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Defense, led by Kevin Durant, is not a problem so far

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Two Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Before the playoffs, Steve Nash called Kevin Durant the Nets best defender. After the first two games, you won’t get much —if any— argument.

“I feel like I’ve always been a good defender. Early on in my career I was asked to score for my teams; and we had defenders that were asked to guard the best wing player,” said Durant after Game 2. “But I felt like I was always helping, learning what help defense is like. It’s a journey as a scorer to try to learn defenses in the NBA, especially as an 18-, 19-year-old.

“So I’ve just been trying to learn from the defenders on my team and my coaches and over time, I think I just gradually got better at it. I’m still looking to improve in all different areas of defense, especially mentally. But I felt like I’ve always been a … I haven’t been a liability. That’s probably the main thing when you’re out there. You don’t want to be a liability, so my teammates trust me.”

Romeo Langford understands...

Nash also had kind words for KD and his teammates’ effort.

“Our guys are playing really intense, physical basketball. So our defense has gone up a level here,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “But that’s always got to be something we fight and claw, like an underdog, if we want to perform on that end of the floor.”

Of course, the biggest headline out of the Nets’ —and Durant’s— defense has been lack of production. In two games, he’s scored 31 points on 9-of-32 shooting including only 2-of-7 from deep. He did leave Game 2 in the third quarter after getting poked in the eye, but at that point the Celtics were down, 80-55. The game was basically decided.

“He can go off and score in bunches, but I think we’re doing a good job of forcing him off the three-point line a little bit more and contesting his shots,” Durant said post-game. “But he’s Jayson Tatum. He’s gonna make shots. I feel like some of the shots he took tonight, he easily could make ‘em, and he’s a tough shot maker.

“So we’re not gonna sit here and act like we’re just bottling Jayson Tatum up. We know he can get it going at any point, but I’m glad we were able to get a contest on most of his shots.”

Of course, he’ll be in the friendly confines of TD Center on Friday night so it’s likely that that advantage will help. And it’s simply hard to keep a great scorer down for very long. He did score 50 in the play-in game. Still, he hasn’t exploded yet and Durant is the big reason why, say his teammates.

“Kevin obviously … poses a lot of problems defensively,” Joe Harris said. “When he’s locked-in, engaged enough, he can be an unbelievable defender. And he showed that against Jayson, who’s obviously one of the better offensive players the league has.”

Durant’s four blocks were the most he’s racked up in a playoff game since 2017 ... and a season high as well.

The Nets offense, after a shaky start in Game 1, was rocking in Game, hitting the 130 point mark for the 23rd time this season. They’re 21-2 in those games and one of the two losses was in double overtime. They’re 32-3 when scoring 120 points or more.

Nash credited the improvement from Game 1 to Game 2 to a number of improvements and adjustments but emphasized ball movement.

“Whenever the ball moves we’re very difficult to defend,” Nash said. “We can score in isolation, but the more the ball moves, we knock the first domino down and then the teams chase and we’re excellent in those situations.”

As Ryan Dunleavy of the Post writes, the numbers bear Nash out.

The Nets made 296 passes in Game 2 compared to 240 in Game 1. What’s the difference created by 56 extra passes? They jumped from 44 points off of 18 assists to 83 points off of 31 assists, with Joe Harris benefiting to the tune of eight mostly uncontested 3-pointers.

Harris talked about just how that helps.

“It seemed like in the Game 1, I had a tendency to creep over to the ball, bringing my defender and not allowing one of the three guys at least enough space to operate,” said Harris who went from 2-of-6 and 10 points to 7-of-10 and 25. “So a lot of it was just talking about getting even with the foul-line extended, and just trying to play in that area.”

The Nets were the most efficient offense in league history this season and now are becoming efficient on the defensive end as well. As James Harden might say, “scary hours.”