Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving didn’t get along on Wednesday, and Brooklyn is now down 2–0 to a better-organized Boston team.
As the clock approached zero, two future Hall of Famers on the Nets’ sideline, each having played in more than 200 playoff games, were shaken.
Brooklyn needed to win this game. It was necessary to win. Should’ve been the winner. A 10-point edge at halftime. The supporting cast lends a hand. A Celtics defence that allowed the Nets to shoot 61 percent in the first half.
To lose this game, a club containing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would have to kick the game away.
That is exactly what happened. Badly. In the second half, the Nets shot 31 percent. Durant failed to make a field goal in the final 24 minutes.
Irving finished 4-of-13 for the second game in a straight while being booed vociferously. Seven Celtics scored in the double digits. In 16 minutes, Payton Pritchard— Payton Pritchard!—scored ten points.
Durant and Irving are two of the most feared fourth-quarter scorers in the NBA. The Celtics outscored the Nets 29–17 in the final 12 minutes.
114 for Boston, 107 for Brooklyn. The Celtics lead the series 2–0. The Nets, on the other hand, are in serious difficulty.
Brooklyn was the NBA’s boogeyman for weeks. The Celtics and the Nets have both been exposed in two games. Durant seemed to be exhausted.
In the remaining five games of the regular season, he played an average of 41 minutes per game. In the play-in game, he had 42 points. Durant isn’t only going up against good defenders in Boston.
He’s squaring off against them. In the first two games of this series, he has 50 points. He required 41 shots to complete the task.
“They’re becoming physical,” Steve Nash explained. “They’re all over him, grabbing him, holding him, and doing all the things you’d expect. He’s been uncomfortable and doesn’t appear to have found his stride.”
“They’re sometimes playing me with two, three men when I’m off the ball, fouling up actions when I sprint off something,” Durant said.
When I see [Al] Horford leave his man, I tell him to come over and smash me. They’re only using two or three players, and they’re hitting me wherever I go.”
In Game 1, Irving was outstanding. He didn’t show up for Game 2. He performed for 40 minutes. He had a total of ten points. He only gave out one assist.
On the glass, he made the most positive contribution (eight rebounds). Irving was booed by the 19,156 fans inside the TD Garden. He ate it up in Game 1. He flopped in Game 2.
Ime Udoka was Steve Nash’s assistant for one season. And he’s schooling him in his first postseason as a head coach. Udoka, the architect of the NBA’s best defence, is now using it like a two-by-four.
Durant is being abused by the Celtics. Irving is being squeezed. In the first half, Bruce Brown and Goran Dragic combined for 30 points. They scored 11 goals in the second half. On offence, Boston is devising and bulldozing switches onto Brooklyn’s smaller guards.
Udoka worked as a coach’s assistant for Gregg Popovich for several years.
The Celtics look up to him as if he were Pop. “Ime is very familiar with us,” Irving explained. “I believe he’s telling those guys that he has the keys to the treasure chest.”
Nash’s changes haven’t been bad—in fact, they haven’t been made at all. His offensive scheme is as creative as a chessboard. After Game 1, Boston made no defensive adjustments. Durant, on the other hand, was forced into long catches in Game 2 before facing a wall of defenders.
He isn’t trying to get away from the screens. He isn’t giving Irving a lot of them. Nash has two of this generation’s most talented players, and his game plan has been to effectively tell them what to do with it.
In Brooklyn, it’s crunch time. Ben Simmons may return — Nash rejected an ESPN report that Simmons would make his season debut in Game 4 — but he isn’t going to save the Nets.
It’s easier to rationalise an early playoff exit—injuries, particularly to Joe Harris, the James Harden trade, Simmons’ absence, and so on—but being swept by Boston would be disastrous. It would squander another MVP-caliber season for Durant while also raising questions about whether he and Irving are the greatest fit.
Irving was asked about the Nets’ lack of chemistry during his postgame press conference. Irving stated, “Our identity is what it is.” Later, he praised the Celtics’ ability to play as a unit.
“The timing is perfect,” Irving added. “These individuals have a window now.”
Indeed. As a result, the Nets’ window, at least for this season, may have already closed.