There are a number of reasons the Celtics are up 3-0 on the Nets in the first round of the playoffs: Jayson Tatum has been the best player in the series on both ends, the Celtics are physically bigger and have a deeper roster, plus Boston has simply played harder game in and game out than Brooklyn.
Then there is the most obvious reason: The Celtics look like a team, a group that has developed chemistry and good habits over 82 games, and the Nets have played like a collection of individuals.
After the game, Kyrie Irving — who did not play with the Nets until Jan. 5 and then only on the road most of the season because of his decision not to get vaccinated — talked about how the Celtics jelled and the Nets have not.
“In terms of our spirit, I think, being in what we call the trenches, or being in a series like this, we’re just trying to jell, and usually you’re jelling around the right time. The team in the other locker room is jelling at the right time. They’ve been jelling since Christmas. So, for us, we’re just in a new experience as a group, and we just got to respect that. Bring everything we can to this next game and just do one possession at a time.
“I don’t want to be too cliche, but I don’t have a lot of answers for how you make up time from October until now when usually teams will be jelling, and things would be feeling good.”
Irving is correct, but he does not get to absolve himself here.
That lack of time together starts with Irving. His decision not to get vaccinated is personal, but all decisions have consequences. Irving’s decision put a massive load on Durant to carry the team early, and when KD eventually suffered an injury and had to sit out Irving was not there to help pick things up. It put an added load on James Harden who, rather than taking on the challenge, decided he wanted out and forced his way to Philadelphia. There was the usual assortment of other injuries and COVID-related absences that all teams had to deal with and try to build chemistry despite guys being out. Brooklyn just made it harder on themselves.
The Nets are paying the price for that now.
Maybe next season, with a training camp and full season of Ben Simmons (who is expected to play in Game 4 Monday) with Irving and Durant — plus a shifted group of role players around them — the Nets will build that chemistry and develop the good habits needed to win a title. It is not just talent alone.
But Irving is right, there’s no way to make up that time now, for this playoffs. He just needs to take responsibility for his role in it.