EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Boston's Big Three against New Jersey's Great Eight had the look of a mismatch.
Instead, the Celtics had to work hard to keep the injury-decimated Nets winless.
• The Celtics are 7-1 and extended the Nets' worst start in franchise history to 0-7.
• Boston outscored New Jersey 27-15 in the fourth quarter after trailing by two through three quarters.
• The Celtics have won 10 straight against the Nets.
• Boston scored a season-low 86 points but did rack up 20 steals, its best total since November 2007.
-- ESPN Stats & Information
Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce each scored 16 points, and Boston bounced back from its first loss of the season with an 86-76 victory Saturday night.
It was a struggle though, as the Celtics could never pull away from a Nets team that barely had enough players to start a game.
"I didn't think we had a lot in the tank. I could see that, that's why I sat our starters long stretches today," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I was just trying to milk the game as long as I could get it and then play at the end, and we had enough to win."
Ray Allen came alive after three dismal quarters to score eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter for the Celtics (7-1), who lost 110-103 to Phoenix on Friday night, allowing 20 more points than in any previous game.
Their defense was back Saturday -- and it needed to be, because the Celtics couldn't shoot for most of the night. Boston finished with an NBA season-high 20 steals, five by Rondo, scoring 19 points off New Jersey's 24 turnovers.
Kevin Garnett shot 3 of 13 but added nine points and 13 rebounds for the Celtics, who beat the Nets for the 10th straight time, their longest winning streak in the series since claiming 11 in a row from 1980-82.
"We expect that short-handed guys are going to come out and play hard. We didn't take them for granted, they just played hard and executed," Pierce said. "We're playing a team that's desperate. They haven't won. They've got everything against them."
Brook Lopez, the only regular starter available, scored 23 points, and Rafer Alston had 20 for the Nets (0-7), who likely ran out of gas in the fourth quarter while playing with only eight players.
"Our theme going in was 'none of us is strong as all of us' and it literally come to fruition. In a seven-game stretch, go figure," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "Our guys got a great deal of pride and they're trying to win. It's a credit to the character in that locker room."
Starting forward Chris Douglas-Roberts tested positive for swine flu and Courtney Lee has a strained left groin, leaving the Nets with the NBA minimum amount of players in uniform.
"Well, we're down to the great eight," Frank said before the game.
That was good enough for 3 1/2 quarters until Allen, who was 1 of 7 through three periods, knocked down a pair of jumpers for an 80-72 lead with 4:09 to play.
"I think we got good looks," Allen said. "In our last couple of games we've been getting good looks and we haven't been knocking them down. It's just building ourselves into our rhythm throughout the course of the season.
The Nets scored the first five points and led by as much as eight before the Celtics tied it at 18 after one. Neither team had any flow in the first half, with the Nets committing 15 turnovers but Boston converting them into only six points.
Rivers looked disgusted by some of his team's sloppy plays, including one long pass attempt by Rondo that resembled a tee shot getting caught in the wind, hooking left until it flew out of bounds and landed by the Boston bench.
Josh Boone's layup gave New Jersey a 40-39 lead at halftime.
The Celtics seemed to be seizing the game in the third, when two straight layups by Rondo after Boston steals made it 52-45. Garnett's three-point player later gave the Celtics an eight-point advantage, but they stalled again and the Nets rallied for a 61-59 heading to the fourth.
"We were right there," Lopez said. "We all showed we can be competitive."
Garnett and Allen were a combined 3 of 18 through three.
The Celtics were without reserve Marquis Daniels, who was excused for personal reasons. ... The teams entered as the NBA's best and worst in scoring differential. Boston was plus-14.7, while the Nets were minus-12.1. ... Boston has won seven straight in New Jersey.