Celtics defense, team play too much for Nets again, win 109-103 to take 3-0 series lead

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There was a moment with 4:25 left in the game: The Celtics were up by eight when Jayson Tatum made a clever cut to the rim, Marcus Smart found him with a good pass, and when the Nets’ defense collapsed on Tatum, he kicked it out to a wide-open Al Horford in the corner, who had time to set his feet and splash a three. It was a beautiful bit of team basketball and the kind of chemistry that comes over the course of playing together since September in training camp, then working on good habits through an 82-game season.

It was the kind of chemistry the Nets just do not have.

Once again, the Celtics’ defense was able to keep Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — both with 16 points — in check, pulled away with excellent team play late and won Game 3 109-103.

Boston now leads the series 3-0 and the preseason title favorite Nets are one loss away from being bounced in the first round. Ben Simmons is set to return for the Nets in Game 4 Monday, but that feels like a footnote now.

How good a job has the Celtics defense done on the Nets’ stars? Brooklyn’s leading scorer and shot taker in Game 3 was Bruce Brown. He had 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting — the Celtics will live with that every day of the week. Durant took 11 shots all game, that’s not enough for one of the best scorers the game has ever seen. Nash laid part of the blame for that on the push the Nets had to make at the end of the regular season just to make the playoffs.

All that speaks to the lack of cohesion all season in Brooklyn (for which James Harden can take some of the blame).

As much as Durant has struggled, this has been a “put me in your upper echelon” party for Jayson Tatum, who outscored Durant and Irving combined — Tatum had 39 to their 32 — and had the primary defensive responsibility of Durant. Tatum has played like an MVP this postseason and has been the best player in this series.

Tatum has help. Jaylen Brown scored 12 of his 23 in the fourth quarter, and Marcus Smart added 14 points to his strong defense all night.

Robert Williams returned and played 16 minutes off the bench for Boston, a good sign going forward. He showed flashes of his vintage self.

In Brooklyn, there is plenty of blame to go around. Steve Nash is getting outcoached (he has to get Durant some clean looks). Durant and Irving get some blame, as do the role players who have not lived up to the hopes for this team. The front office in Brooklyn put this roster together. We could go on down the list, but you get the point. Nothing has really worked for the Nets.

Boston can close this series out Monday in Brooklyn or a few days later at home. Either way, with the Time Lord back in the paint, this more and more looks like a team that could come out of the East.

Which is what Brooklyn was supposed to be but is a long way from.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.