There’s no mystery about what the Nets have to do to right their ship starting with Game 3 on Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn. They have to match the Celtics on defense, get more players involved and figure out a way to help Kevin Durant get back on track.
Of the three, the third is most critical. KD is coming off the worst half of his basketball career. In the third and fourth quarters, he was 0-of-10 with four turnovers. Without Durant, they don’t stand a chance, as everyone including Durant and his head coach, Steve Nash, acknowledge.
“It’s on me to just finish it and figure it out. I’m not expecting my teammates or the defense to give me anything. I just got to go out there and play,” Durant said.
“I’ve just come back and play. Get ready to work, just keep grinding. … I’m going to be expected to be aggressive throughout the rest of this series, so control some of that stuff and look at film and keep playing.”
The numbers, as Brian Lewis points out, are, in a word, shocking.
He’ll come into Game 3 shooting just 31.7 percent with a dozen turnovers and eight assists, the first time in his career that he’d ever hit under 40 percent and committed six-plus turnovers in consecutive games.
Ime Udoka’s defensive scheme, which involves physical, near abusive, play primarily by the Celtics young players, with veteran Al Horford providing leadership on court.
“They’re mucking up actions when I run off stuff,” said Durant, who singled out Horford for “leaving his man to come over and hit me sometimes.” adding “Just two or three guys hitting me wherever I go. And that’s just the nature of the beast in the playoffs.”
Of course, Durant is just one player and Kyrie Irving who himself went from 39 points and dominance to 10 points and frustration, thinks one way to help KD is having everyone else step up.
“It’s not all on Kev. I take accountability. Everybody on our team takes accountability,” Kyrie Irving said. “I’ve got to get him to his spots and make the game a lot easier. I believe I can do that with the assistance of my other coaches, having a game plan to attack this defense.”
Indeed, other than Bruce Brown and Goran Dragic in Game 2, none of the Nets rotation has picked up the slack, which admittedly is not a simple prescription. Seth Curry has disappeared from the offense at times and fans complain Nash’s rotations often find contributors like Dragic Wednesday night on the bench for too long.
Then, there are the questions about Nash and his reliance on his two superstars for everything from scoring to leadership. The Nets are the league’s most iso-heavy team while the Celtics are much more of a system team. Everyone recognizes it.
“They’re just packing in whoever’s on the nail. The person in the middle and whoever’s on the nail is just standing there. The supporting cast has to be better for them. Cut, get off the wing and just be ready to shoot the ball,” said Bruce Brown, who — along with Seth Curry and Patty Mills must space the floor better.
“Yeah, definitely. Sometimes we can cut off the wing so [Durant] can have more space to get to his spot instead of having to shoot over two people every time. … But we’ll figure it out.”
But is it too late? Is the die cast?
As Barbara Barker of Newsday notes in her column Friday, the Nets are what they are now 85 games into the season.
Noting that Nash wasn’t hired as a traditional coach, and the famous comments by Durant and Irving about the need for collective leadership at the beginning of last season, she wonders how things can change.
Suffice to say, when the Nets fell apart in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in Boston, they could have used a traditional head coach.
Ian O’Connor of the Post agrees.
The biggest mismatch of the NBA postseason so far is Nash versus his former Nets assistant, Ime Udoka, the rookie head coach of the Celtics and a man who learned the trade under Gregg Popovich. Udoka has absolutely run a defensive clinic in these first two games.
But that is a question for another time, not in the current moment. Should the Nets survive Saturday afternoon, Ben Simmons is expected to arrive for Game 4 on Monday. But he hasn’t play since last June, has been pain free for maybe two to three weeks and has yet to practice with anyone other than the “stay ready” group.
Still, he may very well be, even in limited minutes, what the Nets need: a facilitator with the best court vision on the roster. His defense, of course, could be a huge help but it’s also clear he won’t be the savior, not this late in the game, literally and figuratively.
So the hope is that KD working with Irving, Brown et al, and Nash, figure a way out of Udoka’s game plan in Game 3, then see what Simmons can do to help in Game 4 ... and hopefully beyond.
“To be honest with you, we don’t really have time to be disappointed,” Irving said.
- Kevin Durant knows he must be better against more physical Celtics - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Steve Nash must elevate game for Nets to overcome 2-0 hole - Ian O’Connor - New York Post
- Kevin Durant’s mom goes off on ref during Nets’ Game 2 loss to Celtics - Jenna Lemoncelli - New York Post
- Steve Nash not giving Nets enough bench points - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- The Nets May Be in Trouble. But They Still Have Kevin Durant. - Scott Cacciola - New York Times
- Nets’ Ben Simmons set to make season debut in Game 4 of Boston series: Sources - The Athletic