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Nets hope Nic Claxton can build on career-high defensive performance in Game 4

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

After a tough night in Game 3, Nic Claxton bounced back in a short but very sweet way.

Claxton — who was badly outplayed by Tristian Thompson in Game 3 — flipped the script in Game 4 recording a career-high four blocks in just eight minutes of play. Despite not scoring in the dominant win, the Nets young big was +14 Sunday night — third-highest on the team — and provided Brooklyn a game-changing spark.

“That’s what he does. He’s active, he protects our rim, he rebounds the ball. Offensively, he sets screens and finishes around the basket, so he did exactly his job only playing eight minutes, but he’s always ready,” said James Harden on Claxton’s performance in Game 4. “Great job for Nic. I’m sure he wanted to play more but our overall goal is to win and tonight was big for us.”

The 22-year-old, with only 51 NBA games (including postseason) under his belt, was the second Net off the bench, replacing Blake Griffin at the 4:49 mark in the first. He recorded two big blocks in 2:44 minutes of play in the first frame — one emphatic rejection on a driving layup attempt by Jayson Tatum and the other on Evan Fournier’s 3-foot push shot. But his impact was most clearly felt in the second.

Claxton started the second for Brooklyn with Boston up 34-33. In the Celtics' first offensive possession of the frame, the Nets big swatted a four-foot shot from Semi Ojeleye, and two possessions later, he went out on the perimeter and blocked Grant Williams’ 23-foot three to spark the Nets offensive onslaught, an extended 23-10 run.

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

Brooklyn capitalied on Claxton’s defensive play in the second with an 11-4 run and went on to outscore Boston 40-26 in the second to change the whole dynamic of the contest. The Nets young big went to the bench at the 9:10 mark of the second — replaced by Griffin.

Steve Nash — who expressed patience with Claxton being a “young player trying to figure it out in a big moment” — was pleased with his play in the win and hopes it’s a performance he can continue to build on.

“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.

While Claxton’s impact sparked the Nets offensive onslaught, his defensive play showed what Brooklyn can do when playing solid defense and converting stops into early offense.

“Defensively. That is going to be our key every single game, said James Harden after the Game 4 win. “Offensively, that should be the last thing we should be worried about. We have so many weapons and so many guys that can get it going. Defensively, we have to be engaged and locked in possession by possession. Tonight [Game 4] was a lot better.”

The absence of Jeff Green — who is rehabbing a strained plantar fascia in his left foot suffered in Game 2 — opened up more opportunity for Claxton. Before Green went down, Claxton explained how the Nets don’t need him to stretch his offensive game along the perimeter, shoot threes.

“I’m just playing my role honestly. They don’t need me to shoot threes. I’m playing in the dunker [spot] so I’m more of a lob threat right now and that’s what I’m doing,” Claxton said. “I’m on a championship team. Everybody has to make sacrifices, so I’m not trippin’. I’m just doing what I got to do. I’m in the rotation, getting playoff minutes, and playing my role to the best of my ability.”

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics - Game Three Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

While Claxton is developing on the fly and playing in the big moment at a young age with limited experience, Charles Claxton is happy his son is getting the opportunity and is taking full advantage of it, especially against the Celtics. He played three games for the Celtics in 1995.

“I’m just glad he’s getting the opportunity, and he’s just taking full advantage of it,” Charles Claxton told The Post. “He’s a little wet behind the ears, kind of learning on the fly. But he’s willing to give it his all. Hopefully, the end result will be great.”