NEW YORK – Joe Johnson made the tiebreaking basket with 3:03 left, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez each scored 24 points, and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Boston Celtics 102-97 on Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.
Williams had eight assists and made all nine free throws on a night Paul Pierce had two huge misses in the final minute for the Celtics, who played without injured point guard Rajon Rondo.
Johnson finished with 19 points and eight rebounds for the Nets in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,732 that was divided but certainly loud in the tense final minutes.
Pierce scored 22 points and Leandro Barbosa had 17 in place of Rondo, who was out with a sprained right ankle. Kevin Garnett added 14 points but Boston had its three-game win streak snapped and lost to the Nets for just the third time in the last 21 meetings.
Boston led 79-74 after three before the Nets made it 85-85 on Jerry Stackhouse’s 3-pointer with 6:21 to play.
It was still tied before Johnson made consecutive jumpers and Lopez scored on a follow shot for a six-point lead, and the Celtics could never catch up — especially when Pierce missed two free throws with 34.5 seconds left and Boston trailing by three.
Rondo was hurt in the third quarter Wednesday night in a home victory over Utah.
Without the NBA leader in assists, averaging 12.6, Coach Doc Rivers said the playbook would be reduced because Barbosa didn’t fully know the offense yet.
But the speedy Brazilian created for himself just fine, blowing by defenders for layups though finishing with just two assists.
Nets Coach Avery Johnson said the Nets needed a breakthrough against a quality opponent such as Boston and was interested to see how far his team had come since the Celtics smashed them 115-85 in the preseason.
It was a night he felt the longtime Atlantic Division rulers were trying to send a message to his team.
The Nets have definitely closed the gap.
They had led by 20 or more in their last three home games and opened a 13-point cushion early in the third quarter of this game. But Pierce, who had a quiet six-point first half, suddenly got going midway through the period with a 3-pointer and basket as the Celtics fans — still noticeable around the arena though not nearly to the extent as when the Nets played in New Jersey — became more vocal.
When he picked up his fourth foul and Rivers sent Jeff Green to the table to check in for him, Pierce pleaded to stay, Rivers agreed, and Pierce made the gamble pay off with consecutive baskets that gave Boston a 73-71 lead.
The Nets shot out to a quick 11-point lead that was trimmed to 31-26 after one quarter.
Brooklyn kept its lead throughout the second quarter, using 15 offensive rebounds in the first half to score 19 second-chance points and build a 59-50 advantage.
NOTES: The Nets made their first regular-season appearance on TNT since Jan. 24, 2008, against Golden State. Marv Albert, who is from Brooklyn and worked for the Dodgers when he was young before later calling games for both the Knicks and the Nets, was the lead announcer. Lopez came in averaging 8.2 points in the first quarter and shooting 69.7 percent. He shot 5 of 7 on Thursday.
DWYANE WADE skipped Miami’s game at Denver because of a sprained left foot.
Wade was held to six points, well below his 18.4-point average, in Miami’s 107-100 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on Wednesday night.
Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said the move was cautionary, emphasizing that “It’s not anything major. He has a bunch of little, minor nagging injuries, so we’ll continue to take it day by day.”