Nets-Celtics Playoffs Preview: Can Boston Be More Than An Improvement For Kevin Durant, James Harden And Kyrie Irving?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: In the first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, the mighty trio of the Brooklyn Nets – to be clear, I’m referring to James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant, not this powerful trio – only played 202 minutes together. That’s 23 minutes less than Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen shared this season in Nets uniforms. It’s nine minutes less than Taurean Prince played for Brooklyn this season. It’s 182 minutes less than Todd MacCulloch, who played for the Nets in the 2002 playoffs.
This is “not ideal” in the words of Blake Griffin, who only played alongside Harden for 84 minutes – 24 less than he is registered with Mike James. Griffin has always been the optimist, however, pointing out that Brooklyn will make the playoffs healthy, which is always “a win”. He also said that the Big 3’s IQ makes the game easy for everyone else, so the networks will “try to lean on it”.
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They can also draw on their massive talent advantage. If you haven’t seen Boston since last year’s playoffs, you’d be surprised to see Evan Fournier, Aaron Nesmith, Tristan Thompson, Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet get the minutes that would have previously gone to Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis, Brad Wanamaker and Enes Kanter. (Don’t panic: Brown is still a Celtic. He’s just out for the season and is recovering from wrist surgery.)
Talent is not everything, however. Just ask Brooklyn coach Steve Nash, who scored points for teams that had the best chemistry ever and the absolute worst.
“There’s no way I’m going to look at this and say, ‘Oh, we’re so talented, we’re going to just roll out there and win games,” said Nash. “They know that in the playoffs, details are important. You know connectivity, you know that cohesion is important. Teams will throw a lot of different things at us, try to slow us down, make it difficult and give us different readings and we need to be able to adapt and adapt. “
Nash said the nets will learn during the playoffs. You will try to put all the pieces together “with fluidity and understanding”. They will also be extremely focused on slowing Jayson Tatum, at least for a short time. Tatum scored 50 points in Boston’s final game, a 118-100 win over the Washington Wizards for which it received the award for that daunting matchup. Three weeks ago he scored 60.
Positions are more or less meaningless these days, but Nash called the 6-foot-8 Tatum, so to speak, “a great watch” because “he handles the ball and is able to shoot at all three levels, indoors or outdoors, to shoot over people. “While Durant is the most natural defensive game for Tatum, Brooklyn changes so much that the first line of defense is not necessarily the most important thing.
“It’s all about focus,” said Nash. “Not giving him the easy ones, not making easy mistakes. And that comes from team effort. Coming back and fitting together in the transition. Make sure we’re there to support you at all times.”
For the nets, dealing with Tatum and Kemba Walker doing high pick and roll should be a good coordination. If Boston is to make this interesting it has to get these guys up and running, capitalize on drawing help, cap sales, get back into transition, dominate the glass, deny Brooklyn’s jump shots, and avoid fouling. A little luck wouldn’t hurt either.
(2) Brooklyn Nets versus (7) Boston Celtics
Nets lead series 3-1
- Game 1: Nets 104, Celtics 93
- Game 2: Nets 130, Celtics 108
- Game 3: Celtics 125, Nets 119
- Game 4: Nets 141, Celtics 126
- Game 5: Tuesday, June 1, 7:30 p.m. ET | TV: TNT
- Game 6 *: Thursday June 3rd, TBD | TV: TBD
- Game 7 *: Saturday June 5th, TBD | TV: TBD
Selected game | Boston Celtics versus Brooklyn Nets
1. Hey man, nice shot
If Celtics trainer Brad Stevens has one important message about competing with a super team, it is: at least do it you Defeat you If you get discouraged or distracted when the network superstars are shooting crazy shots, you stand no chance.
“There will be some moments when you have to make an effort,” said Stevens, “where you have to.” [say] ‘nice shot’ and go down the other end and score a goal. “
This is also about executing precisely. “Your offensive possessions must be very focused,” said Stevens, because Boston cannot afford to waste them. If you throw away a handful of consecutive possessions, “it turns into a 12-0 run very quickly.”
The Celtics’ offensive flow grew and faded over the course of a crazy regular season that was especially strange to them. If they recorded 25 templates or more, they went 23-6. If they didn’t, they went 13-30. Brooklyn’s switch-heavy defense is supposed to shut down an opponent’s ball movement, and Boston must find ways to counter that. That can mean you mismatch, screens slip, or just keep working so the defense has more chance to go wrong.
In the regular season, the Celtics took 25th place in edge tests, according to Cleaning the Glass. That in itself is not harmful, but it does reflect the difficulty of putting pressure on the opponents’ central defense. The good news here is that the nets aren’t the most physically imposing defensive team, but the bad news is that they managed to protect the rim pretty well anyway.
A little of this is thanks to DeAndre Jordan, the team’s only “traditional” hub, but overall Brooklyn has had a lot of practice closing overhead lines, fixing mismatches, and sending aid when it can’t. Boston’s best bet is to take advantage of Jordan for drop coverage. If the nets don’t spin it, it has to grab enough offensive rebounds that they have no choice.
What us to …
2. “We’re not the best rebounding team, but …”
Nash called limiting Thompson’s offensive rebounds a “priority”. Networks big Nicolas Claxton called Thompson a “threat” on the glass. Griffin said they had to “match his physicality and energy.” This was a topic of conversation as Boston was the third best offensive rebounding team in the league, with 28.9 percent of misses, and Brooklyn was ranked 23rd on defensive rebound percentage.
“We’re not the best rebounding team but we can be after committee,” said Griffin. “So it’s huge to sit down and get stops and then finish those stops with a rebound and not give them extra shots.”
The nets play many small lineups with Jeff Green or Griffin in the middle, and their switches often skip large sizes on the edge rather than fighting under the boards. Harden and Bruce Brown are great rebounders for their size, however, and as great as Brooklyn is in transition, it won’t look for leaks in this series. The player who unwraps Thompson won’t necessarily be the player who gets their hands on the ball.
“Everyone has to come back,” said Griffin. “It’s not just a mismatch that is low. When there is a great offensive rebounding team everyone has to come back because these guys will often tip them off.”
One of those guys is Robert Williams III, who finished fourth in the offensive rebound quota for the regular season. Unfortunately for the Celtics, Williams has turf toes, didn’t train on Thursday, probably won’t on Friday, and is commonplace. You need him healthy for his rebound, not to mention his vertical distance and pass.
On Brooklyn’s side, too, there is uncertainty about the list due to the list of rosters. Nash didn’t shake hands on whether or not Jordan will be on the rotation, just saying that all the big ones will share minutes. Claxton is essentially a newbie and the Nets need to bring him playoff replays without overexposing him. Griffin has already warned Claxton that the game will get significantly more physical and Nash doesn’t expect him to be perfect.
“If he plays hard and uses his length, level of athleticism and activity, he’s fine. We can allow him to make some mistakes,” said Nash. “Our team should be good enough to allow him to play some inexperienced games and still have an impact on the game based on his profile.”
3. Challenge everything
Brooklyn’s sheer firepower can overwhelm opponents, especially if there are easy spots in the transition and at the free throw line. When Stevens repeatedly emphasized the importance of execution, he also spoke about defense. No team allowed fewer transition opportunities than the Celtics two years ago, and last season they had the best transition defense in the league, according to CTG, but this season they have been average in that regard. This is nowhere near good enough against one of the most terrifying transition teams imaginable.
“You’re going to have to challenge everything,” said Stevens. “You have to take care of the basketball, you have to sprint to remove simple transition baskets, you have to remove simple baskets for cuts and kickbacks. Because if so, be able to add up a number of simple baskets in this way, through their engine and their energy and lack of proper play on our part, then … all those other shots they make become too much to overcome. “
The nets force the defense to make impossible decisions. Joe Harris, who scored the top 47.5 percent of the league from 3-point range, saw no daylight in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers two years ago. The Sixers locked him up from above so he couldn’t find his normal appearance on the screens, and they always stuck to him. With Boston doing this now, and Harris surrounded by some of the top scorers in league history, there will be painful compromises.
“I’m sure they don’t want to give him free looks,” said Nash. “He’s one of the best marksmen in our game. Still, it’s a bit more difficult when you have three people out there who can destroy the defense. That’s the nice thing about our team.”
If Brown were healthy, the Celtics between him, Tatum, and Marcus Smart would have an equally good shot at anyone containing Brooklyn’s stars one-on-one. There’s always a balance to be found with the help of defense, but Stevens ideally wants to stay out of rotation as much as possible. The nets’ role-players have spent the entire season taking advantage of the extra attention that Durant, Harden and Irving demand.
“You will have to choose as a team, will you challenge and make it as difficult as possible, or will you crawl all over the place?” Stevens said. “And they will take advantage of you if you crawl all over the place, so I think you have to choose your seats carefully.”