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‘Big Three’ goes for 82 points in Nets playoff debut as Brooklyn takes Game 1, 104-93

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Taking it to the Nets/Level.

In their Nets playoff debut and their 38th different starting lineup of the season, Brooklyn’s ‘Big Three’ combined for 82 points, defeating the Celtics, 104-93, in front of a sold-out Barclays Center crowd of 14,391 to take Game 1. Of the total, 93 percent were fully vaccinated — which took Brooklyn some time to adjust to during the contest.

“We found a way to win. We didn’t play well offensively. Some of it was shot-making. Some of it was cohesion. Some of it was the first time out in the playoffs with fans. The atmosphere was unbelievable. Our fans were incredible. We knew it would be fun to play in front of the fans but to step out there and see the place packed like that and the energy in the building was unbelievable,” said Steve Nash on the Game 1 win with fans in attendance.

Kevin Durant led the way for Brooklyn, recording his 63rd 30-point game in his playoff career. He finished with 32 points on 10-of-25 shooting from the field and 1-of-8 from three. In addition to his prolific scoring, the Nets superstar registered 12 rebounds and one assist in the win.

“It’s exciting to see him out there. The whole ride this year from seeing him come back from such a devastating injury and have such a long layoff with a big hill to climb and a lot of doubt. A tribute to his work ethic, sacrifice and talent to be able to play at that level after that injury and that layoff.

Nash added: “He didn’t have a classic for him tonight, but you look up and he still had 32-and-12. [He] got to the line and did all the things you need to do to win. Proud of him, happy for him and I know our fans were excited to see him out there in the playoffs again.”

While Durant held the spotlight early, Kyrie Irving displayed his nifty handles and his marksman mid-range shooting late — finishing with 29 points, six rebounds and one assist in 37 minutes of play. Harden, compared to his teammates, had a quiet 21-point performance to go with nine rebounds and eight assists in 36 minutes of play.

Beyond the Nets three-headed monster, Joe Harris was the only other Nets to end Game 1 in double-figures with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from behind the arc.

As a team, the Nets finished the victory with a non-stellar shooting performance — 41.7 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from three. Brooklyn did a good job of gang rebounding, ending the night with a strong 50-42 advantage.

“Overall, it wasn’t the discrepancy that we were worried about,” said Nash on offensive rebounding. “The shots were even and that’s positive. This isn’t something that ever goes away for our team. We got to rebound and rebound as a group and collectively go in there and help each other out to take away those offensive glass opportunities.”

Defense won Game 1 for Brooklyn with the Nets holding Boston to only 40 combined points in the second half.

“We didn’t have a great outing offensively, but our defense was great. They were locked in. They were physical and worked together,” said Nash. “Plenty of build on there and hopefully we can improve a little bit on that end. Our defense was better than our offense tonight.”

For Boston, Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 22 points, five assists and three rebounds in 41 minutes, the last three meaningless free throws (including one a dubious flagrant foul called on KD.) Indeed, Brooklyn held Boston’s blossoming star scoreless from the field in the fourth.

“He missed a couple that he can make for sure, but I thought we did a good job of making him shoot tough ones and being up there on the catch. He’s such a talented player that we can’t get discouraged when he makes those shots over us,” said Durant on defending Tatum. “He made a couple of tough threes, tough fades, and we were able to take that storm and keep pushing through and try to be physical with him and everybody else.”

Marcus Smart finished with 17 points in 40 minutes of play. Robert Williams served as a force for Boston in the paint and had the best defensive performance of the night with nine blocks to go with a near triple-double performance of 11 points and nine rebounds off the bench. One more board and one more block and Williams would have had a rare triple double of points, rebounds and blocks.

As expected, Nash cut his rotation to nine, leaving out Mike James, Tyler Johnson and DeAndre Jordan the main notable absences.

Brooklyn laid out one of their “two” best lineups for Game 1 — Harden, Irving, Harris, Durant, and Griffin. It took some time for Brooklyn to feel each other out. It wasn’t the start the team was hoping for coming out of the tunnel.

The Celtics came out of the gates on a 13-4 run, but the Nets cut the deficit to eight (18-10) with 5:07 remaining in the first behind their sharp shooting from deep — 4-of-7. Brooklyn then struggled from deep missing five straight which resulted in an early and rare Nash TO.

“I’m sure it’s some of it,” said Nash on the poor start being a product of the lineup changes, but added. “I think it was more so the occasion. Everyone was excited, the place was packed and maybe we just rushed. We were a little bit impatient to start the game. The truth is somewhere in the middle of that. They haven’t played much together and it was an exciting evening for everybody to walk in the gym and see that many people. We just weren’t sharp offensively. A few factors contributed.”

Brooklyn concluded the sluggish first frame shooting 26.1 percent overall and 0-of-9 from deep while The Celtics held the upper edge. Boston made Brooklyn work for all their shots opportunities and concluded the first period with a 21-16 advantage and shooting 50.0 percent from deep and 37.5 percent overall.

The Celtics grew their lead to a dozen in the opening minutes of the second, but the Big Three of Harden, Irving and Durant — who hit a nifty 11-foot baseline jumper — to pull the Nets within three (36-33) off a 13-6 run with 5:40 remaining — that also includes a creative spin-cycle from Irving.

Brooklyn concluded their brutal shooting half going 1-of-13 from deep, but heated up inside the arc shooting 17-of-42 (40.5 percent) from the floor. Beyond their sloppy shooting, the “Big Three” started to find some rhythm in the closing minutes, combining for 33 of the team’s 47 points at the break. In the paint, Brooklyn led Boston in paint scoring (24-16) and rebounding (25-18), but trailed 53-47 at the intermission.

Meanwhile, Boston — led by Tatum with 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting overall and 1-of-2 from deep — shot 40.9 percent from the field and a boiling 52.9 percent from three — assisting on 13 of their 18 made shots.

The third quarter belonged to the “Big Three.”

The Celtics opened up the third with Walker (4) and Tatum (3) getting into foul trouble while Durant was heating up for Brooklyn. The Nets — behind a three from each member of the “Big Three” — grew their lead eight (65-57) off an 11-0 run to spark their offensive onslaught.

Brooklyn’s three-headed monster went on the score 28 of Brooklyn's 31 total points in the third quarter with the other three points came from a Joe Harris 26-foot three with 3:44 remaining. Despite their offensive onslaught, the Celtics remained within five (78-73) heading into the final 12 minutes of play.

The Film Room

Boston came in with a game-plan. While the Celts didn’t deploy it directly out of the gates, after 18 minutes (or so) of play, Boston went target-hunting. That’s what the playoffs are about; sniffing out the opponents’ weakest link and bombarding the enemy possession after possession.

Unfortunately for Blake Griffin, he was front and center of that scouting report. From the second Griffin checked in at the 5:40 mark in the second quarter, Boston picked him out of the lineup, setting up empty side pick-and-rolls with one of its ball-handlers (Jayson Tatum and sometimes Marcus Smart) and Robert Williams to coerce the switch from Griffin. From there, it was ISO time. Here, Marcus Smart daggers a pull-up three in the grill of Brooklyn’s 32-year-old center.

Soft switches without much resistance were a trend for both squads. For Boston, this meant repeatedly switching Evan Fournier on Kyrie Irving and James Harden, which went about as well as you can imagine. For the Nets, it was possessions like the one below with Brooklyn willingly giving Boston’s best player a matchup with the weakest defender on the floor. Tatum blows by Griffin as he tries dutifully to flip his hips but to no avail. The blow-by produces a rotation from Kevin Durant and that opens up the lob opportunity for Robert Williams.

It’s no surprise that by the end of it, Griffin was huffing and puffing for air after being put through the wringer (no pun) by Boston’s offense. Brooklyn opted to close the game with a Kevin Durant and Jeff Green frontcourt. The center rotation is something to watch.

On the other side of the court, Brooklyn’s offense was tested. Boston was, again, rather tactical about its approach, mucking up Brooklyn’s sets with aggressive pick-and-roll coverages such as traps and hedges. This produced some stagnation in Brooklyn’s offensive flow.

“We’ve had the tendency to take our foot off the gas peddle of stop attacking the rim or settling for jump shots or just not swinging the basketball and making easy plays for one another,” said Irving. “Obviously, we know we have all-word one-on-one players but we make it a little easy when teams can just load up and our one-on-one game isn’t working.”

Harden had a different take on Brooklyn’s offensive woes.

“We just missed shots. It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing out there. We just missed shots, that’s it,” said Harden. “Kevin missed shots, I missed shots, Kai missed shots. Joe missed shots. That first unit — we just missed shots. I’m not trying to get too deep into it because that’s what it was.”

Whether or not there should be cause for concern about Brooklyn’s offense just yet, what’s undeniable is how smooth — and deadly — Brooklyn’s scoring appeared when the ball was hip-hopping around the perimeter. This skip pass through the trap is certainly impressive stuff from Harden, but what’s even better is Jeff Green’s touch pass to Kyrie Irving under the basket.

Quick decisions make quicker buckets.

Mo’ better milestones

With his first four points of the game, Kevin Durant (4,047) moved past Tony Parker (4,045) into ninth place on the NBA’s all-time Playoff scoring list. Next up: Jerry West (4,457).

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Most points scored in a player’s first playoff game as a Net:

  • 40 points - Drazen Petrovic - first round - 4/23/92 at Cleveland
  • 38 points - John Williamson - first round - 4/11/79 at Philadelphia
  • 32 points - Kevin Durant - first round - tonight vs. Boston

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Kevin Durant (game-high 32 points) registered his 63rd career 30-point game in the playoffs ... out of 140 games. So KD has scored 30 or more points in 45 percent of his post-season games since entering the league.

That’s the sixth-most in NBA history, and second-most among active players, trailing only LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West.

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Kevin Durant (32 points, 12 rebounds) recorded his 39th career playoff double-double and his first since Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals with Golden State.

Of those 39 playoff double-doubles, 38 also included a 20-point performance.

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When Jeff Green stepped on the court in the first quarter, he too tied an NBA record. He has now appeared in a playoff game for seven teams: Brooklyn, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, L.A. Clippers, Memphis and Oklahoma City.

That ties an NBA record for most teams a player has appeared in at least one playoff game for, joining James Edwards and Nazr Mohammed.

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But here’s the big one: the 14,391 people in attendance made the Nets Game 1 the most attended indoor event in New York City since the pandemic hit 14 months ago. It would’ve been the biggest crowd for a sporting event too but the Yankees drew 14,655 Saturday afternoon at the Stadium.

Championship reminder?

The Nets hosted several members of the New York Giants various Super Bowl champs Saturday. Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan and Victor Cruz all sat courtside and got ovations from the crowd.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will be back in action on Tuesday, May 25 for Game 2 against the Celtics. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 PM ET and will be played at Barclays Center.

For a different perspective on Game 1, check out Celtics Blog - our sister site covering the Celtics.