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Down 2-0: Nets blow 17-point lead, crushed by Celtics in fourth quarter, 114-107

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2022 NBA Playoffs - Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

When the game mattered most, the Brooklyn Nets superstar duo folded and the Boston Celtics dominated the fourth quarter to seal a 2-0 first-round series lead.

After leading by 17 points and entering the fourth quarter with a five-point lead, the Nets were utterly dominated —- and outcoached on both ends of the floor as Steve Nash’s former assistant, Ime Udoka, made adjustments that won his team the game.

In the end, after being outscored 29-17 in the fourth, Brooklyn was beaten by Boston, 114-107. With the defeat, the Nets head back to Brooklyn Saturday in a dangerous 2-0 hole.

Kevin Durant once again struggled and his play in the first-round series has officially become concerning. After being limited to only 23 points on 9-of-24 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 shooting from behind the arc in 41 minutes in Sunday’s Game 1 loss, the Nets superstar mirrored the struggling play Wednesday night.

“This isn’t just about Kevin. It’s about our team playing better,” Nets coach Steve Nash had warned beforehand. “We didn’t walk away from [Game 1] saying, ‘Well, if Kevin plays better we win.’ That’s not the way we approached it at all,” said Steve Nash after the 114-107 loss to the Celtics Wednesday night. “It’s as a group, what did we do well as a group, what did we not do well as a group, how can we improve those things and play a better team game.

“It’d be great if Kevin has a better game. At the same time, this is not all on Kevin. He’s carried us so far and he’ll continue to carry us. At the same time, we’ve got to support him. We’ve got to play better as a group, and we’ve got to do better in totality.”

Durant concluded Game 2 with 27 points on 4-of-17 shooting overall and 1-of-2 shooting from 3-point range in a team-high 42 minutes of play. He grabbed four boards, dished five assists, had one steal, and coughed up a game-high six turnovers in the loss. His 18-of-20 shooting night from the free-throw line sweetened his final total.

“They’re playing two or three guys on me sometimes when I’m off the ball, mucking up actions when I run off stuff,” said Durant on the Celtics' defense on him. “I see [Al] Horford leaving his man and coming over to hit me sometimes. There are two or three guys hitting me wherever I go. That’s just the nature of the beast in the playoffs.”

Kyrie Irving, who was coming off a 39-point Game 1 performance, ended with only 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field and 0-of-1 shooting from behind the arc, to combine with eight rebounds, one assist, one block, and three turnovers in 40 minutes.

“Ime [Udoka] knows us really well. He coached on our staff last year. I think he has some keys in the treasure chest that he’s telling those guys,” said Irving on an advantage the former Net assistant has in the series over Brooklyn.

And the Celtics coach before the game said as much.

“I think there’s a huge benefit being around those guys coaching, a lot of the same players. There are different players obviously, Harden being gone, the additions that they have but Durant and Irving are who they are and I know their mentality and how they approach the game. So there are some benefits to me seeing how they tick and how they’ve been guarded in the past. As far as Steve and what they’re going to do,” he said.

Beyond the struggling stars, Bruce Brown registered a playoff career-high 23 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists, a steal, two blocks, and three turnovers in 38 minutes. Goran Dragic stepped up again for Brooklyn and finished with 18 points, four rebounds, and a steal in 20 minutes. Shockingly, Seth Curry was the only Net to shoot over 40.0 percent from the field (6-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc) to conclude the loss with 16 points in 31 minutes.

Although the Nets knotted the rebounding battle at 36 with the Celtics, Boston out-assisted Brooklyn 27-16 and took full advantage of their 14 turnovers (19 points). The Nets only converted the Celtics' 14 turnovers into eight points.

“We turned it over 14 times, as did they, but 19-8 off those turnovers. That’s kinda the game right there,” said Nash on the turnover scoring differential. “The live-ball turnovers were a big discrepancy.”

For the Celtics, seven of the eight players who played finished in double-figures, led by Jaylen Brown with 22 points. Jayson Tatum, who had an off-game, was held to 19 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field and 2-of-5 shooting from 3-point range in 41 minutes.

It started well for the Brooklynites. The Nets went with the same starting lineup they used in Game 1: Irving, Curry, Durant, Brown, and Andre Drummond. Brooklyn got a huge boost early from Brown, who went on a personal 9-0 run, to put the Nets up 9-0, and made the Celtics call an early timeout with 9:29 left in the first. Despite coughing up four turnovers in less than four minutes, the Celtics failed to capitalize with a run of their own with the Nets caressing a 10-point lead midway through the period.

After scoring 12 of Brooklyn’s first 16 points, Brown took a seat on the bench, and Durant got going. The Nets superstar tallied 10 points in the opening quarter capitalizing on off-ball movement from the supporting cast to generate a collective offense. Despite Grant Williams scoring the last eight points of the quarter for Boston, the Nets held a 33-24 lead after one.

Brooklyn kept going in the second, converting defense into offense to grow their lead to 14 points at the 7:28 mark. The only offense that was working on Boston’s end was getting to the foul line to remain within striking distance and not allowing the Nets to pull away. Marcus Smart answered with a 6-0 run to get the Celtics within seven points with 6:34 left in the quarter.

While the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year woke up the TD Garden crowd once again, Goran Dragic stepped up and quickly silenced the roaring sellout. The battle-tested guard delivered an offensive takeover of 16 points (team-high at halftime) on 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 shooting from behind the arc in 11 minutes off the bench to grow Brooklyn’s lead to 17.

The Nets couldn’t close out the second, allowing the Celtics to end the first half with a small 7-3 burst to hit the locker room trailing by 10 (65-55). The Nets strong first two quarters of play ended with shooting percentages of 50.0 percent from 3-Point range and 60.0 percent shooting from the field.

Boston held the upper hand to begin the third and the momentum started to swing ... fast. The Celtics jumped out on an extended 23-10 run, off careless mistakes by the Nets, slicing Brooklyn’s lead down to four points with 8:09 left. Luckily for the Nets, the team got the Celtics in the bonus at the 6:54 mark.

“I think our intensity dropped a little bit in the second half. That made a big difference,” Nash said. “I thought they continued to be physical and we also didn’t convert. We had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t convert.”

“I agree in part with that assessment with Steve, in terms of our intensity, but us as players on the court, we’ve got to control that and rise to the occasion,” Irving said. “Simple as that.”

The momentum continued to build for the Celtics, and after a 7-0 run, Boston knotted the contest up at 79 entering the final three minutes of play — a span during which Nash declined to call a timeout. Brooklyn went on a 7-0 run to expand their lead to seven points but Boston’s late defensive stand resulted in a five-point lead (90-85) for the Nets heading into the fourth quarter. The Nets simply couldn’t sustain things on either end while the Celtics played like insurgents.

The start to the fourth proved disastrous for Brooklyn. The Celtics manned a 10-0 run behind the hot play of Jaylen Brown and took their first lead of the game after Payton Prichard nailed a 20-foot jumper with 7:34 left on the game clock.

It remained ice cold on the Nets' end, scoring only six points in six minutes of play, resulting in the Celtics holding a 101-96 lead with 3:32 left. Shortly after, Nash and the Nets used their coach's challenge, which was quickly ruled unsuccessful. Brooklyn couldn’t string together any buckets or a counter punch, leaving TD Garden with a seven-point defeat and in a 2-0 series hole — a hole only 25 teams have come out of all-time (302-25).

The Film Room

It was another tough outing for Kevin Durant.

KD’s 27 points were deceptive; the Celtics, once again, forced Brooklyn’s best player into a hugely uncharacteristic showing. Here’s a crazy stat courtesy of StatMuse to characterize just how brutal of a series this has been for KD.

The Celtics, once again, made it a point of emphasis to send multiple bodies Durant’s way on his post-ups and isolations. Jaylen Brown, in particular, has had an easy time ripping away steals from KD as he prepares his spin moves. Notice how Brown makes his move right as Durant turns his body to prepare for the fadeaway. What’s also worth noting is just how much Jaylen ignores Bruce Brown the entire possession, a trend that tracks back to Game 1.

“They’re doing a good job of trying to cut off my scoring, trying to limit my shotmaking. So two or three people contest or somebody’s there in the lane when I’m driving,” said Durant. “They might double here and there, so they’re doing a good job. That’s on me to figure it out.”

Postgame, Kyrie Irving ventured that Boston was doing a great job taking away Durant’s “open space” as a shot creator with sound help positioning, and that was the big key to slowing down the supernova star in the series.

“They’re really emphasizing on being a help position. And when you’re a great scorer, or you’re a consistent scorer where you’re used to seeing an open space and you’re shaking guys with one or two moves,” explained Kyrie Irving, “with this defense, those one or two moves, guys are staying on your hip. They’re doing a great job of contesting our pull-ups, making sure that we don’t get some open looks.”

But at a certain point, Durant just needs to be better. His protection of the basketball was just completely lackluster in Game 2, and he rarely looked to pass to his teammates. Here, he basically places the ball in front of him and practically begs Jaylen Brown to pick off the steal.

We hate to state the obvious here, but the Nets are going nowhere fast if Durant continues to have outings like this.

“It’s on me to just finish it and figure it out,” said Durant. “I’m not expecting my teammates or the defense to give me anything, I just gotta go out there and play.”

Milestone Watch

There’s only one and it’s not good. ESPN Stats and Info reports Kevin Durant in the second half of Game 2 was 0-of-10 overall, with four turnovers. That’s the most field goal attempts without a single make in any half of his entire career (regular & postseason).

Considering everything, it’s fair to say the second half of last night’s game was the worst he’s ever played.

Then. there’s this stat from ESPN that might explain a lot of things...

Sitting courtside near the Nets bench at TD Garden

It was a stellar array and yet another instance where Joe Tsai has followed the team to key games. The lineup...

  • Joe Tsai, Nets co-governor and executive vice-president of Alibaba;
  • Rich Kleiman, Kevin Durant’s agent and manager;
  • Wanda Durant, Kevin’s mother;
  • Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard historian and host of “Finding Your Roots” on PBS

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

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

The Brooklyn Nets will host Game 3 at Barclays Center on Saturday, April 23. The game is slated to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN.

For a different perspective on Game 2, check out CelticsBlog — our sister site covering the Boston Celtics.