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Game 4: Nets look to slow down Celtics and take 3-1 lead

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

So they’re not gonna go 16-0, after all. The Brooklyn Nets had an opportunity to put the Boston Celtics in the ground, but the C’s kept their series alive with a crucial victory in front of the hometown crowd. The Nets lead the series 2-1 now with the series moving to every other day from here on out.

Read about the game from Boston’s perspective here.

Where to follow the game

TNT and YES for the viewers. WFAN FM for the listeners. Tip off after 7:30.

Injuries

Jeff Green and Spencer Dinwiddie are out. Alize Johnson (ankle sprain) is a late scratch.

Robert Williams was in a walking boot after the game after spraining his left ankle. We’ll see if he’s out there tonight. He’s officially doubtful. Kemba Walker (knee) is questionable. Jaylen Brown is out. More on him in a second...

The game

It’s gonna be a full house tonight. The C’s expect to have near full capacity in the arena, an anticipated 17,000, which would be the biggest crowd the Nets have seen this season, home or away. Now that we’re further and further away from the size limitations that dominated this season, it’s going to be interesting to see how players on both sides adjust. It promises to be raucous, so hopefully nobody does anything like spit on the players, calling the players slurs or anything like that. Act like you have some damn decency.

Speaking of crowds, all eyes will be back on the man of the hour. Kyrie Irving had a rough outing in his first game back at Boston with the fans — there was even an “F Kyrie” chant at Fenway Park last night! — but he’s played in tension-packed, high stakes environments before and excelled so look for him to bounce back. He missed a bunch of shots we’ve seen him make a million times and considering how masterful he’s been with his shot this year, I’d bet he’ll get it going early to get the vibes right.

I’ve been seeing people praise Jaylen Brown’s pregame commentary on Kyrie, racism, etc as powerful, must read, and... yeah, y’all got it.

Control the boards, control the game. The Nets won the rebounding battle in the two games at Barclays which helped propel them to victory. Boston won the boards in game three thanks in large part to Tristan Thompson. TT picked the right time to have his best game in green and Brad Stevens’ guys are going to need it again if they want to even the series up.

For the Nets, the center duo of Blake Griffin and Nicolas Claxton will need to bring a little bit more to the table tonight. Young bigs making their first appearances in the postseason tend to struggle, so it’s no surprise the young bull has been up and down in these three games. Just gotta keep playing and working it out. As for Griffin, the Celtics have been doing a great job of exploiting the weaknesses in his game on defense and Blake has had his struggles for the most part.

Without Green, the Nets are down their most versatile big (other than KD) so it’ll be interesting to see how Steve Nash and the coaching staff try to compensate for the loss. I’ve seen some calls for Nash to expand the rotation to get guys like DeAndre Jordan or an Alize Johnson in to help on the glass. We’ll see what they do.

It’s not often you lose after your ace puts 40 on the board. James Harden was one of the few Nets who were able to get it going on offense as his 41/10/7 to only one turnover would usually get the gold star of the evening, but somebody got in the way. Since the other Nets got cold, they only had 16 assists as a team and had to rely on Harden to do all the scoring. He can certainly score on the level of the game’s greatest, but life is better for everyone on the Nets when Harden is orchestrating and finding guys for easy shots they’ll knock down.

Player to watch: Jayson Tatum

It was only a matter of time before he went off in a major way. The Nets had been doing a great job locking him down, but he had a game of the ages on Friday night with his playoff career high of 50 points as he hit a bevy of shots over everyone the Nets threw at him. The Nets were expecting Tatum to explode soon enough and he picked a perfect time to do it and save Boston’s season.

Prior to the game, Tatum was annoyed that he wasn’t getting many calls and trips to the free throw line. He was able to correct that in a major way by getting to the free throw line 15 times. Tatum can score in a variety of ways and will look to keep the pressure on Brooklyn. Now that there isn’t a gap in days between games, I do wonder about his minutes going forward. Kemba Walker has been doing a bunch of nothing all series, so Tatum will have to go 40+ every night if his guys want to pull off the upset. Be ready to keep pushing your guys to the finish line.

It’s not often a small forward outdoes Kevin Durant. That said, KD did the damn thing on offense in his own right as his 39 points were pretty nifty in a losing effort. The great thing about having two other elite scorers is when one is down, you can slide right in and deliver the heat while they struggle. Of all the Nets Tatum gave the blues, KD caught the brunt of it so look for him to put forth a stronger defensive effort. Durant’s defense has certainly picked up towards the end of the season and in the first two games of the series, so we’ll see how the Nets adjust to Tatum and how Durant takes the challenge of going up against one of the game’s best young players.

From the Vault

James Harden was the first Net to score 40+ in a playoff game since Vince Carter in 2006. It’s always a good time for a VC three (or 43)

More reading: Celtics Blog