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Kevin Durant and James Harden combine for 80 but Brooklyn falls short, 125-119

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics - Game Three Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Came up short.

The Nets fell short of a fourth-quarter comeback Friday, losing to the Celtics, 125-119. With the loss, Boston avoids a potential sweep and now trails 2-1 in the first-round series.

“They played well. I think they were a little desperate and became the aggressor after our hot start,“ said Steve Nash after the loss. “They were the ones looking to drive the ball. They were looking to step into threes and they got themselves going. They took the momentum and their crowd with them. They started to feel confident for the first time in three games and we didn’t get enough stops,”

Brooklyn entered the fourth quarter down 12 points and no momentum on their side after a strong third quarter from Boston, but Brooklyn fell short in the final minute.

James Harden, who showed off his firepower and finished with 41 points, hit a pair of 27-foot step-back threes followed by Kyrie Irving who hit a 27-foot three to cut the deficit to 105-97 with 7:36 remaining.

The Nets entered the final minute down 120-113. Irving dribbled the ball down the lane and was fouled by Smart, resulting in two clutch free throw makes to cut it to five with 58.7 seconds remaining. The Celtics milked the shot clock, then Jayson Tatum put Boston back up by seven with 40.8 seconds remaining with a 20-foot contested jumper.

Kevin Durant — who had a typical performance of 39 points — was charged with an offensive foul, but the refs ruled Steve Nash’s challenge successful resulting in a free throw and possession. Durant missed the 26-foot three but responded with a heavily contested 25-foot three to cut the deficit to 123-119 with 21.5 seconds remaining. The Celtics avoided an intentional foul and Grant Williams laid in the final two points to secure the Game 3 win.

“I felt like we all could've played better defensively. We didn’t get stops when it mattered for large portions of the game and we gave up 125 points, so it’s too many big quarters for them.” said Nash on the team's defense in Game 3. “They had high 20’s or 30’s in all four quarters. Not a great performance, but it could be good for us.”

Tatum — who struggled in the first two games — had the performance of the night on a historic note with a game-high 50 points on 16-of-30 shooting from the field and 5-of-11 from three to carry Boston to the Game 3 win.

“Tatum hit some tough ones over us tonight. I don’t think he got anything easy, but for a scorer like that to start to see the ball go through the rim, it pushes their team to another level,” said Durant on Tatum. “The fade-aways he was making and step-back threes, those are his shots but we still got a contest on them.”

Outside of Harden and Durant, Kyrie Irving — who made his return to Boston in front of a 25 percent capacity crowd — struggled with 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from deep.

“I don’t think the crowd limited Kai,” said Nash on whether the TD Garden crowd played a role in his performance. “I don't think so.”

“It’s basketball. I’ve been in a few environments in my life. As long as it’s just strictly the nature of basketball out there and nothing extra I’m cool with it,” said Irving following the loss on the TD Garden crowd. “Going to get some preparation with the team tomorrow and get ready for Sunday. [I] just want to keep it straight basketball.”

Brooklyn’s four-man bench compiled only 11 points in the loss — four of which came from Nicolas Claxton in 16 minutes of play in his increased role due to Jeff Green’s injury. It was the smallest percentage of total team points by players other than the “Big Three” all year: just under 20 percent.

“Nic had an up and down night. [A] Young player trying to figure it out in a big moment. That’s going to come for Nic and we believe in him and want to support him,” said Nash on Claxton’s performance in Game 3.

The Nets opened Game 3 with an electric shooting that quickly silenced the TD Garden crowd. Harden — who scored 10 of the first 16 points — led the charge with Brooklyn shooting 5-of-6 from the field and 3-of-4 from three to take an early 19-4 lead in the opening minutes.

The Celtics gathered their footing out of the timeout, cutting the deficit to seven points (30-23) with 2:19 remaining — hitting two threes and Tatum’s midrange game compiling eight points in the span. Boston — behind the play of Tatum (13 points) and Smart (11 points) — got hot in the final minutes, forging an extended 29-13 run to go up by one (32-31) to conclude the first.

Boston continued to build on their momentum to begin the second, capitalizing on switches and identifying the mismatches. Thompson — Boston’s veteran big — crashed the boards, snagging six offensive rebounds, allowing the Celtics to get second chance opportunities and feed off the home crowd’s energy to take a 47-43 lead with 6:18 remaining.

While the Nets struggled to overcome the Celtics defensive energy and score in a collective unit, Durant kept the ship afloat — scoring eight points in the second frame — on a pair of 10-foot jumpers.

The Celtics concluded the first half with the upper hand, nursing a 61-57 lead and momentum on their side. The difference-maker in the first half — outside of their lack of spacing — was Boston’s onslaught on the glass. Boston controlled the boards, going 26-16, but it was the offensive rebounds that burned the Nets. The Celtics snagged nine offensive rebounds compared to the Nets two with Thompson with seven of them.

Despite Boston controlling the tempo and having the leverage at the break, Brooklyn trailed by only four points (61-57), and then a third-quarter the Nets certainly won’t be pleased about occurred.

The two teams exchanged baskets and the game remained close. The Celtics continued to trap Irving in the two-man game and Brooklyn was led by the duo of Harden and Durant throughout the first six minutes of the third. Durant drilled a 25-foot three in front of the Celtics bench to lift the Nets to a 72-71 lead with 6:41 remaining, leaving Brad Stevens to call a timeout.

Boston, behind a pair of timely threes from Smart, grew their largest lead of the game (91-77) entering the final two minutes of the third and entered the fourth nursing a 96-84 lead.

The Film Room

Brooklyn’s defense was in Games 1 and 2 was solid... too solid. Them’s the rules of gravity; what goes up, must come down. Or something. Not really sure where this metaphor is going.

“We stopped guarding. When we stop guarding, teams are gonna shoot the ball and get hot. We have to keep our foot pressed down,” said James Harden after Game 3. “Early in the game, we had the energy, we had the juice. We gave them confidence and they made shots. Gotta give them credit. We can’t allow that to happen.”

Point of attack defense had not been a problem for the most part against the Celtics until Friday night. Simple switches in the pick-and-roll were botched with regularity between Brooklyn’s vets. Look, Marcus Smart isn't a prolific outside shooter or anything, but he’s still an NBA player that shot 40.1% on pull-up threes just a season ago. This is too easy!

We’re now up to three games (and counting) of Blake Griffin looking like somewhat of a liability while guarding in space. He just isn’t particularly adept at turning his hips and side-stepping or back-tracking to the basket while the enemy drives the ball. That’s just sort of where he is at this stage of his career.

When your point-of-attack defense isn’t good, it puts your remaining defenders in rotation, sprinting around the floor frantically like a team of headless chickens. Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin completely get lost as Grant Williams slips to the basket; Kevin Durant is forced to rotate off Kemba Walker in the corner to stop the shot at the rim; Kyrie Irving makes things worse by going airborne rather than sprinting out to one Boston’s outside shooters; Blake Griffin is late on his rotation to Tatum.

That is how a defensive lapse happens. It’s a team-wide issue.

Milestone Watch

  • James Harden’s first seven points of the game give him 3,057 career playoff points, moving him past Manu Ginobili (3,054) into 24th place in NBA Playoff history. Next up: Julius Erving (3,088 playoff points in the NBA).
  • James Harden (41 points) has recorded the third 40-point game in Nets Playoff history.

43 points - Vince Carter - Game 3 - Eastern Conference Semis vs. Miami - 5/12/06

40 points - Drazen Petrovic - Game 1 - First Round at Cleveland - 4/23/92

  • James Harden became the first Nets player with a 40-point, 10-assist playoff game in Nets history.
  • James Harden’s seven 3-pointers made have tied a Nets Playoff record, previously set by Joe Harris in Game 2 of this series and Deron Williams in Game 4 of the First Round series vs. Atlanta on 4/27/15.
  • James Harden (41 points) and Kevin Durant (39 points) are second set of teammates in Nets playoff history to score 30+ points in same game. Vince Carter (33 points) and Richard Jefferson (33 points) did in Game 5 of Eastern Conference Semifinals on 5/16/06 at Miami
  • Kevin Durant has moved past Jerry West in career points per game average in the post-season. KD is now averaging 29.15 ppg to West’s 29.13, putting him third all-time behind Michael Jordan (33.45) and Allen Iverson (29.73). Earlier in Game 1, KD surpassed West in number of playoff games with 25 or more points (now 108). He now ranks fifth all-time.
  • Kevin Durant (25 points) tallied 25+ points in each of the first three games of Nets’ series vs. Boston. KD is first Net to score 25+ points in three straight playoff games since Vince Carter did so in Games 3-5 of Nets’ first round series vs. Toronto in 2007.
  • James Harden’s second 3-pointer of the game was the 325th of his playoff career. Harden moved past Manu Ginobili (324) into fifth place in NBA Playoff history in 3-pointers made. Harden is now fifth all-time in 3-pointers made for both the regular season and playoffs.
  • Jayson Tatum’s 50 points is the most scored by a Nets opponent in a playoff game. It topped the previous record, 49 by LeBron James when with the Heat 5/11/ 2014.

No incidents at TD Garden

Despite the high volume and high expectations, there were no incidents like the NBA saw in Philadelphia (popcorn dumped on Russell Westbrook after he left the game with an injury), Salt Lake City (racial epithets directed at he family of Ja Morant) and New York (spitting at Trae Young) on Thursday. At one point, TD Garden turned up the volume on arena music to drown out fans chanting “F Kyrie.”

ESPN reported that there was “enhanced security” at the arena. Friday night’s crowd was estimated at 5,000, the max allowed under Massachusetts capacity rules. On Sunday. the rules will change and arena authorities expect a crowd of 17,000.

As Sponge Bob might say

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will remain in Boston to take on the Celtics in TD Garden Sunday, May 30 for Game 4. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:00 PM ET and will be nationally televised on TNT.

“They’re definitely going to have belief now. They got a win at home and were able to stop the momentum after playing two games in Brooklyn. It’s a big challenge for us,” Nash said. “We got to come out and be sharper. Be better on both ends of the floor, try to slow them down and execute offensively.”

For a different perspective, check out CelticsBlog - our sister site covering the Celtics.