BOSTON — The Nets’ lineup has been decimated. Friday was the first time it looked that way.
That’s what being down three starters on the road against the NBA championship favorites will do.
Injury-riddled Brooklyn lost 121-107 to Boston before a sellout crowd of 19,156 at TD Garden in an NBA In-Season Tournament game that was far more lopsided than the final score would indicate.
Missing Ben Simmons, Nic Claxton and leading scorer Cam Thomas, the Nets were double-digit underdogs.
They played hard throughout.
But they were outsized, outmanned and in the end, thoroughly outplayed, dropping their 12th game in their past 13 meetings against Boston.
The Nets saw the much bigger Celtics pile up a staggering 29-5 edge in second-chance points, and lean on their All-Stars.
Jaylen Brown poured in a game-high 28 points on 5-for-9 shooting from deep, while Jayson Tatum added 23.
Playing without Simmons, the Nets lacked the frenetic fast break that they so desperately needed to have any chance at pulling off an upset Friday.
Lonnie Walker IV led the Nets with 20 points off the bench, and fellow backups Trendon Watford and Dennis Smith Jr. were the next-highest scoring with just 14 points apiece.
The loss saw the Nets fall to 4-5 for the season, and evened their mark at 1-1 in East Group C for the In-Season Tournament.
They host the Wizards on Sunday at Barclays Center, then the Magic two nights later in their next In-Season Tournament game.
The Nets only can hope their injury crisis has eased up at least a little by then.
While forward Cam Johnson returned and played his first game since opening night — going straight into the starting lineup and scoring 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting — the rest of the lineup was still threadbare.
With the aforementioned trio all out, Brooklyn’s starters were outscored 84-47 by Boston’s.
The Nets went 1-for-9 with three turnovers during a second-quarter drought, and lost contact.
Brooklyn had lost by a combined 20 in their other defeats.
They trailed by 24 on Friday to the Celtics, favored to not only come out of a top-heavy Eastern Conference but win the NBA championship.
Friday didn’t have the same venom that Nets visits to Boston have had over the past few years, when former Celtic Kyrie Irving was around and the emerald-clad locals whipped themselves in a frenzy.
This had more of a perfunctory feel.
The Nets played hard throughout, but in the end they were playing out of their league.
The Nets had no answer for the Celtics’ stars.
Down just 38-35 with 9:42 left in the half following Spencer Dinwiddie’s free throws, and very much in the game, Brooklyn gave up a 10-3 run to lose contact.
Brown’s foul shot capped the run and made it 48-38 midway through the second quarter.
By the time Johnson finally broke the drought with a 3-pointer off a Royce O’Neale feed with 5:51 remaining in the half, the Nets had shot 1 of 7 with a turnover, falling behind by double-digits.
The deficit swelled to 66-49 on Brown’s running layup with 1:34 to play in the second quarter. His 16-foot jumper padded it to 81-63 with 4:47 left in the third.
Boston’s lead just kept growing, until it reached 116-92 with four minutes left on Payton Pritchard’s layup.