BOSTON— Marcus Smart’s custom team-inspired DPOY (Defensive Player of the Year) boxing robe fit the occasion almost perfectly on Wednesday, after Boston rocked Brooklyn with a 114-107 haymaker in Game 2 of the first round Eastern Conference playoffs.
The win pushed the Celtics to a 2-0 series lead, while likely serving as the Nets’ potential season knockout.
“Two or three guys hit me everywhere I go,” Kevin Durant said.
It’s been that way for the superstar every night on the TD Garden floor.
Yes, it’s only two games. The Nets could rally and steal this series.
History says it’s unlikely. So we’ll cover that and more in our five takeaways from another Boston masterclass on total teamwork ahead of Saturday’s Game 3 at Barclays Center:
1. Another Total Team Effort
We chronicled Boston’s incredible teamwork here in Game 1, but the Celtics just built on that in Game 2 as they slowly recovered from a 17-point deficit that eventually turned into a 12-point lead. points.
Jayson Tatum called the performance an “ugly” game, but you can’t help but marvel at the beauty of Boston’s resilience. Down 17 with just 1:45 remaining in the first half, the Celtics clinched a 7-0 3-point run from Al Horford and Tatum, who shook the rim between those games on a transition dunk on a flight by Daniel Theis. That push sent the Celtics trailing 10 at intermission.
Interestingly, Brooklyn coach Steve Nash spoke to the team at length in the locker room at halftime about upping his intensity for the second half. Nash asked for “more pop” according to Nets point guard Kyrie Irving.
Then in the fourth quarter with 7:49 left, Payton Prichard drilled a back jumper on an assist from Tatum that gave Boston its first lead of the contest. Jaylen Brown capped the game-changing 13-2 run – which started with 44.9 seconds left in the third quarter – with a driving bucket just 45 seconds later. Boston’s leading scorer (22 points) on a night when Tatum struggled (19 points, 5-16 FG), Brown scored 10 points on Boston’s run.
Both Durant and Irving have spoken enthusiastically about Boston’s teamwork, which they see as the product of the team being together for so long while enduring many tough playoff battles.
All but one of the Celtics’ eight minutes on record (Derrick White) have scored at least 10 points.
2. Are the mosquito nets finished?
It certainly looks like this after another tough night from Durant (27 pts, 4-17 FG, 6 OT at game-high) and a lackluster performance from Irving (10 pts, 4-13 FG) – Wednesday marked the first times in 55 games as teammates that Durant and Irving have shot less than 33% from the field.
Nets forward Bruce Brown then spoke about the need for supporting players to do more to help the Nets superstars by cutting to the basket, getting down the wing and being better prepared to shoot the ball when he shows up. But Brooklyn might be getting too late into a situation of too little.
Historically, the Nets are 0-12 all-time when trailing 2-0 in a playoff series, while the Celtics own a 49-2 record when going up 2-0. Boston’s victory marked the fourth time in the last five seasons that it has had wins in the first two games of the first round.
The Celtics have now defeated Brooklyn five straight and seem to have mastered the formula for shutting down a Nets team that seems too dependent on Durant and Irving isolations for offense. Once Brooklyn squandered a 17-point lead, you could see Boston was finally starting to wear down Durant and Irving.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka said the game plan was to have Durant work all night on both ends of the floor while keeping the bodies on top of him.
The last time the Nets lost a playoff game after leading by 17 or more points was May 25, 2002 in the Eastern Conference Finals right here at TD Garden.
The series moves to Barclays Center on Saturday, but that probably doesn’t inspire much confidence, considering Brooklyn finished with a 20-21 regular-season record at home.
3. KD’s shooting problems continue
Going back to the start of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, Durant averaged 37.1 points in games after a loss (assuming you omit Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, when Durant suffered a broken heart). ‘Achilles after scoring 11 points against Toronto.)
So after Durant shot 9 for 24 in Game 1 of the series against Boston, you knew a rebound game was in the cards.
Durant cheated us early when he shot the gate for 15 points in the first quarter on a 4-for-7 shot. In the second half, Durant scored 12 points – all from the free throw line – while missing his 10 shots; this is the most attempts without a single mark in any half of his entire career. Regular season and playoffs, folks.
In this series, Durant has scored a total of 50 points (13-41 FGs, 2-7 3PMs) with eight assists and 12 turnovers. Durant’s 32% in those past two appearances ranks as his fifth-worst field goal percentage in a two-game playoff span.
4. Tatum makes games
Tatum didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in Game 2 after his 31-point effort in Game 1, a performance that included the game-winning buzzer-beater. But the 24-year-old has a knack for making timely plays. Tatum showed that after a rocky 0-for-5 start that tied for his most unmarked misses in any quarter of his playoff career. Brooklyn’s Brown deserves some of the credit for that, as Tatum shot 0 for 4 with the Nets forward serving as the primary defenseman.
Tatum still managed to score 12 of his 19 points in the second half. He’s also given out 18 dimes so far in the playoffs; that’s the most in two games of Tatum’s five-year career.
5. On the mend
Chicanery? The spirit of the game?
Steve Nash and Ime Udoka remained a little vague regarding the rehabilitation situations of Nets goalie Ben Simmons and Celtics big man Robert Williams III. Still, the coaches have expressed optimism about both players’ progress so far.
We’ll know for sure soon enough if Boston and Brooklyn can expect reinforcements at some point in this first round.
We’ll start with Simmons, who hasn’t played in an NBA game since last May and continues the process of rehabilitating a herniated disc in his back. Cleared for contact Monday, Simmons took part in full-contact practice Wednesday morning, according to Nash, who added the team will check in with the injured guard Thursday to see how he’s feeling. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday that Simmons’ rapid progress has made Monday’s Game 4 a realistic goal for the guard to make his Nets debut.
Asked about the report, Nash replied, “That’s news to me.” He pointed out that the team had not yet “written anything or drawn any conclusions. I think [Ben] still have a long way to go before they feel ready to play.
If Simmons feels healthy enough to return during this series, he would likely have an immediate impact on the Nets as a defenseman and playmaker alongside Durant and Irving, while also providing some roster flexibility.
Williams, meanwhile, continues to recover from a March 27 meniscus tear and has moved into the stage of participating in a 3-on-3 workout in training. Udoka maintained that Boston will continue to prepare as if Williams will remain absent for the entire series.
It should be noted that Williams’ initial recovery time was 4-6 weeks. Udoka said there was a risk of swelling in Williams’ knee during the rehabilitation process, and added that the center had to manage “a bit of pain tolerance” as the workload increased. Udoka said Williams is doing a little more every day. His return would already bolster and stifle Boston’s defense, as Williams is a strong candidate for the 2022 NBA All-Defensive Team.
Michael C. Wright is Senior Writer for NBA.com. You can email him herefind his archives here and follow him on Twitter.
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