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Nets want to build defensive intensity: ‘That was the most important thing for us’

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

The Nets have forged one of the most prolific offenses in NBA history. Although possessing an elite fire-powered offense, Brooklyn’s No. 1 priority since the beginning of the season has been the value of the defensive end, something that continues to be a vocal point and something the team fully understands.

Brooklyn’s potential on the defensive end was in full view in Game 1 against Boston and was the reason for the opening contest win. The Nets held the Celtics to only 40 points in the second half and limited the seventh seed to only 93 points — the Nets went 10-0 during the season when holding teams under 100 — on 36 percent shooting both overall and from three Saturday night.

In Steve Nash’s eyes, the intensity was the biggest takeaway from his team’s efforts on that end of the floor in the Game 1 victory and hopes that will carry over throughout the postseason run.

“I just thought our intensity was great. The guys were locked in. The effort was there and intensity. They tried to play together and tried to execute defensively. That’s essential in the playoffs,” said Steve Nash on the biggest takeaway from the Nets defense in Game 1.

“It’s not going to be perfect, especially with a new group like ours that hasn’t had a lot of time together. You are going to make some mistakes and be left with some questions to answer, but if you have that intensity, fire, and will, that covers a lot of mistakes. That was the most important thing for us.”

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game One Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Although the switching defense won the Nets Game 1, the Nets head coach doesn’t want his players to get overconfident. He wants Brooklyn to remain humble defensively.

“If we think we’re the greatest defensive team of all time, we’re probably asking for a butt-kicking. If we are humble, hungry, and try to stick to our details and our game plan, maybe we have a chance to make it difficult for them,” Nash said.

Jeff Green, who prides himself on his ability to switch 1-through-5 on defense, was pleased with the defensive effort in Game 1. The Nets veteran — who was called the “voice of reason” in the regular season — believed the team’s defense patched up the hole created by not making shots. Like his head coach, he knows that high energy on defense will carry Brooklyn a long way in the postseason.

“I’m glad we played well on the defensive end. There’s been so much talk about defense, but I guess a lot of people saw that when our shots aren’t falling, especially like it was in the first half, we were able to focus in on our defense and get stops,” Green said. “That’s what kept us in the game and that’s what got us Game 1. Supporting that throughout the playoffs and have high energy on the defensive end because that is going to take us a long way.”

Green was pleased with the defensive effort in Game 1 but sees room for growth. The veteran wants his teammates and himself to improve individual defense beyond their growing collective effort but didn’t want to comment further on defensive adjustments for Game 2 on Tuesday.

“I think we can get better with our individual defense. I think we can play a lot better in that area, but that’s all I’m going to give you right now,” Green said with a smile.

Outside of holding the Celtics to 40 total points in the second half, the spotlight of their defensive play shone mostly through the prism of Jayson Tatum’s shooting. He went scoreless from the field in the fourth quarter and finished with 22 points on 6-of-20 shooting from the field.

“We forced him to take some tough shots. He got very comfortable in the first half and that’s what allowed him to get going. In the second half, we were a little bit more aggressive on the ball. That’s what forced him to take some shots that were tough for him,” said Green. “We got to stay on the pressure of making him put the ball on the floor and take contested shots.”

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game One Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Brooklyn isn’t taking that much away from Tatum’s lackluster shooting performance in Game 1. The Nets head coach, who is very qualified in identifying special talent, knows the type of player Boston’s 23-year-old is and the damage he can do.

“Jayson is capable of scoring any night, so we’re not sitting here that we have the answer for Tatum. He had a big impact on the game I thought although he didn’t have a classic shooting night,” Nash said. “We know the pressure he puts on our defense. We know what he’s capable of and we go into this game with the same spirit and fire knowing that’s what’s required to be able to make it difficult for a player of his caliber.”

Boston’s young star wasn’t the only Celtic who performed poorly shooting the ball. The Nets limited Kemba Walker to 15 points and only two assists on 5-of-16 shooting from the field and Evan Fournier to 10 points and two assists on 3-of-10 shooting. Boston as a collective unit only dished 19 assists as well. While those numbers stand out on the final box score and earned well-deserved praise, Nash and the Nets aren’t underestimating their opponent.

“I don’t look too much to what happened in the last game as far as the numbers. We know who we are playing regardless of the stats, we know their capabilities, what they like to do, what their tendencies are and we have to make it difficult for them,” Nash said. “If they make or miss shots, that’s almost secondary to our approach and our discipline.”

Beyond the defensive play, Brooklyn liked their physicality and their efforts on the glass, limiting Boston to only 11 offensive rebounds in Saturday’s win. Blake Griffin, who takes pride in his physicality and has made a living off having that physical edge, wants the team to carry over those two elements which will help the offense in early offense situations.

“I liked our physicality, especially coming out of halftime. We got to do a good job offensive rebounding. Those are two areas, not just this series but throughout the playoffs that we’re going to have to be really good in those two areas of being physical and keeping teams off the glass,” Griffin said. “Those two things will not only limit their shot attempts but also get us out running in the open court.”

Clearly Nash and the Nets didn’t reveal their plan of adjustments for Game 2 on Tuesday night under the Barclays Center lights, but the team put emphasis on cleaning up some things on both ends of the floor during Monday’s practice. The Nets head coach concluded by saying that having the “right approach” is the most important thing.

“We just have to be solid with our approach. We did a lot of things well, a lot of things that need improvement and if we continue to do the things we did well again and clean up some of the things that we can do better, I think it puts ourselves in a position to compete and win the game,” Nash said. “The most important thing is having the right approach.”

Green spoke as well as how the Nets —and Celtics— plan to observe the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.

“We try to find ways that we can shed light on the incidents that’s taken place. We try to show respect to the families. We try to bring awareness to everything that’s going on. We do everything in our power to make sure it stays in light and we don’t allow it to kind of fade away,” Green said. “It’s something we try to keep in the public eye that these things still happen. It needs to continue to be talked about until we find some kind of solution, some kind of conversation where we can fix things.

“We talked briefly about it, about trying to do some things to shed light on George Floyd’s life. The conversation is started. Will it be something like the bubble? We haven’t talked to Boston as far as what they’re trying to do,” he said. “But we’ve had a lot of conversation within the last couple hours just at practice about what we’re trying to do and how we’re going to show respect to George Floyd.”