Everybody in both NetsWorld and indeed the NBA expected Kevin Durant to have a bounce-back performance in Game 2 against the Boston Celtics Wednesday night at TD Garden. Instead, the elite-level Celtic defense shoved Durant out of TD Garden and back to Brooklyn with the worst consecutive performances of his NBA career.
The Celtics’ game plan against the Nets has superstar has been one filled with harassment and a surplus of bruising. A stone wall game plan that keeps him trapped by packing the floor with physicality that has Durant feeling every bump from the outmatched size and length Boston possesses … even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands! It’s been smothering and saying it’s been uncomfortable for Durant is a complete understatement.
“They’re being physical. They’re up and into him, grabbing him, holding him, and all that stuff. It’s what you come to expect. It’s been uncomfortable,” Steve Nash said. “He hasn’t looked like he’s been able to get his rhythm.”
How bad? By most measured, the second half was the worst of his career, regular season or playoffs. He was 0-of-10 with four turnovers.
Boston’s strategy of stripping away Durant’s comfort level has over exceeded expectations. It’s been a defensive masterpiece sculpted by former Nets assistant coach, Ime Udoka, who has outcoached Nash in all facets. From their matchup zones, ripping away the dribble-drive and dribble pull-up actions, and different double-teams built on size and length, it was a defensive swarm Durant hasn’t battled against in quite some time consistently. The Nets head coach, who commonly praised Udoka’s defensive game plan when he was in Brooklyn last season, has fully utilized his experience under Nash to his own advantage. And the stars know it.
“Ime knows us really well,” Kyrie Irving said. “I think he has some keys in the treasure chest that he’s telling those guys.”
After holding Durant to only 15 points (4-of-7 shooting from the field and 1-of-1 shooting from 3-Point range), three boards, and three assists to put the Nets up 10 at halftime, Udoka made the adjustments, applying even more vicious clamps to the Nets stars, further harassing Durant.
“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.”
He ended with a team-high 27 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field, but his 18-for-20 efforts at the charity stripe was what sweetened his final box total.
What’s the solution with Brooklyn down 2-0?
“Come back and play. Just get ready for work tomorrow and just keep grinding. I’m going to turn the ball over. I’m going to shoot the ball a lot in the playoffs,” Durant said. “Play a lot of minutes. I’m going to be expected to be aggressive throughout the rest of this series.”
A large majority of his six turnovers, which all took place near the top of the key, were due to Durant taking too many dribbles into Boston’s double-teams instead of passing to open teammates along the perimeter or in the corners. He was -19 in the second half and for the first time in his career, Durant has shot under 40.0 percent and registered at least six turnovers (12 total).
This is just one but a majority of KD’s turnovers have been over-dribbling into traffic and not passing out of double teams. All 6 turnovers last night were near the top of the key.— Chris Milholen (@CMilholenSB) April 21, 2022
What else is missing? A lot: Curls, actions, hard cutting, screens, and adjustments in general. pic.twitter.com/9pjE54CL8K
The only negative, if you want to pinpoint one, to Boston’s rigorous defensive schemes on him has been sending the superstar to the foul line — an area Durant has scored 22 of his 50 total points across games 1 and 2. An area Brooklyn has also struggled. Although the Celtics sent the bruised-up superstar to the charity strike 20 times in Game 2, Boston seems content living with that knowing he has to really work to get there each and every time.
The Celtics coaching staff has successfully wrestled with Durant, while they also aced the Game 2 adjustments on Irving, causing desperation on the Nets end. Boston could’ve dropped either or both games at TD Garden but the reality is the Nets head back to Brooklyn in a hole — a hole the franchise has never clawed out of and only 25 teams (302-25) have ever dug themselves out of to advance.
“This isn’t just about Kevin. It’s about our team playing better,” Nash emphasized. “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 Game 2 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.”