It's been a while since the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets were legitimately competitive at the same time. You'd have to go all the way back to the days when Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson roamed the court in New Jersey (remember the days when they were the New Jersey Nets? ... good times).
Thanks to a little (or big) offseason overhaul, Brooklyn has been molded into a competitor, while Boston retooled with key reserve additions, making Wednesday's battle between the two at TD Garden watchable television.
These two franchises each spent time dominating the other over the last decade, with Brooklyn (then New Jersey) enjoying a string of Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals appearances in the early 2000's while the additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen fueled the Celts to an NBA championship in 2007-08 and true contender status ever since.
Having two talented teams like these would be enough to make a division interesting, but the Atlantic Division -- for the first time in a while -- is no longer top heavy. Joining the Celtics and Knicks in the race for the division crown are the New York Knicks, a team that had always had talent but was never able to put it together, and an up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers team. Then, of course, we have the Toronto Raptors, who... haven't really improved at all.
Boston found itself stuck in the mud at the start of the season, but has settled into somewhat of a comfort zone over the last nine games, picking up six victories. Of note was a 108-100 win over the always dangerous Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder last Friday, a win that featured a vintage performance from the captain Paul Pierce (27 points) and the usual dominant floor game of Rajon Rondo (16 assists). It was the first quality win of the season for Boston, which had shown flashes of quality play on both ends but hadn't put together a complete effort against a good team to date.
The Celtics followed that statement game up with an almost predictable letdown against the Orlando Magic. It took them an extra period to do it, but the C's survived with a 116-110 overtime win. Rondo came within one rebound of a triple-double (15 points, nine rebounds, 16 assists) and extended his double-digit assist streak to 37 games. He is now tied for the second longest streak in NBA history with John Stockton and only nine away from Magic Johnson.
Winning is never bad, but losing a late lead and having to force overtime to beat Orlando only shows that Boston still has plenty of work left to do.
Brooklyn lost two of three out of the gate, but like Boston has settled into a groove, winning eight of ten entering Wednesday. The Nets legitimized their status in New York City with their last win, a 96-89 overtime victory against the incumbent New York Knicks. Brook Lopez had 22 points and 11 rebounds -- including seven offensive boards -- while Deron Williams racked up 16 points and 14 assists. Joe Johnson was held to just eight points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Boston and Brooklyn have already met once this season, with the Celtics falling 102-97 at the Barclays Center. The two teams will meet twice more in 2012-13.
Wednesday night's game tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET and will air on CSNNE/WEEI.
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