At one point in the Eastern Conference playoff opener between the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics on Saturday, Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant was 2-for-10 from the field, and his team had missed its first 10 3-point attempts.
It was part of a slow start by the Nets, but they ultimately got it done by improving defensively and getting a big second half from their star trio of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden in a 104-93 victory.
On Tuesday night, the Nets hope to get off to a quicker start and take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven quarterfinal series when they host the Celtics in Game 2.
“We found a way to win,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said after his team shot 41.7 percent from the field. “We didn’t play well offensively. Some of it was shot-making. Some of it was cohesion. Some of it was the first time out in the playoffs with fans.”
The Nets opened the series in front of their largest crowd of the season, with 14,391 fans, 93 percent of whom were vaccinated. Those fans watched the stars align and take over in the second half, and now they will see if the Nets can take a 2-0 lead in a postseason series for the first time since sweeping the New York Knicks in the 2004 first round.
Brooklyn achieved its win Saturday by getting a combined 82 points from Durant, Irving and Harden.
Durant finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and shot 10-of-25 from the field. He was 2-of-10 in the first quarter when the Nets scored 16 points and was on the bench when the Nets faced a 12-point deficit nearly three minutes into the second quarter.
Irving added 29 points while Harden totaled 21, nine rebounds and eight assists. The trio was 11-for-32 from the floor when the Nets trailed by six at halftime and then scored 28 of Brooklyn’s 31 points in the third when the Nets went ahead for good.
“We just missed shots. It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing out there. We just missed shots, that’s it,” Harden said of the early struggles by Brooklyn’s offense on Saturday.
Besides stopping Brooklyn’s trio from dominating, the Celtics are looking to even the series by getting better offensive showings from Jayson Tatum.
Tatum scored 50 points in last Tuesday’s 118-100 win over the Washington Wizards in the play-in round but struggled to get into a flow, especially after halftime, on Saturday. He led the Celtics with 22 points but was 6-of-20 from the floor and was particularly quiet in the second half.
The Celtics were outscored 57-40 after halftime, and Tatum was 0-of-6 from the field on a night Durant frequently guarded him.
Boston is trying to avoid going down 2-0 in a first-round series for the first time since 2017, when it lost the first two games to the Chicago Bulls and won the series in six, but it knows its low point total from Game 1 is unlikely to be enough.
“We’re going to have to go down the court and do better than scoring 93 or 94 points. It’s not going to be enough,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said Sunday. “We gotta move the ball and move bodies, and then we have to read the over-help at the end of the plays better. It’s easier said than done.”
Besides doing all the things Stevens mentioned at practice, the Celtics hope to provide better help for Tatum after shooting 36.9 percent in the series opener. Marcus Smart added 17 points on 6-of-13 from the field, but Kemba Walker was held to 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting after getting 29 points in the play-in game.
“We just gotta knock them down,” Walker said. “We gotta be confident. Just knock (down) some shots. When we get those opportunities again, I think we’ll be a lot better.”
–Field Level Media