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Nets blow out Celtics in Kyrie Irving’s return, 113-89

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics got quite the preview of their Christmas Day matchup Friday night, getting blown out by the Brooklyn Nets, 113-89, on Friday night at TD Center.

Oh yeah, one other thing: Kevin Durant is back and the Celtics know it!

In their final preseason game, the Nets did not take their foot off the gas pedal, especially in the first half. From Joe Harris’ lights out shooting from deep (4-of-7) to KD’s dangerous pull-ups, the Nets piled on 62 first half points, 22 of which came off the bench, led by Caris LeVert, who finished the game with 18 points in 21 minutes as the second unit leader.

The second half was no different. The Nets closed out a strong third quarter on a Durant slam and an 18-0 scoring run, which lasted a full 4:52. As the third quarter buzzer sounded, so did the Nets superstar duo’s preseason shifts.

Durant finished his preseason with 25 points, six rebounds, three blocks, and two assists in 27 minutes of play while Irving added 17 points to go along with seven rebounds and five assists in 28 minutes. The duo shot a combined 16-of-31 overall and 5-of-11 from deep. With another strong preseason showing, the duo may not need to log over 30 minutes for a significant number of games.

The 10-time All-Star made things look effortless, jamming the ball off drives to the rim, hitting deep three’s and blocking shots, among other things.

“Kevin and Ky were great,” Steve Nash said post-game. “Gave them some more minutes than it looks. The rhythm looked good. I think those guys are in a good position to start the season. Obviously, not ideal with a short preseason but considering what we’ve been able to put together here in 18 days - we can’t ask for much more.”

Nash also had positive words about Harris who looked more aggressive than last year, being willing to take tough shots with defenders on top of him.

“He is a shot maker,” Nash said about Harris. “Such an elite shooter and shoots a high percentage - his pace has been excellent. Plays at a fast pace, which makes the defense make quick decisions because he is running around, coming off screens, getting rid of the ball quickly, and willing to shoot quick shots. I think it’s a great weapon for us to have and we are lucky to have a guy with his shooting ability.”

Post-game, LeVert commented on Durant’s presence as a secondary shot-blocker next to DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen, noting that it makes life much easier on the rest of Brooklyn’s defense.

“We have three elite rim protectors,” said Caris. “KD, DJ, and JA. For us on the perimeter, it allows us to be more aggressive in the passing lanes, more aggressive on switching and just keying in on key players because we know at the rim, we have those three guys. That’ll be huge for us all year.”

Bottom line, said Irving, is that the Nets high BBIQ can carry them a long way...

“A lot of it - a lot of it,” Irving said about the Nets playing off instinct. “Just high level basketball IQ. Just relying on each other to make the right plays. Basketball is really simple when you play it with pace and keep the defense guessing. Also, defense can be your best offense as well so we have been hammering.”

Skip Bayless, cynic that he is, was impressed by Durant.

Durant said simply, “I got high expectations for myself. I hold myself to a high standard.”

With the superstars sitting the fourth quarter, the Nets continued to show their depth to finish the job. KD noted how having LeVert lead the second unit adds a big new dimension for the Nets.

“He’s a huge spark off the bench,” said Durant. “Caris can score as fast as anybody. He can play off the ball or shoot the three. But I think for us, when he comes in and handles the ball with me and Kyrie off the ball, that opens up the floor for him so much more. We gon’ need him to be aggressive. Especially coming off that bench and leading the second unit.”

The Celtics were short Kemba Walker and Tristan Thompson and their young duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown couldn’t make up for the losses. They finished with a combined 35 points, but Brown was a -21 in +/-. Combined, they went 3-of-16 from deep. The Celtics shot a miserable 8-of-45, 17.8 percent from beyond the arc and only 32-of-92 overall, 34.8 percent. Jeff Teague, filling in for Walker, finished with five points and no assists and a -24 +/-.

Now, let’s dive into some film.

The Film Room

We’re not going to go incredibly in-depth tonight (or Saturday morning, depending on when you’re reading this) with nuanced analysis and detailed play-by-play breakdown. That’s for tomorrow.

Here’s what you should know about the Nets offense––a truly remarkable unit already––through two exhibition games. The team ran a great deal of its pick-and-roll sets for Kyrie Irving with a variety of screeners: DeAndre Jordan, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant (to my chagrin!), plus more. When Durant clutches the rock, Brooklyn has paid homage to The Reaper’s Golden State roots, running plenty of split-cuts (again, more on this tomorrow in a full-scale film study). Otherwise, they played fast, utilized transition possessions to get Brooklyn’s shooters open, and took advantage of placing the ball in Caris LeVert’s hands off the bench.

Okay, now onto the fun stuff.

Get used to this: Kevin Durant blocking shots (this one from behind the three-point line), taking up the ball himself, and dropping devastating daggers in the hearts of his opponents. Un-stopp-able. Put a center on KD in transition? Too slow. A wing? Too small, no way he can adequately contest. This is just unfair.

And, says KD, he’s just getting started.

“I feel solid. I feel like I can definitely get better. I got high expectations for myself. I hold myself to a high standard, and I feel like I’ve got a long way to go.”

Strap in.

One more.

Here, Caris LeVert and Landry Shamet fake some “pistol” action, a play in which the ball-handler (LeVert in this situation) normally dribbles toward the sideline, where he’s met by a perimeter player who sets a screen. But then, LeVert detours away from the play, noticing that Marcus Smart is playing too far back in the paint. Caris reroutes on the fly and utilizes the Jarrett Allen screen to pull-up from deep for the top of the key three-ball that he’s slowly but surely mastered.

Pristine read-and-react offense. Improvisation at its finest.

Early candidate for quote of the year

Here’s what Kyrie Irving had to say about Joe Harris.

“When we first got Joe in Cleveland, he was just regular Joe. Now he’s got a tattoo, long hair, and he’s shooting the crap out of the ball... He’s a flamethrower, man.”

I mean, c’mon. That’s gold.

It’s all love between Kyrie and the Celts (but maybe not TD Garden)

Pregame, Boston Celtics guard and former teammate of Kyrie, Marcus Smart, directed kind words Irving’s way. Courtesy of Brian Lewis, here’s what the Oklahoma State product had to say:

“When you have a player of the caliber of Kyrie’s talent, everything changed. The conference gets better, the division gets better, the team they’re on gets better. We all know what Kyrie’s capable of.”

Post-game, after a lot of hugs and jersey exchanges, Irving said simply that it was good to see people he used to work with.

“It was like going to another day at the job honestly, I am grateful to be able to have relationships with a lot of these guys that are still here. Guys that aren’t here still and at the end of the day, we went to war together. I respect all those young men down there. We aren’t even young.

“We are just young kings growing in a business where we want to do what makes us happy. To see Jayson [Tatum] get better, to see Jaylen [Brown] get better, and to see these guys mature and be in the positions they are in - I am nothing but proud of them. To see other guys be happy, that is all I can want so coming here is easy. Performing here is easy. Basketball is the easy part. It’s key the external stuff beforehand that gets a little noisy. That’s how I look at that.”

Look, as hoop fans, it’s easy to allow the competitive nature of this league to build feelings of vitriol––some uber-passionate “sports hate”––towards other teams and players. But this is a great reminder that, at the end of the day, these guys are a part of the same fraternity––they’re brothers, carving out the same winding paths during their rigorous journeys to and throughout the NBA.

We should love and celebrate this stuff as much as we appreciate the drama and fiery competitive spirit that comes with that. There’s no hard feelings between Irving and his former teammates. You love to see it.

…On the other hand, while vibes may be good––great, even––between Irving and his former brothers in green, Kyrie may not feel the same way about the arena (and its fans) that housed his superstar talents not long ago.

Before tip-off, Irving strolled around TD Garden with a bundle of sage in hand and, well, have a look for yourself.

Bad vibes, be gone!

Post-game, Irving explained the ritual and talked about how he feels that the team is not yet dialed in (Scary!)

“It comes from a lot of native tribes - being able to sage,” Irving said. “Just to cleanse the energy. Make sure that we are all balanced and when we come into this job and come to this place, it’s not anything I do at home that I did today.

“I saged last game and I plan to sage almost every game if the opposing team allows me to. Literally, it’s just more or less for us to stay connected and for us to feel great about going to work, feeling safe, and providing for my ancestors. I’m not going to get too much into the spirituality into basketball but yeah, it is part of my native culture and where I am from.”

Irving’s late mother was a member of the Sioux Nation and the Sioux use saging to aske The Creator to produce more sage for the tribe.

So, we have ourselves an early contender for “best Nets meme of the year.” May many more pass through these virtual doors.

An update on Elie Okobo, Paul Eboua and the roster at large

Elie Okobo, the 6’3” French guard signed three days ago, wasn’t with the team in Boston Friday night. Okobo, taken at No. 31 in the 2018 NBA Draft, played the last two years for Phoenix but was waived last month. Although signed to an Exhibit 10 training camp deal, French media reported Friday that he hopes to win a two-way deal with the Nets. The Nets currently have an opening at the two-way. Jeremiah Martin, who played well for the Nets in the “bubble,” is on the second year of a two-year, two-way deal.

Alex Shiffer and Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Friday evening that the Nets claimed Paul Eboua off waivers. Eboua’s name was linked to the Nets in several mock drafts with his name hovering over the team’s late second round pick...

Eboua played for VL Pesaro Italy overseas, playing in a total of 18 games. Standing at 6’8” with an eye-popping wingspan of 7’3,” Eboua’s physical tools fit the mold of a young NBA player.

The 20-year-old is best known for his game on the defense end. With this length, Eboua has the ability to guard multiple positions. Although the spotlight of his game is on the defensive end. Eboua’s offensive game has been critiqued, especially his shooting mechanics.

In those 18 games, Eboua averaged 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. An area of his game that needs improvement is shooting. He shot 25.8 percent from deep and only 62.5 percent from the charity strike.

As for roster news, Sean Marks noted in an interview with WFAN Thursday, the Nets roster is yet to be finalized, noting how the depth of his tea, qcomes as a huge benefit for the long road ahead.

“It’s probably pretty close,” he said of the roster. “I don’t think anything is ever done, and we’re never going to just sit back and rest; we have to continue to monitor the entire group. We are deep, but we may need that this year to cope with uncertain circumstances. It benefits us to have so many guys waiting in the wings to pick up slack and fight for their roles on this team.”

In fact, expect moves Saturday. If players don’t clear waivers by Monday, a prorated amount of their salary goes on the cap. Waivers take 48 hours so to avoid dead money on the books, teams will request waivers on Saturday.

Amar’e Stoudemire hands Nets superstar duo very high praise - talks about his new opportunity and role with Brooklyn

In an interview preview with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the ALL THE SMOKE podcast, Amar’e Stoudemire opened up about his new opportunity with the Nets. For him, he did not see the opportunity coming but could not pass it up.

“It was crazy,” Stoudemire said. “The initial thing started out with me playing overseas so I went over to China for a few months then to Israel. Finished up over there. Got the chip and Finals MVP and then COVID happened. Moved back to Miami and was here for a while then I got a job with the Nets. It has been a pretty good year for me so far.”

It came out of left field. I never thought about coaching. Obviously, I have my youth programs in Florida so I have been involved with grass roots and Nike since 2005. I have been trying to develop young players and help my skills academy camp every year, which is also with Nike throughout the years. I have always been in that player development space but never thought I would be a coach with an NBA team.”

Most notably, the Nets player development assistant praised the Nets superstar duo.

“It has been exciting,” Stoudemire said. “Watching these boys in training camp, how they get after it, how they compete, both of them play at a high level, both of them healthy, and I have really never seen two players this good before. I have experienced a lot of players, played with a lot of players, and been around for a long time but, I have never seen two players as good as Kyrie and KD.”

As for his role, Stoudemire noted how he is an on and off the court coach, focused on developing the Nets young talent’s game. He lets Nash handle the situations and courses of player development.

“I leave it to Steve to handle all those player development courses and situations that is going on with the team,” Stoudemire said. “What I have experienced so far is that everyone has great chemistry. Everyone has a great vibe, focused on the goals, and I am just doing my part as that vocal guy as well, helping them out with development. If any guys need any help along the way to improving their skills - I am always available for that. I am always giving them game. Whether it is on the court game or off the court game. They appreciate it.”

As for reuniting with his former MVP point guard, Stoudemire notes it as a ‘great atmosphere’ and reminds him often of the two’s memories back during their time with the Phoenix Suns.

“Man, it is just a fun atmosphere to be honest with you,” Stoudemire said about working with Steve Nash. “Steve and I have a relationship that we built back in Phoenix and now to be back with Steve and seeing him now as a coach and being back in the locker room, it reminds me of the times we had back in Phoenix. It is a great atmosphere for the both of us.”

Stoudemire also revealed his nickname for his former team and now head coach: “Two-time” as in two-time MVP.

What’s ahead

The Nets will return home to the (possibly revamped?) Barclays Center to host the Golden State Warriors for the NBA’s official regular season opener. The matchup marks the first time Durant will be active to face his former team in a Nets uniform. It’s all but expected that it’ll be all hands on deck for the Nets, as they look to start the season out 1-0.

Game tips off Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 7:00PM EST.