It was an all too familiar storyline that played out on Wednesday night that led to the Nets’ 114-107 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Brooklyn squandered a 17-point lead as Boston rallied in the third and early in the fourth to flip the game and leave TD Garden with a 2-0 series lead. The Celtics outscored the Nets 59-42 in the second half and stifled both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, with the pair shooting a combined 1-for-17 in the final 24 minutes.
Durant did finish the night with a team-high 27 points, but most of those came from the free-throw line where he went 18-for-20. The Nets’ cornerstone shot 4-of-17 from the field and added four rebounds and five assists.
“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.”
Irving scored just 10 points for Brooklyn in the loss and shot 4-of-13 from the field and attempted just one three-pointer, which he missed.
It was Bruce Brown who led the offense early on and finished the game with 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and went 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Goran Dragic played an important role yet again for the Nets, with 18 points off the bench in 20 minutes worth of work.
The loss puts the Nets in a precarious situation as the series shifts back to Brooklyn for Game 3 on Saturday. Teams that have found themselves with a 2-0 series advantage have gone on to win the series in the NBA Playoffs 92.9% of the time, according to Land of Basketball.
The percentage of teams that have managed to rally back from the 0-2 series hole is just 7.1%.
“We don’t really have time to be disappointed and to hold our heads,” Irving said about the Nets situation. “This is part of playoff basketball and learning your team. And being in these situations where we can have some carry over into the next one, but coming out of that third quarter we talked about it and … we just have to be better moving forward coming out of that halftime. Knowing that when we have the lead against a good team or great team like Boston we just got to take advantage of it.”
And the Nets won’t help their cause if they continue to struggle to close out games. The Nets had led the entire first half on Wednesday night, but failed to match the Celtics’ effort in the third as they chipped away at the 65-55 lead that Brooklyn had started the third with.
The Nets finished the game giving up 14 turnovers for 19 points, which included Durant coughing up the ball six times. Of those six, four came in the second half for Durant and the Nets were outscored in the paint 13-12 off the fastbreak.
Daniel Theis tied the game at 79 off a short jumper with 3:13 left in the third quarter, but Brooklyn managed to put their foot back on the gas to close out the period with a 90-85 lead. However, the Celtics didn’t relent and Jaylen Brown and Payton Pritchard helped pit Boston in control of the game.
Brown, who finished the night with 22 points, tied the game at 92 with 8:24 left in the fourth off a driving layup and Pritchard knocked down a step-back jumper from 20-feet out to give Boston its first lead of the night at 7:49. It was part of a sequence that saw the Celtics go on 23-4 run, which saw them hold a 108-96 lead.
“I thought our intensity dropped in the second half. It made a big difference,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said. “I thought (Boston) continued to be physical. We also didn’t convert. We had a lot of opportunities we didn’t convert. Turned it over 14 times, as did they, but 19 to 8 off those turnovers. That’s kind of the game right there.”
The Nets built an early first-quarter lead off a 9-0 run from Brown to start the game. He hit a quick three 17 seconds into the opening period and then knocked down a pair of free throws moments later.
Brown knocked down a 15-foot jumper and then completed the run with a layup. He finished the first quarter with 12 points, matching the most points he’s scored in a single period this season.
Brooklyn continued to dominate the opening quarter, taking a 23-10 lead by the 4:54 mark after Durant hit a pair of free throws. They continued to control the pace of the game in the second quarter and Durant put the Nets up by 17 when he scored off a running pullup shot with 1:45 left in the first half.
Boston closed out the second quarter after that on a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to 10.