Brooklyn Nets: Breaking Down the Game One Victory over the Boston Celtics (5/22/2021)
The playoff run Brooklyn Nets fans have been waiting a lifetime for has finally begun. And if not a lifetime, then at least since June 30, 2019, the day the organization became instant title contenders. Or maybe you’ve only really been on the edge of your seat since Jan. 13 of this year, when James Harden landed in Brooklyn as the Nets’ final infinity stone, and the team leveled up to title favorites. In any case, the journey has been a blast, but the destination is here.
And the conditions under which the Nets are beginning their 16-win quest couldn’t be better. Barclays Center, for the first time in 14 months, is packed full of spectators ready to explode at the drop of a hat. The opponent is the Boston Celtics, an opponent that any Nets fan would relish sending home. It could be Kyrie’s C’s departure, or memories of Billy King, or just because it’s Boston, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any sympathy over on this side for an underdog Celtics team. Who cares if they’re banged up?
Certainly not the Nets, who got the job done Saturday in a 104-93 showdown to begin their first-round series. Here are three takeaways (and a bonus) from Brooklyn’s Game One victory over Boston:
It Wasn’t Pretty
Thankfully, the Nets had a week to rest and recover in between a grueling regular season and what hopes to be a grueling postseason. But that means the Nets also had a week to let rust accumulate following a five-game win streak to close their season.
It was the rust that featured more prominently in the early going of Game One. Much of the Nets’ offense centered on Durant, who the coaching staff seems to feel is their trump card in the series. It’s easy to see why: In the first half, Durant found himself sizing up Evan Fournier or Tristan Thompson multiple times. But credit the Celtics, who forced him to grind in the first half—one Durant finished shooting 1-of-10 from the field.
For a super team expected to throttle every lesser opponent from dawn to dusk, Durant’s sluggishness set the tone for an uncomfortable first half. The opponent came to play, and Brooklyn looked every bit like a team playing its first game after time off. The shots just weren’t falling early on to bail them out. Maybe, in retrospect, that was a good thing. It wasn’t just that the Nets weren’t making shots; their process wasn’t clean either. Mismatch hunting is fine, but the offense became contested jumper after contested jumper after stagnant possessions. Brooklyn had to work hard to stay in the game, going down 12 early, and work harder to build a lead.
That lead did materialize in the second half. You could point to Brooklyn, Durant in particular, making more shots, but everything around the margins improved and it felt like a different ballgame. The Nets still hunted mismatches and operated in isolation, but the ball stuck less. The tension that the playoffs bring slowly dissipated. While the intensity level didn’t drop, the Nets played with some of the joy and ease fans have come to expect from them.
So it didn’t start pretty, and it wasn’t a gorgeous ending either. But you gotta win the ugly ones, as they say, and the Nets did just that.
Brooklyn Contains Tatum
If Boston is going to have a puncher’s chance in this series, Jayson Tatum is going to have to score relentlessly. And it looked like he was going to do just that in Game One, when he opened with seven quick points. From there, though, it was tough sledding for the star wing, who took yet another leap towards superstar status this season. The 6’8″ scoring machine had two 30-point performances against Brooklyn in the regular season, and it’s easy to see why. Brooklyn isn’t exactly stacked with players similar to his build, and it’s no coincidence Durant missed both regular-season games in which Tatum scored at least 30.
But Durant was available tonight, and he was excellent in his primary assignment, especially in the third quarter when the Nets took control. It was a collective effort to stop Tatum, of course. Jeff Green had some solid individual possessions in isolation. Nicolas Claxton helped around the rim to affect Tatum’s drives. Tatum himself helped the cause by missing a few shots in his wheelhouse; excellent scorers don’t go 6-20 from the floor otherwise.
Durant deserves the lion’s share of credit for Brooklyn’s defensive effort on Boston’s best player, especially one so key to turning this first-round series into more than a walkthrough for the Nets.
The Nets Win the Possession Battle
Technically, the Nets tied the possession battle. Each team finished with 84 shots, but for this Brooklyn squad, a tie is a definitive win. The blueprint all season long for beating the Nets centers on stockpiling possessions. The Nets, for all their unstoppable qualities, have been wont to fall into turnover spells.
Today, they only turned it over 11 times to Boston’s 12, although Boston put up 18 points off those mistakes. Brooklyn has been susceptible on the defensive glass as well. While Boston found some success following their own misses, Brooklyn won the offensive rebounding battle 14-11.
The Nets shot 41.7 percent from the field in Game One. That very well could have spelled doomsday, had Boston taken 15 or 20 more shots than Brooklyn, or had the Nets not defended with intensity and execution. (That said, it’s unlikely Boston shoots 37 percent from the floor, no matter the defense, again in this series.)
Brooklyn’s title aspirations lie largely on the premise that this is not an offense that is converting 41.7 percent of its looks most nights. The Nets led the league in team field goal percentage (49.4 percent) during the regular season, largely thanks to the midrange proficiency of their best scorers. But if Brooklyn can consistently keep the possession numbers in check, otherworldly shooting won’t be a nightly necessity. Turnovers and the defensive glass will be the most important areas of execution this postseason. Game One was a good start.
Next up: The second installment of this series will take place Tuesday, May 25, in Brooklyn. Tipoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT (which, of course, means around 7:47 p.m.). One thing to look out for: transition offense. Brooklyn only scored six fast break points in Game One after using the fast break with great success in all three of its regular-season victories over Boston. Head coach Steve Nash mentioned playing with increased pace during an in-game interview on Saturday, but it never quite materialized. Look to see if and how the Nets get out and run against Boston on Tuesday.