The Nets begin their chase for an NBA title on Sunday in Boston when they open their first-round series against the Celtics at TD Garden. It will mark the fourth time in franchise history that the Nets will face the Celtics in the Postseason with Brooklyn holding a 3-0 edge in the playoffs, dating back to their first meeting in 2002 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Making that four straight postseason series victories won’t be an easy task for the Nets, who have had one of their oddest seasons to date. Brooklyn has won just one of their four meetings this year with Boston, but both teams look drastically different even from their final regular-season matchup in March.
And don’t even think about comparing the two clubs to last year’s teams that met in the first round.
“They’ve got six or seven new players on their team,” Kevin Durant said after practice on Thursday. “I’m not even thinking about last season. That shouldn’t even enter anybody’s mind. That S–t was so long ago. One of our coaches is their coach now. It don’t even make sense to look at that series. I forgot all about that series.”
Here are three keys to Brooklyn’s upcoming series with the Celtics.
Play a full 48-minute effort
One of the Nets’ biggest weaknesses has been the fact that they’ve failed to put up a consistent effort through a full game. Even on Tuesday in their win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Nets didn’t seem to play at the same level throughout the night. When Kevin Durant hasn’t been on the court, the team’s offense has a tendency to cool down at times and as a whole, they can go through dry spells. The Nets shot just 6-of-15 from the field in the second quarter against the Cavs and turned the ball over seven times in the period.
Similarly, the Nets have seemed to have this issue against different teams as well, including recently against Indiana and the New York Knicks. A team like the Celtics won’t allow the Nets to go unpunished if their shooting goes cold or their defensive effort isn’t there all game. Brooklyn knows the offensive firepower that Boston has, especially in Jason Tatum who put up 50 against them the last time they met in March.
Stopping Jason Tatum
As previously mention Tatum is going to be one of the biggest factors in this series and it will be on the Nets to try and contain him through the seven-game series. He has already proven what he can do against Brooklyn, even with their two superstars on the court. He scored 50 in their final regular-season meeting at TD Garden and 50 last year in Game 3 of the playoffs. Tatum has averaged 29.5 points this year against the Nets in four games.
Several Nets were asked what they needed to do to beat the Celtics and Bruce Brown had a very direct answer. “We can’t let Tatum get 50, We have to be physical with him,” he said.
That will be easier said than done, especially against a player that has averaged 31.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 5.2 assists since March 1. In that timeframe, he has been shooting 52.6% from the field and 43.1% from three-point range.
“He’s one of those players where you’ve just got to play hard and see what happens,” Durant said about Tatum. “He’s just so talented, skilled and efficient with what he does.”
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
The two Nets superstars have been a big part of whether the Nets win or lose games, especially after Irving became a full-time player in March. Things were a bit shaky at first for Irving, but he’s gotten it together and put on display why he is one of the best players in the league. And no one needs to be reminded just how good Durant is when he’s on the court. The NBA superstar has averaged 31.1 points a night in his last 19 games since he returned from an MCL injury that sidelined him for 21 games. In addition, Durant has put up 7.4 rebounds, 7.6 assists and shot 40% from beyond the arc. In his final five games of the regular season, he has had three 30-plus point performances including a 55-point night against Atlanta.