The Brooklyn Nets won Game 1 of their first round series against the Celtics, their first playoff win in 771 days and ending an eight-game playoff losing streak.
How they did it, though, was less than inspiring — especially on the offensive end. The Nets scored 104 points with an 111.8 offensive rating, which nets them the 49th percentile — just about average but no where near their record-setting offensive pace of the regular season. Brooklyn won Game 1 with stellar defense on Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, bailing out a lackluster offensive performance.
If the Nets are to win the NBA championship, though, it will be fueled on the offensive end. They were world-beaters in the regular season and some nice defensive showings against a hampered Boston squad may be unsustainable in future playoff series against the league’s best.
But in Game 2, the Nets did just that — exploding for 130 points and silencing the proverbial haters. So how did Brooklyn reach their offensive ceiling on Tuesday night? With more ball movement and less isolation basketball.
The Nets registered 40 isolation possessions in Game 1, far above their season average - and second-highest mark in the league - of 10.9. In the playoffs, offenses devolve into “Iso” more often; last year, we saw a 55 percent increase in Isolation frequency in the playoffs compared to the regular season. The Nets were able to cut down on isolation possessions in Game 2, recording only 21 according to Second Spectrum tracking.
Brooklyn’s assist total increased from 18 to 31 between Games 1 and 2, and many of those early Game 2 dimes ended up in the trusted hands of Joe Harris after a member of the “Big Three” made the extra pass.
Most of all, the Nets were able to just keep the ball moving. The average time of possession dropped from 3.32 seconds to 3.14 seconds and swing-swing actions like the example below are pivotal to keeping role players in rhythm from beyond the arc.
Steve Nash’s offense isn’t too complex; it doesn’t need to be. Brooklyn’s roster features three of the greatest offensive players of all time, and in this era of NBA basketball, it isn’t too hard to get them a good look. Oftentimes, the Nets’ offense boils down to getting one of the firm of Irving, Harden and Durant the ball in the favorable matchup either up top or on the low block.
You already have an advantage with these superstars in their spot, but now you need to convert that advantage into points. In Game 1, the Nets often failed to convert, with players like Durant missing at point-blank range. The Celtics defense isn’t even that complex, either. They stuck to their man for the most part and forced the Nets to burn them with jump-shooting. For the most part, they weren’t.
And even though Durant’s short jumper still wasn’t exactly on automatic in Game 2, he was still able to find much more success with cross-matched defenders at the free throw line extended.
In the clip above, KD expertly anticipates Boston’s double-coverage and hits a cutting Bruce Brown on the numbers. Note how Kemba Walker sprints out of the lane despite Brown filling; he’s staying home on Joe Harris. Brown is able to elevate over Tristan Thompson for his patented floater.
Robert Williams made life miserable for Brooklyn on Saturday, blocking nine shots and holding Nets players to 1-of-13 shooting from the field when he was the closest defender, per Second Spectrum. Brooklyn’s would draw him in switches along the perimeter, but his length and recovery was able to make up for a slight disadvantage in lateral quickness. Postgame, Nash said that the Nets were “naive” to keep attacking Williams.
The Nets took their Hall of Fame coach’s word to heart in Game 2 and kept the ball moving in Game 2 when faced with the Texas A&M product.
After forcing the switch, James Harden gets comfortable, lulling Williams to sleep. As he goes for the step-back, Williams lunges forward, taking himself out of position. Harden has the quick thinking to make the quick pass to Kyrie Irving. Irving returns the feed immediately and Harden makes the extra pass for a Blake Griffin throw down.
Obviously, the Nets are going to need isolation scoring deep in a playoff run. They have three of the best one-on-one scorers in the league and posted the second-highest points per possession marks in isolation situations in the league during the regular season. But Tuesday night’s Game 2 matchup against the Celtics proved that when the Nets have the ball moving, they’re as unstoppable as ever.