14 points, five of which came in the final 1:20, to go along with an impressive defensive performance.

Spencer Dinwiddie led Brooklyn once again with 20 points. Jahlil Okafor scored 12 points on 5-12 shooting in 13 minutes of action. Joe Harris recorded his first career double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

Brooklyn shot just 6-31 (19.4%) from three in the contest. The Celtics would not allow the Nets shooters to get comfortable, trailing them tightly around screens the entire game.

The Nets trailed 81-79 with 2:50 remaining when Dinwiddie drove right and finished through contact to tie the game.

Brooklyn forced the ball into Marcus Smart's hands on the following possession with Joe Harris covering. Smart drove right and had his shot blocked by Harris. The ball deflected back to smart who tripped and flipped the ball up underhand at the basket with three seconds remaining on the shot clock.

The ball missed and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was able to gather the rebound before a remarkably late whistle was blown for a foul on Harris. The foul would send Smart to the free-throw line where he would split a pair to put Boston ahead 82-81.

The teams exchanged defensive stops before Dinwiddie drove left and scored to put Brooklyn ahead 83-82 with 1:31 remaining.

Irving would dribble the ball up and signal to Tatum for a screen. However, Tatum slipped the screen and Irving found him as he drove in for a monstrous right-handed slam to put Boston up one with 1:16 remaining.

Brooklyn put the ball into Dinwiddie's hands once again. He drove left off a switch and missed on a floater where it appeared he was pushed. No whistle was blown.

Irving pushed the ball all the way to the rim and missed. DeMarre Carroll appeared to have the rebound, but Irving hounded him and snatched the ball out of his hands. Irving kicked to Tatum who buried the wide open corner three to extend the lead to four with 45.7 seconds remaining.

When asked about the pivotal play Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson replied, “It was extremely physical. I’ll stay with that.”

Harris scored a putback off a Dinwiddie miss on the next possession to cut the lead to two.

Brooklyn got a stop on the other end as Irving missed a floater and Harris gathered the rebound with 19 seconds left.

Dinwiddie got the ball once again. He hesitated, drove right and missed as Semi Ojeleye jumped into him. Harris gathered another rebound, but had his shot blocked out of bounds by Irving with 6.2 seconds remaining.

Brooklyn inbounded to Hollis-Jefferson in the paint. He faded and missed off the back rim. The ball was batted around before finding its way back to Hollis-Jefferson who came up just short on a putback attempt at the buzzer.

The loss was a tough one for a Nets team that fought to the finish against the league-leading Celtics. To make matters worse, DeMarre Carroll injured his right knee battling for the rebound on the final play. He had to be carried off the floor.

Spencer Dinwiddie was aggressive down the stretch for Brooklyn once again. However, he did not get a single call from the officials in the final minutes of the game.

Dinwiddie spoke about a lack of respect toward the Nets on the part of the officials in his post game interview. “We turned the ball over, calls are missed whatever. But when you approach somebody and they ‘shush’ you or they wave you off like you’re not a man or something of that nature, that’s also very frustrating," Dinwiddie said.

The officiating undoubtedly played a huge role in deciding this game down the stretch. The calls did not go Brooklyn's way, as has been a theme in a number of games this season.

“We had our chances and that’s all you can ask against an excellent team. We didn’t close like we did the other night [against Minnesota], but I thought the effort was outstanding by our guys, our defense,” Atkinson said postgame.

Brooklyn is playing with noticeable effort and toughness as of late. The Nets will remain at home and host the Toronto Raptors Monday night as they look to avenge a 33-point blowout loss on Dec. 15.