Kevin Durant. James Harden. Kyrie Irving. All that talent, all that shot creation, all that playoff experience together on the court for the postseason. It’s fearsome and there is good reason for the Nets are title favorites.
So in Brooklyn’s first playoff game, its offense was…
Brooklyn isolated far too much, became predictable, had long dry stretches on offense, and watched Robert Williams III set a Celtics playoff record with eight blocked shots. The Nets finished with an offensive rating of 111.1 — 6.2 below their league-best season average, and closer to a Toronto/Memphis level of offense this season.
That was enough because Boston’s offense was worse.
Jayson Tatum shot 6-of-20. Kemba Walker shot 5-of-16 and lacked the explosive first step that made him so dangerous for so long. Evan Fournier, the sharpshooter the Celtics picked up mid-season, was 3-of-10 from the floor. As a team, Boston shot just 36.9% and had an offensive rating of 100. It wasn’t Brooklyn’s defense — which wasn’t as bad as its reputation but wasn’t great — as much as it was Boston struggling.
With that, the Nets beat the Celtics and took the series opener, 104-93, giving it a 1-0 series lead. Game two is Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
We wanted this 𝐰𝐢𝐧 so bad.
We wanted it for our 𝐟𝐚𝐧𝐬 so bad. pic.twitter.com/WM2K78dYtS
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 23, 2021
“It was one of those games where we stayed with it because our shot wasn’t there but our defense was,” Durant said after the game.
What’s concerning for Boston is this was not a “Brooklyn being Brooklyn” kind of blowout win where its stars were unstoppable forces. The Nets were pedestrian by their standards and yet won comfortably, pulling away and leading by around 10 for the stretch of the fourth quarter. This was not an inspired Nets performance, and yet they got the victory.
The Nets’ offense was up and down, and particularly down in the first half. Brooklyn scored just 16 points in the first quarter, missed nine 3s in a row at one point, and were 1-of-12 on jump shots overall in the first 12 minutes. Part of that was there just seemed to be a lid on the rim — they missed shots they usually make — but there also was a lot of isolation by their big three and everyone else standing around, and Boston could defend that.
Then there were stretches, such as the third quarter when Durant was an offensive force, that the Nets’ offense looked good. Brooklyn’s big three was 10-of-16 from the field in the third and combined for 28 points. For the game Durant had 32 points, Irving 29, and Harden 21 with eight assists.
There were bright spots for the Celtics against the Nets. Marcus Smart had 17 points and was knocked down three 3s. Jabari Parker was getting buckets and had nine points off the bench, but it was hard for Brad Stevens to keep him in the game the way the Nets targeted his defense.
Boston was scrappy and hung around the game most of the night, but with its stars struggling to put up points, the writing was on the wall.