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Nets fall into 3-0 series hole, losing to Celtics, 109-103

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Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Three

The Brooklyn Nets are officially one loss away from an offseason that’s likely to be filled with plenty of housekeeping. But in the meantime, it’s all about head-shaking, eye-rolling and wondering how it came to this.

The Nets were defeated by the Boston Celtics, 109-103, at Barclays Center Saturday night. With the defeat, Brooklyn’s season looks to be nearing its end unless the team pulls off what no other team in NBA history has done: win four straight games after three straight losses.

“We know what it is. I don’t think no speech or anything it’ll do,” said Kevin Durant on the message to the team after falling down 3-0. “At this part of the year, you know what it is. We’re down 3-0. We got another game Monday. Just come out and play.”

This one was in a lot of ways a carbon copy of the two earlier losses.

Boston led from the 3:58 mark of the first and didn’t look back. Brooklyn came as close as three points with just over a minute left in the third but the Celtics answered and capitalized in a fourth quarter that eventually decided the Nets' season. Jayson Tatum, who finished with 39 points (13-of-29 shooting from the field and 4-of-13 shooting from 3-point range) outscored both of Brooklyn’s superstars ... combined.

“I think it’s a bit of everything. Clearly, they’re loading up on him, sending bodies to him, being physical with him,” said Steve Nash on Kevin Durant’s ongoing struggles in the first-round series. “As a team, we shot 50 percent today. It’s the unforced turnovers. I don’t think Kevin has to go off. We shot a good percentage. We moved the ball. It’s the ones we gave up. Poor decision-making, not connecting simple passes that are going the other way. That, to me, has been the difference in all three games.”

Durant, once again, struggled and concluded with 16 points (6-of-11 shooting overall and 2-of-3 shooting from behind the arc) to pair with eight boards, eight assists, and a team-high five turnovers in 46 minutes.

“I felt like the first two games, I was trying to be too aggressive. Team is loaded up on me and is trying to take me out all my actions, I felt like I was trying to still force it the first two games,” said Durant. “So I’m watching film but my teammates were open, they were knocking down shots.”

Durant continued, explaining that he felt he was “overthinking things” versus Boston in the whole series.

“So I felt my approach to his game was to play off everybody, play in the flow of the offense, and let the ball move and find me and that’s just how I finished I mean I was feeling I was making solid reads,” said Durant. “I felt like we had a good flow—probably should have took more shots—but I just tried to play the game the right way without being too aggressive or forcing turnovers, and I didn’t want to get no live-ball one’s playing one on one out at the top. I’m just thinking too much, to be honest, this whole series.”

Durant, who along with Kyrie Irving put up the most minutes in the NBA after the All-Star Break, dismissed the possibility of fatigue.

“I don’t think fatigue set in. I feel good playing. I’m not winded. My body doesn’t hurt. I wouldn’t blame it on that,” said Durant

Irving had another quiet outing with 16 points, three rebounds, nine assists, three steals, a block, and two turnovers in his 43-minute showing.

“You could put it on me in terms of playing better, controlling the game better, controlling our possessions, being more in a stance, not turning the ball over as much,” said Kyrie Irving about his performance. “I had 5 fouls tonight, so you can put it on me more of just doing more and holding guys accountable, same way I’m held accountable.”

Bruce Brown was stellar once again for Brooklyn and manned a heavy scoring load with the superstars getting stifled. Brooklyn’s own “Swiss Army Knife” delivered a team-high and personal playoff high 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field and 2-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc in 40 minutes. Brown also had eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals to go with five turnovers. Blake Griffin played in his first game since April 2, giving Brooklyn a lift to keep slivers of hope alive late in the game. The veteran tallied eight points, a rebound, and several hustle plays in his eight minutes of action off the bench.

“I thought he played his ass off. He really hustled and worked, made a couple of threes, and gave us a lift,” said Nash on Griffin’s impact in Game 3. “We needed a lift, some energy, some life, and a little bit of belief.”

In Steve Nash’s eyes, it’s the unforced turnovers that have cost Brooklyn the past three games against the Celtics, and Game 3 was yet another byproduct of that. The Nets turned over the ball a total of 21 times and the Celtics flipped them into 37 points. Outside of turnovers, Brooklyn shot 50.6 percent from the field and almost edged Boston on the boards (34-33) and points in the paint (50-42). The Celtics flattened the Nets in fast-break points by a heavy margin of 25-9 — a catalyst to the 21 turnovers.

“I think unforced turnovers hurt us in all three games. Uncharacteristically gave up them the ball. I think that’ll be the No. 1 thing,” said Nash on the careless turnovers across the series.

Although KD and Irving dismissed fatigue — and Irving’s fasting at Ramadan — as an issue, Nash mentioned both prominently in his post-game assessment.

“Kyrie’s fasting, and Kevin has had to play 40-plus minutes for five, six weeks after missing six, seven weeks,” Nash said. “We needed him to play 40 minutes (per night) or we wouldn’t be in the playoffs ... So, I’m sure that’s taken a big toll on Kevin. He’s carried a huge burden for us for weeks on end — Kyrie as well since he’s been playing at home and on the road.”

“Fasting, it can’t be easy,” Nash said. “I go play tennis and I haven’t eaten, I feel like I’m gonna fall over, so I can imagine how he feels in an NBA playoff game.”

Ramadan ends next Sunday.

The Nets started Irving, Durant, Brown, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond against the Celtics to tipoff Game 3. Brooklyn’s offense was sparked by their defense in the opening minutes, jumping out to a 12-5 lead behind the play of Brown (seven points) and the off-ball Durant (three points) at the 7:52 mark. Out of the Nets timeout, the Celtics got more aggressive getting to the rim, forcing their way to the foul line, and kicking out to their perimeter shooters outside the arc. After a pair of triples by Jayson Tatum and a thunderous slam by Daniel Theis, Boston manned a 15-14 lead with 6:03 left.

Brooklyn’s defense held strong against Boston until the Celtics were mismatch hunting for their star. Tatum got going early with a pair of 3-pointers and midrange turnaround jumpers to lead all scorers after one quarter of play with 12 points. Brown led the Nets with 10 points while Irving and Durant combined for 13 of Brooklyn’s 25 points. After one, the Celtics held a 30-25 lead.

The second quarter opened with a chaotic set from Brooklyn that resulted in Irving taking a deep 3-Pointer and a shot clock violation. Payton Prichard got the offense going for Boston early, scoring 10 points in eight minutes off the bench to spark a small 4-0 burst by Boston to grow the deficit to nine with 9:54 left.

Brown continued to add insurance to the Nets' stagnant offense, delivering a first half-high 16 points in the first half, but there wasn’t much help outside of him until Claxton got going down low. Brooklyn’s rally, behind the play of Brown and Claxton (10 points), trimmed Boston’s lead down to five points with 3:03 left. The Celtics’ turnovers (seven turnovers into 13 points) and lack of rebounding (18-15 Net edge) in the final stretch of the second quarter fueled the Nets late quarter comeback, pulling within three points (53-50) at halftime.

“Nobody is even remotely happy or content. We’re all frustrated. The guys that have played in the playoffs in a long time know that the series is far from over,” Griffin said. “We have one more game at home. We need to do a good job of coming out ready to play from the beginning. With teams like this, you have to put together a full 48 together. It can’t be 40. It can’t be 44. It has to be a full 48.”

2022 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was an ugly start to the third for Brooklyn, who came out of halftime outmatched by Boston’s hustle and energy. Curry was whistled for an offensive foul on the opening possession and a turnover followed the next time down the court, which sparked a 7-0 run by Boston. The careless play left Nash calling a timeout only 59 seconds into the quarter.

Brooklyn struggled to capitalize despite the Celtics coming up with empty possessions. Drummond picked up two fouls and coughed up two turnovers and Durant continued to struggle to get space. Careless turnovers stunted the Nets and kept the Celtics in the driver's seat midway through the period.

Brooklyn finally got things turned around in the final two minutes of the third. The Nets forged a 7-0 run to get within four points. In that span, Griffin checked in for his first minutes since April 2. After getting within four, two costly Nets turnovers lifted the Celtics' lead back up to nine (81-72) to conclude the third.

In the final quarter that may ultimately decide Brooklyn’s season, Griffin left it all out on the court for the Nets. The veteran nailed back-to-back threes mixed with valuable hustle plays to bring the Nets within four points. The Celtics answered with two of their own triples from their two stars, Tatum and Brown, to expand the leaf to nine (93-84) with 6:29 left.

At the 5:35 mark of the fourth, Ime Udoka used his coach's challenge with hopes of erasing Tatum’s fourth foul. The ruling was deemed unsuccessful, sending Durant to the line and he hit two big free throws to bring the deficit to 10 points. Griffin checked out of the game with eight points in eight minutes for Claxton after the first free throw.

Brooklyn hit the final minute of play trailing by six points after a Mills 3-pointer. The Nets got a stop and on the other end of the floor, Brown got himself to the line but split the trip. Tatum iced the Celtics’ win with a pair of free throws and a transition dunk to send Brooklyn in a 3-0 hole.

“Just character. It’s about our character now,” said Nash on the near-impossible quest of coming back down 3-0. “It’s about digging deep, having pride, and finding a way over the next 48 hours to come back ready to play on Monday night.”

Kyrie Irving thinks Blake Griffin deserves more time

Post-game, Kyrie Irving was asked about Blake Griffin’s performance. Irving praised Griffin and suggested that he needs to get more time. As one Boston write put it...

The Film Room

Boston didn’t have a particularly great game. The Celtics shot just 30.8 percent from three to the Nets’ 41.1 percent. They also turned the ball over 14 times and didn’t quite have the same level of intensity on defense that they had earlier in the series.

Yet, they won on the road. Convincingly. How?

Brooklyn shot themselves in the foot repeatedly in Game 3—a trend that dated back all the way to Game 1’s botched inbounds play. Brooklyn coughed up the 18 times, leading to the Celtics taking 7 more shots. Goran Dragic bobbled a basic pass in the first half. A few players later, Andre Drummond tried to make a fancy tip pass to the corner that was easily intercepted instead of taking the open layup.

Brooklyn was just careless with the basketball once again, simply put. For every run the Nets went on, they’d backtrack after coughing up the rock like Bruce Brown does below with this foolish pass. It didn’t help that the Celtics seemed to have an answer for every Brooklyn run, never appearing as if they were worried that the game would get out of their control.

Below, Blake Griffin, who admittedly had an awesome showing, receives the pass from Bruce Brown in the short roll after Kevin Durant gets trapped. Yet instead of taking the open three, he tries to force a pass to the corner that is easily picked off by Jaylen Brown for a dunk on the other end.

Oh, but don’t worry. These dastardly Nets found a way to blow yet another inbound pass in the final 6 minutes of a must-win game. They say lightning can’t strike twice, right? Well, the Nets appear to be an exception to that rule.

Couple that with an incredibly inattentive defense and you get, well, this. A 3-0 series deficit with a summer of questions ahead.

Celebrity row had a cast of characters

Saturday night, courtside was filled with everyone from Questlove to Victor Cruz to Mary J. Blige to Wanda Durant to Trevor Noah to Gayle King. but the big name was Spike Lee who came to the game dressed in a Jackie Robinson Dodgers jersey and a Dodgers cap. The Brooklyn-born filmmaker and highest profile Knicks fan wasn’t just there to observe. He got into it.

Maybe he just hates the Celtics. A Nets insider said that Lee didn’t go through the Nets to get the very expensive seats next to the scorer’s table.

Blige, meanwhile, offered Kyrie Irving some “encouragement.”

It didn’t work.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Three

The Nets will host Game 4 of the 2022 Eastern Conference First-Round series on Monday, April 25. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:00 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Game 3, check out CelticsBlog — our sister site covering the Boston Celtics.