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Nets and Celtics begin second half of season in Brooklyn

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2021 70th NBA All-Star Game Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Hello, hello! It’s good to have everyone back after a much needed week off from NBA action. For the Brooklyn Nets, they’ll be looking to keep the good times going after they went into the break on a good note after beating the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

Joining the Nets tonight will be the Boston Celtics. It’s certainly been a rocky season for Brad Stevens and friends, but it looks like they’ve gotten things back on track. They’re currently riding a four game winning streak after they ended the first half with a win against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday evening.

Oh yeah, happy pandemic anniversary. It was a year ago the NBA —and then the U.S.— shut down. We have all gotten through a tough year. Wear a mask.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and TNT on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30.

Injuries

Kevin Durant is out. Spencer Dinwiddie is out. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is doubtful. Jeff Green is questionable. New Net Blake Griffin is out. More on him in a second.

Marcus Smart will be back after missing a few with his calf injury.

The game

Brooklyn won the first game on Christmas Day.

The Nets are looking different (again). On Monday, the team signed former All Star forward/center Blake Griffin to a contract after he was bought out by the Detroit Pistons. Injuries have taken a toll on Griffin in recent years, so it’s fair to wonder what he can bring to the table here in Brooklyn. He’ll have all the time he needs to get comfortable and acclimated into Steve Nash’s plans, so we ought to have a good feel of where his game is by playoff time. It says a lot about Brooklyn that they’ve been able to adjust to so many changes on the fly and still be great.

We’re back, and back in style. The team dropped their Earned Edition jerseys yesterday and will be debuting them tonight on the national stage. They better keep the Basquiat joints tho.

The natural question arising from Griffin’s signing is what happens with Nicolas Claxton? The young gun has won the hearts of Nets fans with his excellent play and he’s been growing as a rim runner and finisher at the basket. The hope is he doesn’t lose the playing time he’s earned and that the team is able to keep ensuring he gets time to grow his game.

Tristan Thompson was one of Boston’s big offseason acquisitions, and he’s been OK all things considered. He and DeAndre Jordan will tussle on the boards, and interior defense will be key as well. The Nets are fourth best in finishing shots inside of five feet as they’ve 65.2 percent of those shots on the year. Alternatively, the Nets and C’s allow teams to shoot 62.5 percent on shots six feet and in, and as we all know the Nets interior defense has been a sore spot for them this season.

It feels like the C’s have been underachieving, but they’re still fourth in the East and within striking distance of the Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. I’m still not sure if Boston is good enough to make it past the big three in the East, but they promise to be a tough out in the playoffs.

It’s trading season, so if/when the Celtics don’t make any moves, get ready for stories after the deadline of how Danny Ainge and Celtics management almost traded for [insert player here]. And right on cue...

Hahahahahahahaha

So how did you spend your time off, Kyrie Irving?

My man. Irving has been sensational for Brooklyn and tonight against his former team will give him another chance to shine brightly on the national TV stage. Unlike the first meeting, Kemba Walker will be on the court. It’s been a rocky year for the former UConn great as he’s turning the ball over more, getting to the rim less, and getting to the free throw line less. We know what Boston’s two All Stars can do, but Stevens and friends need Walker to be something close to the level of star he was as a Bobcat/Hornet if the team wants to live up to their potential.

When these two teams met on Christmas, version 1 of the Nets were able to take over in the second half and came away with a dominant win. It’s tough enough to gameplan for the Nets considering all the talent they have, but when they’re always adding new pieces to the puzzle? It’s tough for teams to rely on previous matchups to get a feel as to what to do this time around.

Jayson Tatum is looking pretty comfortable as the leading man. The usage rate has gone up each season he’s been in the league, and naturally his points per game have risen alongside it. Stepback jumpers are so damn difficult to pull off, but he’s one of the very best at them. Coachspins of Celtics Blog has a pretty groovy breakdown of the move here. Assuming Durant is out again, the Nets will throw a series of looks at Tatum to slow him down some. Bruce Brown has been magnificent since entering the rotation and he’ll be someone Nash uses to hassle Tatum.

Player to watch: Jaylen Brown

Not to be outdone, Brown is pretty damn great in his own right. Brown received the first of what promises to be many All Star nominations and had a nice showing in Atlanta. He’s also Vice President in the NBPA so we’ll be seeing even more of him as the league and players association continues to wade into unchartered waters going forward. Back on the court, he’s holding it down on both sides of the ball as his defense is still solid while his playmaking abilities have taken a big step forward this year.

James Harden will look to add on to his MVP push. Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer talked about Harden after Wednesday’s game here:

The Rockets defended Harden the same way that many of their opponents did over the previous eight seasons. They sent multiple defenders at him, doubling him on the pick-and-roll and forcing the ball out of his hands. A double-team is supposed to frustrate the ball handler into making bad decisions, but that just never happens with Harden. He makes the right read and his teammates get wide-open shots out of four-on-three opportunities.

Role players become the best version of themselves next to Harden. The Nets emptied their bench to trade for him and have been cycling through players on 10-day contracts to fill out their rotation. They shouldn’t have the depth to sustain playing without one of their Big Three. But it doesn’t matter because Harden turns fringe players into mainstays.

Harden has been sensational in Brooklyn and as Durant continues to recover, Harden will be more than capable of running the show while KD heals up.

From the Vault

Monday was my birthday (shouts to me!) and International Women’s Day, so naturally let’s jam out to some of my favorite female artists:

More reading: Celtics Blog