In the biggest test of the season, the Brooklyn Nets fell short against the Eastern Conference defending champions.
“A little bit more consistency,” said head coach Jacque Vaughn about his takeaways from the game. “Great third quarter. Started out giving ‘em too much at the beginning of the game. So the consistency and the turnovers, couple of second-chance points where kick-out for 3s, that’s us not capitalizing in transition. Also, we had plenty of opportunities in the first quarter. A little bit of everything. But that team had 103 points and we didn’t play our best.”
Brooklyn dropped to 13-12 on the season after losing 103-92 against the Boston Celtics. This marks the eighth consecutive game that the Nets have lost against Boston dating back to last year’s regular season (and including the 2022 first-round series). Boston, meanwhile, improved to a league-best 19-5 in its crusade to avenge last season’s NBA Finals loss.
The 92 points were the worst offensive output for the Nets all season and the best defensive effort for the Celtics.
“They’re a big team, they shoot the ball well, they got good length and so you got to match that if you want to be able to compete. We don’t have a big margin for error. They can play,” said Durant about the Celtics. “They had 13 points in the third and still be in good shape. You make up for that with your shooting and your length, and they got a lot over there.”
Durant (who else?) led the charge for the Nets with 31 points on 13-of-24 shooting. This was his 13th game dropping at least 30 points this season and his fifth in six games. Unfortunately, Durant also had eight turnovers, with three of them coming in the fourth.
His running mate, Kyrie Irving, did not have his best shooting night, going 7-of-21 from the field and 1-of-5 from three.
“It’s the same defensive principles, I see,” said Irving regarding the Celtics’ defensive coverages. “They sell out on our drives and make us pass. So crowd the paint.”
Boston, meanwhile, meanwhile got a monstrous 34-point performance from Jaylen Brown.
“Just being special. That’s who he is. That’s the kind of player he’s been this season,” said Durant about Brown. “Knocking down tough shots, being a scorer for them at all three levels. Got to give him credit.”
MVP candidate Jayson Tatum didn’t have his best night and coughed up the rock a game-high nine times but still managed to pitch in 29 points. He was not pleased with his performance.
“I’m just glad we won. Nine turnovers? That’s ridiculous. And some of them, I was just throwing that s*** out of bounds. The ball was kind of slippery. The one I thew to Al to the corner and he shot it.. that s*** went to the air. But I mean there’s no excuse,” said Tatum.
Both teams shot the ball similarly from the field (Boston at 43.2%; Brooklyn at 40%). Brooklyn also played the Celtics practically dead even on the glass (48-45, Boston). The difference-maker in this one was turnovers; Boston ripped 11 steals and ran to 26 fastbreak points, whereas the Nets generated just 13 points on 6 steals. That 13-point difference almost entirely made up the deficit in the final score.
Brooklyn got off to a hot start, opening the game on an 11-2 run. The Celtics and their number #1 ranked offense began to take hold, quickly responding with a 14-2 run of their own, as Grant Williams dropped in seven points and sprayed the ball to teammates. Jaylen Brown was cooking early, too, cashing in numerous heavily contested threes and some athletic at-rim finishes for 20 early points. Behind Brown’s stellar efforts, the Celtics led by 35-27 after one.
Kyrie Irving erupted in the second quarter on a mini 5-0 run. Brooklyn’s interior defense was also extremely solid, limiting Jayson Tatum—one of the strongest rim finishers in the league according to statistics—on his drives to the rim. Tatum eventually got going, though, kickstarting things off a one-dribble pull-up against a closeout. Tatum then began targeting Brooklyn’s weakest defenders—first, Cam Thomas, on a stepback three and then by posting up the much smaller Seth Curry to draw free throws. Tatum’s awakening gave Boston the 62-50 advantage heading into halftime.
The third quarter was the Kevin Durant Show. He dropped 15 points and played the entire quarter. Plus, he had some sensational defensive moments on the other end. Durant’s two blocks came from the weakside, one on Jayson Tatum and one on Jaylen Brown. He also bothered Boston’s creators in isolation on drives to the rim. Brooklyn chipped away at Boston’s lead thanks to Durant, behind 75-69 heading into the fourth.
Boston went small to start the fourth with Grant Williams at center while Durant sat. The Celtics swarmed Kyrie Irving on every touch, and he compounded the issue by taking tough shots instead of swinging the ball to his teammates. He began the quarter 0-for-2. When KD checked in, it looked as if the Nets were going to even things out. But then Boston countered with an Al Horford three off a gorgeous halfcourt set and a Brown dunk off a silly Durant turnover.
Durant’s turnovers, unfortunately, began cropping up as Boston double-teamed him with perfection. First, Durant hurled a bad pass that was picked off easily, and then Jayson Tatum pickpocketed his dribble to draw free throws on the other end. Boston was ahead by 11 points with five minutes remaining.
Things started to resemble the 2012-22 first-round series to end the fourth. Boston’s athleticism at the wings proved to be too much for Brooklyn; Jayson Tatum stretched for a gorgeous layup against Nic Claxton and Brown drew three free throws while guarded at the three-point line by Royce O’Neale. Tatum then showed why he’s such an impressive two-way MVP candidate, picking off Durant for the dunk on the other end. As such, Boston pulled away and coach Vaughn eventually threw in the white flag by putting Day’Ron Sharpe, Kessler Edwards, and Cam Thomas in at the 1:30 mark in the fourth, indicating the loss.
“I wouldn’t call it trouble,” said Irving after the game about the matchup with the Celtics. “It comes down to wins or losses, not troubles. It’s all competition. They’re a good team so you got to give them credit.”
The Film Room
So, we got a glimpse of why Boston is the #1 offense in the league.
To Brooklyn’s credit, they did a good job defensively, holding the Celtics to just 103.1 points per 100 possessions (24th percentile). For reference, Boston typically averages 121.3 points per 100 possessions, which paces the NBA.
As mentioned, athleticism and size have been a deciding factor in this matchup historically, and that proved to be a continuous pattern on Sunday. Here, Kyrie is matched up with Jaylen Brown in transition but stands no chance when Brown hits a smooth in-and-out dribble to glide to the cup.
Boston repeatedly went mismatch hunting throughout the night, targetting Brooklyn’s smallest players in the post—Seth Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Cam Thomas—as well as the Nets’ slower players on the perimeter—the still re-acclimating T.J. Warren and Joe Harris. To Joe's and especially T.J.’s credit, both players did an admirable job staying in front; but here, Brogdon gets a step on Harris for the And-1 finish.
Boston was particularly precise in the fourth quarter with its half-court offense. The Celtics used Tatum as a screener numerous times in last year’s playoffs to give him mismatches in the middle of the floor, and the Celtics went to that look late in the game. Here, Tatum sets the screen for Derrick White, Durant and Irving switch, and Tatum gets Irving on the high side before rolling to the rim for a completely uncontested dunk.
Threading the needle to get the slam pic.twitter.com/WDkYWb6OZD— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 5, 2022
And then finally, here’s a total beauty from Joe Mazzulla’s squad. As Malcolm Brogdon drives against Royce O’Neale, Sam Hauser prepares to set a “hammer screen” on Claxton to generate a corner 3-pointer for Grant Williams.
But then, Boston busts out a fun wrinkle. Instead of spotting up in the corner for three, Williams rises up to the wing, and Hauser—one of the best shooters in the league at 52% from deep— relocates and took his place. Personally speaking, I hadn’t seen this spin-off of “hammer” before, and Mazzulla’s tactics greatly stymied Brooklyn’s defense leading to a wide-open Hauser three.
“On the offensive side of the ball, they have a lot of space out there, you playing five-out, they can easily drive and get to the paint,” said Durant after the game. “Playing against a team like that, no matter how much they struggle, 13 points in the third quarter for them, you always feel like you can be in the game when you shooting the three like that and you got space like that.”
Somehow, Boston has maintained its defensive integrity while greatly improving its offensive process. Brooklyn’s 95.8 points scored per 100 possessions against the Celts was its worst offensive rating in all 25 games this season.
Blake Griffin gets tribute video, talks about exit
Blake Griffin only played a part of one season and all of a second but the Nets produced a tribute video for the fan favorite which played in the arena during the first half...
Griffin who didn’t play in the game, not atypical. He’s played only 33 minutes in eight games, most of it after the game has been decided.
He spoke to Kristian Winfield about his exit from Brooklyn.
“I had felt last year I didn’t play much at the end,” Griffin told The News. “So I thought maybe that had run its course. If you don’t play towards the end of the season, I don’t know that a team necessarily likes you. That’s kind of why I didn’t really think too much about it.”
Steve Nash sent him to the end of the bench when he couldn’t hit a three. His only reprieve, ironically, came in Games 3 and 4 of the Celtics sweep of the Nets in the first round. Griffin said he knew what was happening and was prepared for a long layoff when the Celtics gave him a vets minimum deal just before the season began.
“You never know in this league,” Griffin said. “So I just wanted to give it another go. This seemed like a good situation and it has been.”
Joe Harris remains hot
For the third straight game, Joe Harris hit better than half his hots, going 3-of-5. In those three games, Harris has shot 12-of-18 or 66.7%. For the season, he’s now at better than 36%. Harris has now extended his season-best streak of games in double figures to four.
Jacque Vaughn, who never seemed to waver in his belief that Joey Buckets would eventually re-earn his nickname, took a victory lap on Harris post-game. Vaughn noted as well Harris had been doing other things during his slump.
“You just love that he’s a teammate of yours,” Vaughn said. “I think when we first talked about it, I was extremely confident that Joe would eventually start making shots. It’s because his preparation is professional, because his approach is professional.
“It’s because he cares about the other teammates more than himself, and he shows that by being in the right position defensively. The biggest thing is sacrificing his body and boxing out. It’s the little things that don’t show up in the stat sheet . . . It was a matter of time and he’s still got some room where he’ll make some more shots for us.”
Meanwhile, T.J. Warren once again got decent court time, playing 18 minutes, one more than he did in his debut two nights ago. After shooting 11 times vs. the Raptors, making five, he wasn’t as active vs. the Celtics, putting up only four shots Sunday, making one.
Kyrie Irving praises his ‘brother’ Jaylen Brown
Jaylen Brown, a fellow NBPA vice-president, was one of Kyrie Irving’s biggest defenders during his suspension, even criticizing Joe Tsai for saying Irving had more work to do before he returned to play. He even suggested that Tsai, who’s been accused of working with the Chinese government to persecute China’s Muslim population, needed to do more work as well.
So Irving was asked about Brown’s support and he spoke of his gratitude and their friendship.
“He’s a brother of mine,” Irving said. “I’m grateful to have a relationship off the court. True warriors when we go against each other. When I was in Boston, we didn’t really get a chance to get to know each other on a deeper level. So again, I’m just grateful that we’ve been able to build on top of a great foundation of relying on how we live our lives and how we treat people, so he’s a brother of mine.”
But Brown seemed hesitant to go as far as declaring the two are friends and noted that during Irving’s tenure in Boston, they didn’t get along.
“It’s been a lot of growth and interesting to follow,” Brown said of the controvery. “Being a teammate of Kyrie, we got into it a lot. We didn’t see eye to eye a majority of the time he was here. And since then it seems like our relationship [has improved]. We’ve been able to have conversations. We’ve been able to talk to each other. We’ve been able to understand where he’s coming from.”
He did note that he sees Irving as a “teammate” in the larger sense, being among a select group of men who’ve played in the NBA.
“I think they announced that the population just reached eight billion, right? And there’s less than [5,000] players that have ever played in the NBA and that’s a small percentage. So I look at us all as a brotherhood. I look at us all as being on the same team even though we’re out there competing against each other. I’m open to any guys calling me and building off of a relationship and not only push our league forward but push our [players’] union forward and protect each other.”
An update (of sorts) on Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons, the Nets’ third star, has missed three consecutive games due to knee soreness and missed Sunday’s game against Boston because of the injury. He was really beginning to come into his own before going down with the injury, averaging 15.5 points on a ridiculous 82% field goal percentage to go with 5.8 assists, 6.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks.
Jacque Vaughn provided an update on the health status of Ben, which effectively was... no update.
“We’ll see. Off-day tomorrow. They didn’t tell me anything differently. He’ll come in even on the off-day, get some treatment. Kind of day-by-day now unless they (the training staff) tell me otherwise,” said Vaughn. “But they haven’t said yes or no to what’s next.”
Brooklyn enjoys a nice two-day break before hosting the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday at 7:30 EST. Coverage begins on the YES Network.
For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to CelticsBlog, our Celtics sister site.
- Box Score: Boston Celtics 103, Brooklyn Nets 92 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Boston Celtics 103, Brooklyn Nets 92 (Video) - NBA
- Highlights: Kevin Durant vs. Celtics / 31 PTS, 7 REB, 5 AST (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Highlights: Kyrie Irving vs. Celtics / 18 PTS, 8 REB, 5 AST (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- Jacque Vaughn on Nets’ 103-92 loss (Video) - YES Network
- Kevin Durant on his performance Sunday night (Video) - YES Network
- Kyrie Irving on Nets’ loss to Celtics (Video) - YES Network
- Nic Claxton on loss against Celtics (Video) - YES Network
- Celtics snap Nets’ 4-game winning streak with 103-92 win - Brian Mahoney - AP
- Celtics put away Nets in first meeting since playoff sweep - Reuters
- Nets unable to stop Jaylen Brown as loss to Celtics ends four-game win streak - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Kyrie Irving grateful for support from Celtics’ Jaylen Brown during suspension - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets loss to Celtics shows gap between them: ‘We don’t have a big margin of error’ - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic
- Nets’ four-game win streak ends against Celtics - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Jacque Vaughn was confident Joe Harris would snap out of slump - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Nets fall short against defending East champion Celtics - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Blake Griffin knew Nets weren’t interested in reunion - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- The Nets are finding their identity in playing small - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Kevin Durant Explains Why Nets Can’t Solve The Puzzle vs. Celtics - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Jaylen Brown leads Celtics with 34 points while defense seals victory over Nets - Adam Himmelsbach - Boston Globe
- Kyrie Irving considers him a ‘brother’ now but Jaylen Brown understands relationship differently - Gary Washburn - Boston Globe
- Celtics overcome flat offensive effort, use strong defense to push past Nets - Steve Hewitt - Boston Herald