Nets finish off Celtics in Brooklyn
Advance to second-round series vs. third-seeded Bucks
After suffering an unexpected loss in Beantown last Friday and having a bottle thrown at point guard Kyrie Irving following a Game 4 victory in Boston, the Brooklyn Nets finally waved bye-bye to the Celtics at Barclays Center on Tuesday night.
Irving scored 25 points and Kevin Durant added 24, but it was James Harden’s first postseason triple-double as a Net that carried Brooklyn to a 123-109 triumph over Boston in front of 14,993 title-hungry fans on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.
Undermanned and clearly outgunned, the Celtics hung tough in the finale, staying within eight points just over four minutes into the fourth quarter.
But much as they have all season, the Nets turned it up a notch with the game on the line.
Durant, Irving and Harden knocked down successive 3-pointers and Bruce Brown’s follow basket moments later gave Brooklyn a 17-point bulge and head coach Steve Nash an early start on the Nets’ second-round playoff opponent, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
“It was nice to get that final bit of separation and effectively end the series,” Nash beamed after Brooklyn’s Game 5 win.
“Proud of all the guys that put the effort in and made this go. Obviously the Big Three were sensational but it really takes a team effort. Whether the guys are in the rotation and playing their role or they’re not and they’re on the bench and they’re just trying to know the game plan and support their teammates, it all really is a team effort and I thought our complementary players did a great job.”
They did, but it was Harden’s best game of the series that buried Boston for good.
The former three-time scoring champion, who matched the Nets’ franchise record with 12 triple-doubles this season, finished with a game-high 34 points to go with 10 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and a pair of blocked shots.
While Brown and Joe Harris finished with 10 points apiece for Brooklyn, Harden, Durant and Irving became only the second triumvirate in playoff history to average at least 24 points per contest in a series, matching the 1984 Denver Nuggets.
Limited to only eight games together during the regular season due mainly to injury, the Big Three is just getting started on what it hopes will be a long run toward the Nets’ first-ever NBA title and our borough’s first major pro sports championship since the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.
“I think it’s not even about the playoff run; I think just us, and when I first got traded here, the excitement in the vision of us playing together,” said Harden.
“I think that’s what we were missing the whole season. So I think that’s what was more exciting. We weren’t even worried about the playoff run. We were just happy to be on the court together. So it’s great to get one series out the way, and like I said we’ll take tomorrow off and recoup and get ready for Milwaukee.”
Irving, a Celtic for two tumultuous seasons before arriving here in the summer of 2019, averaged just under 25 points per contest against his former teammates, including a spectacular 39-point performance in Boston Sunday that set the stage for the clincher.
The mercurial playmaker was nearly hit by a bottle hurled from the stands following the Nets’ Game 4 win, but took the high road in regard to his former team following Tuesday’s series-ending contest.
“We played against kind of a lesser Celtics team than what it’s been in the regular season,” Irving intimated. “So we wanted to give all the respect to those guys and all of the work that they put in as well. We don’t want to disrespect them or anything they put forth in terms of their hard work.”
Boston, which was already without Jaylen Brown due to injury prior to the series, also took the floor for Game 5 without Kemba Walker.
Jayson Tatum did his best to keep the Celtics afloat, scoring 32 points for last year’s Eastern Conference finalists.
“That boy Jayson Tatum as I’ve said over the time that I’ve played with him has grown tremendously,” said Irving. “Nothing short of proud of him.”
Brooklyn fans are proud as well.
The Nets had not won a playoff series since 2014, when they knocked off the Toronto Raptors in the opening round on Paul Pierce’s last second blocked shot of Kyle Lowry in Game 7.
Currently armed and loaded with three of the best 10 players in the sport and a mandate to deliver a title, the Nets are just past the first of what they hope will be four playoff series this summer.
“We do understand that it’s a long journey so we want to celebrate our small wins,” said Irving.
“It’s easy to consider the Bucks — obviously they’re right in front of us in a few days. … So we’ll deal with that when that time comes, but as of right now, we’ll celebrate the small wins, thankful we got out of here healthy.”
Game 1 of the Eastern semifinals will be in Milwaukee later this week.
For now, however, Brooklynites can join the Nets in celebrating their health and a gleeful bye-bye to Boston.
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