Nets go for the jugular in Beantown

Brooklyn can complete sweep of Celtics this weekend

May 27, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Hall of Fame head coach Pat Riley was fond of saying that an NBA playoff series doesn’t truly begin until the road team wins a game.

If the Brooklyn Nets can beat the Boston Celtics in TD Garden on Friday night, the best-of-seven first-round series between the Eastern Conference rivals will be over for all intents and purposes.

Up two games to none, the title-hungry Nets can go for the kill in Beantown this weekend, beginning with Game 3.

“I think it’s about having the mindset to get better. We’re not gonna get better every game,” Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash ceded after Tuesday night’s 130-108 blowout of the Celtics at Barclays Center.

“You’re gonna have good games, bad games, you’re gonna go forward, take a step back. It’s about over the course of this journey are we taking something with us every night.”

The Nets would like to take the fight out of the Celtics quickly, ending any hopes of a Boston comeback in what has thus far been a lopsided series.

Brooklyn came out slow before using a big second half to beat the Celtics, 104-93, in Game 1 at Barclays on Saturday.

The Nets were far more aggressive from the get-go in Game 2, and even saw Jayson Tatum, Boston’s top scorer, leave the game with an apparent eye injury.

Whether Tatum is ready to go Friday or not, the Nets, buoyed by their Big Three of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, should be able to play their way through what is expected to be a raucous Boston crowd.

Nets fans hope to see their team return to Brooklyn without the Celtics after playing Games 3 and 4 in Boston this weekend. AP Photo by Kathy Willens

Brooklyn has shut down the Celtics’ offense through the first two games, limiting Boston to 39 percent shooting overall and 35 percent from 3-point range.

The Nets’ defensive intensity, which was sorely lacking at times during the 72-game grind of the regular season, is clearly picking up at playoff time.

And the Nets intend to keep their foot on the Celtics’ figurative throat as the series continues in Boston. Otherwise, they could enter Sunday’s Game 4 in Boston looking to avoid a 2-2 tie when the series shifts back to Brooklyn.

“I see a lot of people comparing our defense now to the regular season, I think every team’s defensive effort has ratcheted up in the playoffs with the amount of preparation and throughout the regular season there wasn’t a lot of practice time for anyone,” said Durant.

“Right after we found out that Boston won the play-in, we started getting reps in on what we wanted to do on the defensive side of the ball. Everyone here is capable of guarding one-on-one and helping each other, but we needed to actually get some reps in in practice in order for our bodies to go through for it and mentally to see what we wanted to do.”

They’ve done virtually anything they’ve wanted vs. Boston thus far.

Whether it’s clamping down on defense, getting a big second half from the Big Three in Game 1 or watching Joe Harris shoot the lights out at Barclays on Tuesday, the Nets are hitting all their marks.

But one slip, especially in an arena where a record-tying 17 NBA championship banners are hanging, and Brooklyn could find itself in a longer series than expected.

The Nets, hungry for their initial title and our borough’s first major pro sports championship since 1955, could help themselves in the long run with a short series against the Celtics.

Boston entered Game 1 without high-scoring shooting guard Jaylen Brown due to a wrist injury and Tatum’s potential absence on Friday night could leave the Celtics severely shorthanded against a Brooklyn squad that is as close to full strength as it has been all season.

“We’ve kept on them all year. We have a full complement of players now. They understand what we’re trying to do,” noted Nash.

What they are trying to do this weekend is win Game 3 Friday and Game 4 Sunday so they can fly home to prepare for their second-round opponent.

“Like I keep saying, this is not a team that’s running this back for year four or five,” said Nash.

“We’re trying to figure it out as we go here. So each night is important, not only on the scoreboard but also as far as our development.”

An accidental poke to the eye from Nets superstar Kevin Durant may shelve Jayson Tatum, Boston’s top scorer, for Game 3. AP Photo by Corey Sipkin

NOTHING BUT NET: If the Celtics do force this series to go back to Brooklyn, Game 5 will be Tuesday night at Barclays. … Tatum was poked in the eye in the third quarter of Game 2 and didn’t return. Boston head coach Brad Stevens discussed the injury afterward, but there is still no clear indication from the Celtics as to Tatum’s status for Game 3. “He got scratched pretty good,” Stevens said. “It looks pretty red. It looks pretty swollen to me. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know the exact diagnosis is, but obviously he’s uncomfortable right now.” … Harris, who scored 16 of Brooklyn’s first 29 points in Game 2 and finished with a career playoff-high 25, credited the attention heaped on the Big Three for his big night. “That’s a shooter’s dream right there, especially with this group,” he said. “Obviously, you’re trying to make it as good of an offensive possession as you can, but those guys were looking for me early on after I got the first couple to go.”

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