If the Brooklyn Nets are hoping to have any hope of turning their best of seven series with the Boston Celtics around, they’re going to need Kevin Durant to find his rhythm.
It’s as simple as that. The Nets need their cornerstone player to be just that or else their title dreams will be dashed even quicker than they were last year.
[READ: Familiar mistakes and coaching costing Nets in first two games vs. Celtics]
The Celtics have not made it easy on Durant by any stretch of the imagination, and in Game 2 they found a way to shut down Kyrie Irving as well, effectively eliminating Brooklyn’s biggest offensive weapons. Jayson Tatum in particular has held Durant to just eight points when he has been the primary defender on Durant, while holding him to just 2-for-13 from the field for eight points, forcing seven turnovers and blocking Durant twice.
It has been an unprecedented effort to hold one of basketball’s best players at bay.
“They playing two, three guys on me sometimes when I’m off the ball,” Durant said of his struggles to get into a rhythm. “You know they mucking up actions when I run off stuff. I see (Al) Horford leaving his man to come over to hit me sometimes. They just playing two or three guys hit me wherever I go. That’s just the nature of the beast in the playoffs. I feel like got a couple of good shots there in the fourth that just didn’t go down.
“But I see a few of their guys around me every time I get the ball or when I’m setting up.”
The Celtics’ defensive strategy has proved lethal against Durant, who has been held to shooting just 13-of-41 through the two games, forced to make 12 turnovers and is a team-low -13 for the Nets. Add to that how they held Irving to just 10 points in Game 2 and you have a large reason why the Nets are in the predicament they find themselves in headed back to Brooklyn.
Kevin Durant this series:
13-41 FG (32%)
He is -23, the lowest on the Nets. pic.twitter.com/UMsdHSwE8u
— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 21, 2022
The Nets’ identity has become quite clear and the Celtics have found the key to holding them at bay. Keep Durant or Irving, or both, from scoring 30-plus points and winning comes a bit easier.
It raised a rather serious question for Brooklyn, can they win if their superstars don’t have superstar-like nights? The answer, right now, seems to be pretty clear.
“Some nights I have to,” Durant said when asked if he felt he needed to score 30 or 40 points for the Nets to win. “I’ve just gotta be prepared for anything. They’re doing a good job of trying to cut off my scoring, trying to limit my shot-making. Two or three people contest and there’s somebody there in the lane when I’m driving. They might double here and there, so they’re doing a good job and it’s on me to figure it out.”
Nets head coach steve Nash admitted that Irving and Durant having superstar efforts goes a long way, but also tried to insist that Brooklyn can win in other ways as well. On Wednesday, the Nets received strong efforts from Goran Dragic off the bench, Bruce Brown who scored nine straight points to open up the game and Seth Curry.
The Nets battled along the boards and led for 36 of the 48-minute affair in Boston, but it still wasn’t enough without the firepower of their two superstars. Boston’s starts didn’t have a great night either, but with a much more balanced offensive attack and the league’s best defense, they showed they aren’t reliant on star power to win.
“Our identity is what it is,” Irving said about the Nets’ cohesion. “I just believe that, even me coming out tonight, and I only shot 13 times, I felt like we were in great position coming out of halftime just as a team. It’s no time for me to look at my individual stats and what I need to do. I want us to continue with that effort. I believe we can do it. We’ve just got to show it.”