The Brooklyn Nets made pretty easy work out of a short-handed Boston Celtics team, winning the series 4-1. Now, it’s on to Milwaukee where they’ll kick off round 2, at home, on Saturday night in Brooklyn.
Before we get there, though, let’s take a look at just how the Nets were able to breeze through round 1 and revisit the “key factors,” or I guess you can say “question marks” if you will, that we discussed heading into the series.
Those questions included the following: the Nets’ health, the team defense and the front court depth.
The first tick hits on two of those when Jeff Green went down with a foot injury that knocked him out for the series after Game 2.
In came Blake Griffin, Nicolas Claxton and, yes, Bruce Brown.
The Kyrie Irving-James Harden-Kevin Durant-Joe Harris-Blake Griffin played a team-high 63:44 minutes this series, with a +38 points net per 100 possessions. Swapping out Griffin for Brown, the five-man lineup had a +18 points net per 100 possessions.
Defensively? As they say, the best defense is an out-of-this-world offense.
Brooklyn averaged 123.4 points per game and a ORtg of 130.1. The defense wasn’t terrible, as they held the Celtics to 112.2 points per game with a DRtg of 118.3 - the offense got much better in the playoffs (with a 118.3 ORtg in the regular season) and a little worse on defense (113.8 DRtg in the regular season).
The net +11.8 ORtg/DRtg, however, was a massive improvement (they were net +4.5 in the regular season). Again, the best defense can ultimately be a “I dare you to outscore us” kind of offense.
All wasn’t lost on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, Jayson Tatum played a Hall-of-Fame-level kind of series, but overall there were some bright spots on defense.
Steve Nash called Kevin Durant the Nets best defender, and Durant spoke after Game 2 about his development on the defensive side of the ball over the years.
“I feel like I’ve always been a good defender. Early on in my career I was asked to score for my teams; and we had defenders that were asked to guard the best wing player,” said Durant after Game 2. “But I felt like I was always helping, learning what help defense is like. It’s a journey as a scorer to try to learn defenses in the NBA, especially as an 18-, 19-year-old.
“So I’ve just been trying to learn from the defenders on my team and my coaches and over time, I think I just gradually got better at it. I’m still looking to improve in all different areas of defense, especially mentally. But I felt like I’ve always been a … I haven’t been a liability. That’s probably the main thing when you’re out there. You don’t want to be a liability, so my teammates trust me.”
Durant certainly isn’t a “liability,” and you can surely argue that he’s the team’s best defensive player, but you probably won’t see him showing up on an All-Defensive team any time soon.
Much like James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the best defensive moments are when they “turn defense into offense.” Cheat on trying to pick off a pass, get out on a break when the ball is still on the rim, etc.; those moments that turn into easy buckets on the other end.
Nicolas Claxton, on the other hand, has a long, long way to go still...but, there were some nice moments this series that gave you some hope.
Four blocks in five minutes. Nice.
The great Chris Milholen wrote about his defensive performance after Game 4, writing:
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.
“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.”
Claxton’s job is only going to get harder form here on out - Giannis to possibly Embiid to possibly...Jokic?...if the Nets keep winning. But there were flashes and nice moments that, again, helped turn defense into offense.
Injuries? Well, the Nets come out of the first round series generally unscathed. Yes, Jeff Green’s foot is an issue and one that could linger; and of course they are going to need him more now in these next few rounds than they did against the Celtics, but to come out of the series only down Jeff Green when you spent the entire season battling injuries...I do hope that Green gets and feels better.
Onward and upward from here, as they say. The Nets were dominant in Round 1 - in a Nets-y dominance-like fashion. But it doesn’t and won’t get any easier from here.
The good news is we’re seeing a Nets team that is playing as good as we have ever seen them play. You have to feel pretty happy about that.
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