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‘Big Three’ scores 104 points to defeat Celtics in historic fashion, take 3-1 series lead, 141-126

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

It was a historic performance from the Nets and their “Big Three” Sunday that silenced a sellout TD Garden. Although marred late by yet another incident of bad fan behavior, the Nets’ trio of future Hall of Famers put on a virtuoso performance.

On a night when TD Garden opened its doors to welcome the Celtics’ first sellout crowd of the year — 17,226 fans — Brooklyn’s “Big Three” served as silencers, combining for 104 points to lift the Nets past the Celtics, 141-104. The 141 points is a new franchise playoff record. Moreover, Brooklyn had a staggering shooting split of 57/59/97. With the win, the Nets take a 3-1 series lead and are one win away from advancing to the second round where they will face the Milwaukee Bucks.

“We met more actions. We were still terrific in isolation, but we ran more actions, got more people involved, had a lot more assists and a lot more balance. Clearly, we had a great shooting night as well,” said Nash on the Nets offense in the Game 4 win.

Kevin Durant — who like Kyrie Irving, was greeted by a cascade of boos raining from the stands — led the Nets with 42 points on 14-of-20 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 from behind the arc. Aside from shredding Boston’s defense, the Nets superstar contributed four rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes of play.

Irving had a bounce-back performance in front of his former fans in a big way. Irving finished his special night with 39 points, 11 rebounds and two assists on 11-of-24 shooting from the field and 6-of-12 from three in 41 minutes of play.

“It’s Kyrie Irving. He didn’t have a great game last time out. My money’s on him anytime after a performance like he had where he couldn’t quite get into the game in game 3. I had a good feeling about him tonight and he was outstanding,” said Nash on Irving’s performance. “I just loved his will to take some of this adversity and have a great game. He was terrific.”

James Harden — who was coming off a team-high 41-point performance in the Game 3 loss — had a ridiculous stat line serving as the facilitator. The former MVP recorded a double-double of 23 points and 18 assists to go with five rebounds in 40 minutes of play. The 18 assists were the most he ever recorded in a game, regular season or post-season.

“I thought he was terrific. His vision is outstanding and his ability to find guys out of the pick-and-roll or when they doubled was great,” the Nets head coach said on Harden’s facilitating. “It was fun to watch and when he’s able to pick the gym apart like that is really special.”

Brooklyn became the second team in NBA history to have multiple 35-point scorers in consecutive games and the trio became the second to score 35+ points in the same playoff game in Nets history.

Other than the prestigious trio, Bruce Brown — who Nash said played “really good” — provided Brooklyn with a good punch off the bench with 14 points and seven rebounds followed by Joe Harris with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from deep. Nicolas Claxton played very well defensively, recording a career-high four blocks in only eight minutes of play. Brooklyn didn’t play their young big for the entirety of the second half.

“Nic had four blocks in eight minutes. He was a +14. It was much better and I thought he was really active and disruptive. He was really positive for us tonight, so hopefully, it’s something he can build on,” said Nash on Claxton’s performance off the bench.

For Boston, Jayson Tatum had another great offensive performance of 40 points on 10-of-22 shooting overall and 3-of-7 from three to go with seven rebounds and five assists followed by Evan Fournier with 16 points in 28 minutes of play. The Celtics finished the loss with six players in double-figures.

“We try to take those guys [Evan Fournier] [Marcus Smart] out. We know once they get it going, their team can change and become high-powered. Tatum, he’s going to get his looks and get his touches, but the other guys we did a solid job on,” said Durant on the biggest adjustment from Game 3.

The Celtics came out with sharpness in their decision-making while restricting space on the defensive end for Brooklyn. Boston opened up the contest shooting 50.0 percent shooting from both the field and from three behind the play of Tatum and Smart to hold an early 21-15 lead with 6:06 remaining. Meanwhile, Brooklyn missed their first three threes and Durant looked comfortable in the mid-range scoring six of the Nets' first 15 points.

Brooklyn did a majority of their damage from the charity strike — shooting a season-high 14 free throws and going a perfect 14-of-14 in the frame. Irving led the damage with seven points on seven free throw attempts to end the first with 12 points.

While Griffin struggled early defensively, Claxton provided the Nets with some strong minutes, immediately making an impact defensive, swatting two shots and altering a pair of shots.

The high scoring first ended with a 34-33 Celtics lead with Tatum scoring 14 points and shooting 7-of-7 from the charity strike. For Brooklyn, Durant paved the way with 17 points — tied for the most points scored in the first quarter of a playoff game in his career — followed by Irving with 12 while the team shot 45.0 percent from the field and 1-of-4 from three.

Brooklyn opened the second quarter hot and moving the ball, growing their largest lead — 45-37 lead and after a thunderous Harden slam off a nifty bounce pass from Harris and a 20-foot jumper by Johnson, Boston called a timeout to regroup.

And then it got scary.

Brooklyn upped their physicality in the second and their defensive effort converted into high-quality offense to silence the packed TD Garden crowd and steal the momentum. The Nets opened the frame hitting 10 of their first 12 shots and running the offense through the ‘Big Three’ — who combined for 59 of the Nets’ 73 first-half points.

To make things sweeter, the history books followed.

The Nets put together their second 40-point quarter of the series and their 13-point halftime lead (73-60) marked the largest lead at the break in the postseason since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat in May of 2006 and the 73 first-half points tied a record for most points scored in any half in their postseason history with Game 3 of a first-round series with the Bucks in April of 1986.

Brooklyn’s offensive clinic continued to flow to start the second half while the Celtics continued to unravel. The Nets capitalized in the early offense to go along with their hot shooting and their perfect consistency from the charity strike. After a surprising Irving put-back slam off a Griffin miss, Brooklyn ballooned their lead to 20 points with 7:10 remaining in the third.

Brooklyn went on to score their 100th point with 4:04 remaining in the third, marking the second time in this series (Game 2) and in their postseason history, the team has hit the 100-point marker through three quarters, growing their lead to 103-77 with 3:40 remaining off a 27-foot three from Irving off a kick-out pass from Brown.

The Celtics did gain some momentum after a devastating defensive performance throughout the third, hitting two threes, but the Nets hit the final 12 minutes of play boasting a 112-91 lead — 112 point a new franchise record through three-quarters — tied for the largest lead through three quarters on the road in postseason franchise history.

Brooklyn began the fourth staggering the ‘Big Three’s’ minutes in the fourth quarter and after nursing a double-digit lead entering the final minute of play, Nash pulled his trio from the floor, leaving Chris Chiozza, Johnson, Mike James, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Landry Shamet to finish the contest.

“A part of it was because it was kind of sloppy at that point and they were starting to score, so we didn’t want to take any chances. Also, those guys didn’t want to come out so we let them go a few more minutes,” said Nash on leaving the ‘Big Three’ in late in the fourth quarter.

The Film Room

Here’s a fun fact: Prior to Sunday’s game, the Brooklyn Nets were 13th out of 16 playoff teams in points in the paint with just 38.7 per game.

In Game 4, they recorded 26 in the first half. That’s what fueled the run; easy downhill touches.

Getting to the rim was always going to be the question for Kevin Durant. We knew he was going to be a dangerous threat off the catch. We felt confident that he’d be able to connect on midrange pull-ups should he get run off the line. Heck, most of us even felt good about his post-up play and elite hesitation face-up game.

Driving to the rim was always the big question for Kevin Durant after an Achillies tear, especially in the postseason. He’s answered that question. Thoroughly.

He’s parlayed that rim dominance into runners, floaters, and just absolutely nutty off-the-glass shots like the one below that should not be coming off the fingertips of a seven-footer with such ease. One of a kind.

His former OKC teammate and currently Scary Hour troika member James Harden has also shown tenacity off the bounce after displaying a little bit of sluggishness in the first two games of the series against Boston. Here, he just flat-out beats Tristan Thompson to the spot after the Celtic big man plays close to the level of the screen to contain Harden’s pull-up shooting gravity.

And then, of course, the biggest difference between Games 3 and 4, Kyrie Irving, who lit up the Celtics with revenge shots galore. Here’s the man himself getting to the cup after using Blake Griffin’s screen for the bouncy layup.

The Nets were in need of a “prove it” performance after a dismal Game 3. Give them credit. They did it.

Milestone Watch

It’s getting harder to keep track of the milestones the Nets set with each post-season game, but let’s try, with the help of Nets PR, ESPN Stats and Statsmuse. Bottom line: Game 4 was arguably the best display of offensive firepower ever. In franchise history.

  • The Nets are the second team in NBA history to have multiple 35-point scorers in consecutive games. They join the 1962 Lakers when Elgin Baylor and Jerry West did it in both games.
  • The Nets’ 141 points are a new franchise playoff record.
  • The Nets are now 22-2 this season when scoring more than 130 points.
  • The Nets “Big Three” are averaging 85.9 points in the playoffs.

—KD 35/8/3 on 56/46/91%

—Harden 26/7/11 on 55/46/91%

—Kyrie 25/7/3 on 47/38/100%

  • James Harden is the first Net to record 20+ points and 15+ assists in a playoff game all-time.
  • James Harden’s 18 assists were the most in his NBA career, regular season or playoffs.
  • Kyrie Irving’s 39 points are his second-most in a road playoff game in his career. Irving tallied 41 points in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals for Cleveland at Golden State.
  • Kevin Durant’s last free throw gave him 1,051 for his post-season career, putting him in the top 10 all-time, moving past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
  • Kyrie Irving (39 points) and Kevin Durant (42 points) are the second set of teammates to score 35+ points in the same playoff game in Nets NBA history. They join James Harden (41 points) and KD (39 points) who did it two days ago in Game 3.
  • Kyrie Irving finished 11-of-11 from the free throw line, matching the most free throws he’s made in any playoff game in his career (done twice previously).
  • Kevin Durant is the first player in Nets NBA history to score 35+ points in consecutive playoff games.
  • Durant’s 17 points in the first quarter are the most for a Net in an opening period in the playoffs since Kenyon Martin scored 17 points in the first quarter in Game 4 of the 2002 NBA Finals against the Lakers.
  • The Nets led the Celtics 112-91 through three quarters. The 112 points are a franchise playoff record through three quarters. The 21-point lead is tied for the Nets’ largest through three quarters on the road in their playoff history.
  • The Nets have reached the 100-point mark through three quarters for the second time in their playoff history. The first time was Game 2 of this series (109 points).

Tsai in the house?

The Nets didn’t respond when asked, but we think we caught a glimpse of Joe Tsai and members of his family under the Nets basket in the first half. Tsai had not been in attendance before Game 4 but his wife, Clara Wu Tsai, Nets co-owner, has been courtside for the Nets playoff games and Liberty regular season games at Barclays.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will return to Brooklyn and play Game 5 on Tuesday, June 1. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 PM ET and will air live on WPIX-TV and will also be streamed live on the YES Network App.

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