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Kyrie Irving scores 39 but Celtics land first punch with Jayson Tatum game-winner, 115-114

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving delivered when the Brooklyn Nets needed it most — and it came with plenty of extracurricular banter with little green men. But it just wasn’t enough and it ended in heartbreaking fashion.

Final Score: Boston Celtics 115, Brooklyn Nets 114. Boston takes a 1-0 lead in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Here’s how things ended.

At the end of the 48-minute classic, the score was knotted up at 111 entering the final minute of play. Irving’s sixth 3-pointer of the contest put the Nets up three with 45.9 seconds left. Jaylen Brown (23 points) answered on the other end with a layup to make it a one-point game with 38.9 seconds left. Brooklyn had their chance to seal the game but with the shot clock expiring, Kevin Durant missed the desperation three. That’s when it got heartbreaking for Brooklyn.

The Celtics decided not to use their timeout and as the final buzzer sounded, Marcus Smart found a cutting Jayson Tatum (31 points) and got his spinning layup off just in time to win the game.

“They pushed it and instead of calling a timeout, I thought we took away the first action with Brown. Went to Smart, I thought we were intelligent on that side of the action, but he got in the crack and somehow found Tatum who made an intelligent cut,” said Nash breaking down the game-winning play. “Split-second here or there and the game goes the other way.”

“I came over to help and there was already someone doubling on the ball. There were ten seconds left when I saw JB [Jaylen Brown] catch it. Derrick White pushed it to JB and I just thought we had a good time to really settle the ball. I thought JB was going to go up initially, and he passed it out to Marcus. Marcus hit a fake, dribbled it between the lane, and I was left with two guys on the backside,” said Irving breaking down the final play. “I had to make a choice and JT made a spinning layup. That was my vantage point.”

But there was a reason why Tatum was unguarded. The Celtics star blew by a ball-watching Durant cutting to the basket.

“It was a scramble play. They made a couple of passes. They were able to find a little crease there at the end, and it was a quick play,” said Durant breaking down the final play of Game 1.

Irving, who flipped off the banter and banner-filled arena multiple times throughout the contest, put on a spectacular show with a game-high 39 points (12-of-20 shooting from the field and 6-of-10 shooting from 3-Point range) to go with five boards, six assists, four steals, one block, and three steals in 42 minutes.

“He [Irving] was carrying us this game. He did his job but we have to help him,” Goran Dragic said. “It’s not an individual sport. We have to play as a group, especially defensively. On offense, we have two of the best players in the world who can score. We have to support those two guys.”

Durant, on the other hand, struggled throughout the game offensively faced with the smothering Celtic defense. The Nets superstar heated up in the second half but was limited to 23 points on 9-of-24 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 shooting from behind the arc in 41 minutes. Durant tallied a game-high six turnovers in the loss, four in the early going.

Outside of the stars, the Nets bench delivered the scoring punch needed to stay alive. Dragic stepped up with 14 points in 26 minutes, followed by Nic Claxton with 13 points in 31 minutes but hit only 1-of-5 from the line.

In a contest that featured a combined 50 fouls between the Nets and Celtics, both teams shot 19-of-24 from the foul line. Despite the fouling being a result of a physical contest, the Nets know the amount of fouling cost them in Game 1, to pair with the 16 turnovers (14 Celtic points).

“We had too many turnovers. 13 in the first, second half we did much better with only four. We need to stop fouling. I feel like we’re in the bonus too quick and it’s tough to play defense like that,” Dragic said. “At the end of the day, we had our chances.”

The Nets started Irving, Durant, Seth Curry, Bruce Brown and Andre Drummond for Game 1 against the Celtics. The opening minutes were filled with physical play and tight Celtics defense. Brooklyn struggled to get clean looks offensively, shooting only four field goals in six minutes of play. In that span, Boston’s defense made Brooklyn play sloppy, forcing four turnovers. At the 6:25 mark, the Celtics held a slim 11-10 lead.

Although the turnovers continued to pile up on the Nets’ side and the Celtics defense locked down Durant, Curry manned the scoring burden, scoring nine points in the first. Boston held Irving and Durant to only eight combined points. On the other side, Tatum and Brown also struggled as Al Horford led their scoring. The Nets took advantage of their trips to the foul line — 11-of-12 — in a quarter that featured 18 total foul calls. At the end of one, the Nets trailed by a point (29-28).

The whistleblowing carried over into the second for both teams. Daniel Theis and Drummond got caught in foul trouble midway through the period, but Irving got a pair of shots to fall to keep the Nets in a single possession game.

The Celtics continued to throw multiple bodies and a surplus of help defense at Durant (seven points) to keep him cold in the first half. Dragic stepped off on a high note in the second quarter. The battle-tested veteran delivered 11 points in 12 minutes to lead the bench scoring in the first half — a first half that included 17 lead changes and 30 combined fouls. Brooklyn capitalized on their trips to the line, hitting 16 of their 17 free throws, with Irving paving the way going 7-of-7 at the line to bring him up to 15 points at the break. At halftime, the score was knotted up at 61.

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Nets had an unacceptable start to the third quarter, which put them in a nine-point hole early in the third. The Celtics jumped out on an 11-2 run built on careless play from Brooklyn to build a nine-point lead with 9:36 left. The awful third-quarter start was costly for Brooklyn throughout the third. Irving (21 points) got going offensively to keep the Nets from fading away.

“We were just not focused. We came out and our energy was not right. They came out to play and that's how they got that big lead,” Dragic said. “I feel like we did respond once we came back. We took the lead in the fourth quarter but unfortunately, it was not enough.”

Despite staying within striking distance, the Celtics proved why they are the league’s best third-quarter team since the All-Star break (Net Rating of +11.8). Boston, behind the play of Tatum, manhandled the final three minutes of the third, ending the frame on a key 5-point swing, to take an 11-point lead into the fourth (96-85).

Irving got hot when Brooklyn needed it most to start the fourth. The Celtics learned quickly that there is no lead too safe when playing the Nets. After back-to-back triples from the superstar guard, the lead was sliced to five and it didn’t take long to get over the hump. Irving’s 8-0 run was followed up by a Durant triple to put Brooklyn back in front by two (100-98) with 7:46 left. The Celtics knotted the score at 107 with 3:16 left, and the outcome came down to the final minute.

In the end, the Nets couldn’t get a dagger 3-pointer to fall and on the other end, Tatum sealed the deal with a buzzer-beating layup to win Game 1 for the Celtics.

“You can look at a number of ways. There are obviously areas of the game where you want to improve so take your pick,” said Nash on where the contest turned against Brooklyn. “I’m proud of the guys. That was our first real, intense playoff experience together. We had a poor start to the second half which cost us. Other than that, I thought there was a lot of growth from our group.”

The Film Room

Kevin Durant did not have a good game. It’s certainly uncommon that we’ve typed that sentence out.

Boston came in with a very clear game plan for removing the head of Brooklyn’s snake: the goal was to suffocate the air on looks for Brooklyn’s best player. Sure, Kyrie Irving shook loose for nearly 40 points, and the Nets as a team were in it until the very end. But Boston’s defensive coverage on KD was among the most aggressive the Nets had seen all season—and maybe the most physical defense Durant has experienced since last year’s second-round series against Milwaukee.

The Celtics made it known early that they would push and tussle with KD on every catch. When the Nets went to the pick-and-roll late in the fourth quarter with Durant screening for Irving, Boston downright shoved KD to blow up the screening action and throw off Brooklyn’s timing on the set.

“I feel like teams are going to be designed to try to take away some of my catches and my opportunities, and I’ve been dealing with it for a while so it’s on me to just keep playing through it,” said Kevin Durant. “I felt like I got them some good looks there in the second half but they didn’t fall, maybe I was rushing a bit. My fundamentals wasn’t down, trying to play it before the help comes and sometimes I rushed my shots.”

Durant’s handle and general shot setup were uncharacteristically sloppy throughout the entirety of Sunday’s game, but Grant Williams does a great job here slapping down on and dislodging the ball as Durant rises up, here.

It almost felt as if the Celtics had honed in Durant’s occasional sloppiness coming out of pick-and-rolls that has plagued him in spots this year, either picking off his passes (which can sometimes feel premeditated) or swiping at his dribble, which Daniel Theis does here, leading to a Boston fastbreak three.

Reminder: Celtics coach Ime Udoka was a part of Steve Nash’s bench just last year. He’s more than aware of Brooklyn’s weaknesses, Durant’s sometimes loose handle being one of them!

With his jump shot not falling, Durant made a concerted effort to get the rim and get some easy ones... yet the Celtics were prepared for this as well. Here, Jaylen Brown takes an admittedly strange route around Andre Drummond’s screen, but Daniel Theis does a nice job keeping Durant and the ball up front to buy his teammate time. Because Andre Drummond is a little slow popping out of his screen and rolling to the rim, Theis is able to hone in on KD for an extended period of time, and Jaylen Brown finishes the play with a tenacious block against KD.

“They did a good job of forcing me away and then helping in the paint. I just got to be more fundamental with my moves,” said Durant. “Just feel like some shots went in and out for me today. I played fast and turned the ball over, I mean, I just got to slow down and play my game. But they did a good job of making me see bodies.”

Durant’s struggles on offense bled into his effort on defense, especially as an off-ball defender. He had some nice sequences at the rim blocking shots from the weak side, but his biggest lapse may very well have cost the Nets the game.

Sure, was it absolutely necessary for both Bruce Brown and Nicolas Claxton to fly by on their closeouts against Marcus Smart? Well, no, probably not. But with the clock at just 3 seconds, that’s a big ask from both players to make such a mountainous snap decision with the game on the line.

No, the biggest crime was Durant ball watching and completely getting back cut by his man, Tatum, for the game-winner. Just an inexcusable error during a game that the Nets absolutely needed to put the pressure on Boston in this series.

Durant will bounce back. He’s too good, too experienced to let a performance like this bother him and affect him long-term. He’ll be back in Game 2, don’t sweat it, Nets fans.

Milestone Watch

With his first four points of the afternoon, Kevin Durant (4,458 points) has moved past Jerry West (4,457 points) into eighth place on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Next up: Karl Malone (4,761 points).

Irving’s 39 points were second most points scored by a Nets player in Game 1 of a First Round series in Nets. Drazen Petrovic scored 40 in the opening game of the 1992 playoffs on April 23, 1992.

And then there’s this, which is wild...

What’s next

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Nets return to action on Wednesday, April 20 for Game 2 against the Celtics at TD Garden in Boston. The game is slated to tip at 7:00 p.m. ET. and will be televised on TNT.

For a different perspective on Game 1, check out CelticsBlog — our sister site covering the Celtics.