On the heels of arguably the most thrilling and epic first round series opener in NBA Playoffs history, the Nets and Celtics are back at it in Boston on Wednesday night (7:00pm Eastern; April 21st, 1:00am UK).
On Easter Sunday at the TD Garden in Boston, the Celtics and Nets combined to turn in an instant NBA Playoff classic. The contest, spirited and physical throughout, was deadlocked at the halfway point. The Celtics dominated the third quarter, at one point opening up a lead of fifteen points and ending the period up eleven, and looked as though they were going to run the Nets out of the building. That, of course, was before Brooklyn – led by the imperious talent of Kyrie Irving – mounted a furious comeback, cutting the lead to a single point in three minutes, taking the lead a minute later, and leading the rest of the way. Technically.
The score remained tied or in the Nets favor until the literal final ticks of the clock. The Celtics, having rebounded a Nets miss with 12 seconds left, trailing 114-113. What followed was a spectacular example of collaborative improvisation, with Marcus Smart finding Jayson Tatum on a play that never really developed, for game-winning layup that fell through the rim as the clock expired
For the neutrals, it was as good as it gets. For Celtics fans, I imagine it was somehow even better than that. For the Nets, however, as impressive as their performance was at times, it’s tough not to have at least a couple of questions.
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Brooklyn Nets team news
With Kevin Durant suffering through an off night, Easter Sunday in Boston turned into the Kyrie Irving show – in in every sense of the phrase. The onetime Celtic who pledged his future to Boston before bolting for Brooklyn in free agency was mercilessly booed and verbally abused by the Boston faithful every time he touched the ball. Suffice it to say he responded – with some of the most incredible ‘on enemy ground’ shot-making that you’re ever going to see (plus a little something extra for the front row).
it’s impossible to lay any blame for the Game 1 defeat at Kyrie’s doorstep. After all, with Durant off his game (9-of-24, 23, and 6 turnovers) and no one else on the roster fit to carry the primary scoring load, Kyrie did what needed to be done, and kept the Nets in the game in the second half through individual brilliance and sheer force of will. He finished with an awesome 39 points on just 20 shots, and had six assists.
However, it must be said that, against the long versatile and extremely talented defense like Boston’s – which ranked #1 in the NBA during the regular season – no one-man show is going to carry the day. Plus, for as lethal as Kyrie is when he’s firing, the Net most likely to put together the one-man virtuoso act that tanks a top-two seed is Kevin Durant.
Though he played 41 minutes and took 24 shots, the Nets struggled to make life easy for Durant. This team must be committed to not just getting Durant the ball and getting out of his way, but to helping create cleaner looks for him when he does go to work.
Beyond Durant and Kyrie, the Nets are going to need contributions from the role players. In Game 1, they got enough from Goran Dragic and Nic Claxton, while Seth Curry and Andre Drummond – who were plagued by foul trouble – contributed as well. They’ll need the same (probably more, if we’re being honest) in Game 2.
It’s worth noting that this team did enough to win Game 1 – but there are areas of concern.
The biggest question about the Nets coming into this series was how they would defend. In the absence of All-NBA defender Ben Simmons, there’s really only one player on the Nets’ roster capable of consistently troubling either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown. That’s Kevin Durant. Invariably, Durant will accept that challenge and perform admirably. However, he is but one man – a man who’s also going to be expending a lot of energy trying to generate offense.
What Durant is going to need from the rest of his team – beyond, simply, greater aptitude on defense than they’ve shown all season – is: a) strong, consistent effort while avoiding foul trouble and b) something, anything on the boards – especially the defensive glass – where the Nets were outrebounded 43-29 for the game and gave up a massive 14 offensive rebounds.
Nets predicted starting lineup: Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, Bruce Brown, Kevin Durant, Andre Drummond
Notable injuries: Ben Simmons, Joe Harris
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Boston Celtics team news
The Celtics should have won Game 1 with relative ease. That, after a fourth quarter collapse, they needing a miraculous improvisation from Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum to escape with the narrowest of victories should serve as a massive wake-up call.
At the same time, had the Celtics lost Game 1, it would have stung terribly, but it would have fundamentally changed their gameplan or philosophy. This team is what is – an ultra-elite defensive unit, with a smart, versatile roster, an outstanding young coach, and two standout offensive weapons. And they’re really good at being that. Barring injury, nothing that happens at this point is going to change this team’s ethos.
In a sense, the Celtics’ Game 1 performance, in a nutshell, is not far off of what head coach Ime Udoka would have wanted – Kevin Durant was held largely in check, the Nets were in constant foul trouble, none of Brooklyn’s ‘other three starters’ scored in double figures and, until Kyrie Irving essentially began levitating, the Celtics were running away with a game.
In a ‘pick your poison’ scenario (like figuring out how to defend the Brooklyn Nets), choices must be made. Boston made the right choices in Game 1, and will likely do the same in Game 2.
Celtics predicted starting lineup: Marcus Smart, Jaylon Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Daniel Theis
Notable injuries: Robert Williams
Prediction: Boston Celtics -3.5 points, with the Nets scoring UNDER 111.5 points
It’s tough to shake the sense that Game 1 was the Nets’ golden opportunity to steal a game on the road. And they came within a third of a second of pulling it off. Ahead of Game 2, the Celtics will have a better measure of their opponents, to say nothing of the wake-up call that comes with nearly fumbling way home court advantage. Look for a much steadier performance from the home side that ends in a reasonably comfortable defense-driven victory.