Nets are finally ready for prime time
Brooklyn begins postseason vs. Boston at Barclays Center
Live from Downtown Brooklyn, it’s Saturday night!
After working through a myriad of injuries, positive tests for COVID-19 and roster adjustments throughout the 72-game regular season, the Brooklyn Nets can focus on doing the thing they were put together to do: grabbing our borough’s first major pro sports title since 1955.
And they’ll take their first step toward that lofty goal right here at Downtown’s Barclays Center Saturday night at 8 p.m. vs the Boston Celtics, kicking off what most Brooklynites hope will be the first of four best-of-seven playoff series.
The Nets’ prime-time players, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, will all be available for Game 1.
The trio, which came together for the sole purpose of winning the Nets’ first-ever NBA title, led Brooklyn to a sparkling 48-24 record, good for second-best in the Eastern Conference behind Philadelphia.
When the Celtics got past the Washington Wizards, 118-100, on Tuesday night in an NBA play-in game, the Nets knew their first-round opponent would be a familiar one and also one with a strong postseason pedigree.
Brooklyn won all three regular-season meetings against Boston during the campaign, but as rookie head coach Steve Nash was quick to point out Wednesday, the past between these two teams is simply prologue when it comes to predicting what will happen in this series.
“I think it’s really hard to take too much away from the season series in that we kind of played them with three different teams, so different looks each time,” said Nash.
“I think we almost have to hit the refresh button, start again, and look at this as a blank slate.”
There’s no doubting that both clubs will enter Saturday’s tilt with identical 0-0 records for the postseason.
But the Nets, who entered this season with great expectations, are playing their first-ever playoff series as a unit while the Celtics (36-36) have participated in three of the past four Eastern Conference Finals.
“Their team has been tested before in the playoffs and had long runs, multiple guys on their team have been a part of those runs, so the continuity plays a big factor into who they are,” said Durant.
“They play physical, and they move the basketball. We have our work cut out for us, we respect this team, we know Jaylen Brown is injured and is one of their key pieces, but they still rally behind each other and play extremely hard.”
Brown’s absence, which cost Boston nearly 25 points per game, has provided an even greater opportunity for Celtics slasher Jayson Tatum, who averaged team bests of 26.4 points and 4.3 assists per contest.
The Nets counter with three of the league’s top-10 players, including Harden, who arrived in January via a blockbuster trade from Houston, won a pair of Eastern Conference Player of the Month awards and sat out 18 games with a nagging hamstring injury before returning during the final week of the season.
Harden also sacrificed a great deal of his offensive game to facilitate for others. He averaged just under 11 assists per game, but did not qualify for the league lead in that category after missing a big chunk of the campaign.
Regardless of his numbers, however, Harden is determined to win a championship, something that has eluded him during a spectacular career that has netted him three scoring titles and several deep playoff runs with Oklahoma City and the Rockets.
If anyone knows how important it is to do the little things in order to win a title rather than trying to put up huge numbers, it’s Harden, who has been villified in the past for not doing enough to bolster his previous teams during the playoffs.
“My impact doesn’t have to show up on the stat sheet for us to win,” Harden insisted. “I think my job as a leader is to make sure everybody’s playing well. If I’m doing that, I can focus on myself last. That’s not a problem at all.”
Neither is having Irving and Durant on his side.
The superstar tandem arrived here in the summer of 2019 and can now begin living up to the hype that surrounded their arrival.
Irving, who spent two seasons in Boston before coming to the Nets, can send his former club home for the year with a big series.
Durant, however, isn’t buying into the perception that the Celtics will be a walkover in the opening round as the Nets gear up to at least reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2003.
“I understand that stuff on paper and how teams look and how accomplished players on our team are,” the two-time Finals MVP said.
“But for us, we respect the game and our opponents too much to come in and say, ‘look we’re expected to win this.’ We’re coming out there and understanding we can be beat if we don’t lock in.”
Nets fans, whether they are actually within the confines of Barclays Saturday night or watching from home, have been locked in all year in anticipation of this moment.
Here’s hoping its the first of many special nights in Downtown Brooklyn over the next several months.
“I’m looking forward to going out there and competing,” said Durant.
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