Brooklyn Nets: Three Takeaways from Dominating Game 2 Win over Boston Celtics (5/25/2021)

Well, that was fun! That was awesome, honestly. That was the performance Brooklyn Nets fans have been waiting for since June 30, 2019.

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After a relatively sweaty Game One victory over the Boston Celtics, in which neither team played well, Game Two was a 48-minute exhibition of basketball dominance. It was the Nets’ first statement of the postseason, one that reminded Boston—and the rest of the NBA universe—what exactly they’re up against.

So, Brooklyn fans slept quite well on Tuesday night. Their team is up 2-0, heading to Boston looking to take a death grip on the series. But more importantly, the Nets played like a No. 2 seed facing a No. 7 seed. They left no glimmer of hope for the underdog, and just about everybody who stepped on the court contributed to the huge victory. Role players shined, stars were stars, and, perhaps most importantly, the team got more reps together. It’s tough not to look ahead, but Brooklyn seems to be on a collision course for a monumental second-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, who also destroyed their first-round opponent to go up 2-0. It was nice to keep pace.

Here are three takeaways from a nearly immaculate 130-108 Game Two victory:

Joe Harris is a Flamethrower

When Joe Harris arrived in Brooklyn in 2016, the goal was to simply turn into an NBA-caliber player. Whether he would ever become one was no guarantee. Harris has always had at least one bona fide, money-making skill: outside shooting. He and Nets coaches had to build his game from the inside out, centering his three-point stroke.

And that they did. First, Harris transformed his body and elevated his confidence shooting the ball. Slowly, he began to add more off-the-bounce ability to his game. Then he developed an array of nice finishes around the basket, all the while improving his individual defensive skills and retaining his understanding of team concepts.

Even before the skills had crystallized, though, the mold of what kind of contributor he would be was clear. Shoot the ball, space the floor, don’t @#$& up the defense, and any offensive creation was a bonus. It’s quite a valuable archetype for teams to have, a player that can fit around other supreme talents. Harris grew into that role perfectly; he did not just became an NBA-caliber player, but a really good one. He doesn’t just fit an archetype anymore, he is the archetype. The next generation of 6’6″-ish dudes who can shoot will look to have a Joe Harris type of career.

Game Two was the pinnacle of what that career can entail. On a team loaded with offensive stars (who, it is very important to note, were eager to move the ball), Harris found himself a few open looks early on. He nailed them. Then he nailed a couple more. Then he blew up a handoff, and took the ball the other way for two. He played a measly six minutes in his first stint, and checked out with 16 points. He finished with 25 points on a low-maintenance 14 shot attempts. Each three he made nearly blew the lid off Barclays Center. Brooklyn sentenced the Celtics to an early death, and Harris was the primary gravedigger. It was beautiful.

Defense Not Optional

In Game One, the Nets’ defense was their brightest spot. However, the Celtics also had a poor shooting night, especially with their star Jayson Tatum posting a rough 6-of-20 from the field. The question going into Game Two was whether that Brooklyn defense was a mirage or here to stay.

Answer: neither. It got even better.

Not only did Brooklyn limit the Celtics to a dismal shooting performance once again, but it even created extra opportunities for itself. During the regular season, the Nets posted the fourth-fewest steals in the NBA. But by halftime, when the meaningful portion of the game was already long over, Boston had committed 11 turnovers to Brooklyn’s paltry three.

And those turnovers were not happenstance, either. We can talk about scheme, sure; the Nets communicated at a higher level than Game One. There were fewer blown coverages, crisper off-ball rotations. But it really came down to a tone-setting energy that the Nets brought from the tip. Individually, each Net got up in their opponent’s jersey, and consistent ball pressure forced many of those Boston turnovers. Brooklyn did not play not to get beat—they played to win defensively, and the Celtics had to fight for every inch of space on offense.

We’ve heard repeatedly that the Nets merely need to survive on defense to win a championship. That as long as they limit turnovers and opponent offensive rebounding, salvaging the possession game somewhat, they’re unbeatable. And while that might be true, that’s a limiting mindset for a defense to have. How good the Nets’ offense is doesn’t have to dictate the team’s defensive ceiling. And on Tuesday, it didn’t. Brooklyn brought the intensity, and flashed signs of great defensive potential, no matter if Boston is a depleted, weary team right now.

The Injury Bug Bites the Series

It wasn’t 100 percent positive for the Nets in Game Two. On their side of things, they lost Jeff Green to what is officially being called a “bruised left foot” in the first half. Whether the lopsided score had something to do with his absence is certainly a fair question. But it is now a worry for a team that had taken all season to achieve full health, and had finally done so just as the playoffs begun (sorry, Spencer Dinwiddie). Green, perhaps the Nets’ best option at the center position, is a valuable, relied-upon piece of the rotation. And Brooklyn, still in the process of building chemistry, could use him out there to judge the different looks they can give opponents, even if his presence may not be necessary to advance past the Celtics.

Another injury to monitor is Tatum’s right eye. The Boston star went down in the third quarter after receiving some fingers to the face from Kevin Durant on a loose ball. Although, of course, it is a Celtics injury, it is far from the Nets’ best interest to have Tatum miss time in this series. Already down Jaylen Brown, the Celtics don’t present much of a challenge to a Nets team that could use one. The odds of even a single game, let alone the rest of the series, being close without Tatum seem microscopic. And in preparing for the rest of the playoffs, it’d benefit Brooklyn to have some reps defending an offensive talent like Tatum, deciding how to double team him if he gets hot, who to help off of, how to rotate back, things of that nature.

If I, a completely uninformed guy on the Internet, had to guess, both Green and Tatum will be available for Game Three. The game quickly devolving into a blowout very possibly could have had something to do with both players being unavailable to return after their injuries. There wouldn’t seem to be any use in Brooklyn resting Green, when the time to build synergy before (now this is disrespectful) the real playoffs begin is almost up. It’d seem that may outweigh the benefits of resting him, depending on how severe the foot injury is. And Tatum and the Celtics, to have a puncher’s chance to make this series competitive, must come out guns blazing in Game Three to save their season. It’s hard to imagine Tatum missing that one, even if he only has one eye to see out of.

Next up: The aforementioned Game Three will take place in Boston, as the series shifts north with Brooklyn building a 2-0 lead. 8:30 p.m. ET is the scheduled start time for the nationally-televised contest, this time on ABC.