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Win or go home: Nets try to avoid the sweep vs. Celtics in Game 4

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

48 minutes. 48 minutes from either the Brooklyn Nets extending their season one more night or watching everything they dreamed of go up in flames. On Saturday night, they had a chance to get back into this first round series with the Boston Celtics. The crowd was hyped and ready to tear the roof off the Barclays Center. Unfortunately for the hometown crowd, the team didn’t meet the moment and they lost another one, this time by six points. They’re down 3-0 and it looks like a dream season is turning into a nightmare.

Read about Game three from our friends at CelticsBlog here.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and TNT on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7:30.

Injuries

No Joe Harris. We thought Ben Simmons would be making his debut, but that won’t be happening after all. More on that momentarily.

All clear for the C’s.

The game

Amazingly, the odds are in the Nets favor for this one. It’s hard to sweep teams, so maybe the Nets have one more push left in them.

Steve Nash and the coaching staff made a tweak to the rotation and got Blake Griffin into the lineup for a few minutes on Saturday night. It worked wonderfully as he knocked down some threes, played his heart out, and gave the fans plenty to cheer for. We’ll see if BG will be back on the court tonight. Andre Drummond hasn’t had a good series and Nic Claxton can’t play all 48 minutes, so maybe Griffin will be back out there again. For Drummond in particular, when he’s on the court, he HAS to clean up on the boards. He only grabbed three rebounds in 15 minutes, and that’s not gonna cut it. The Nets need more from him and when he’s on the court, he has to clean up the boards. And not do this

Eek. If Griffin is back on the court and can help space things out, that might give the Nets some more room to work with.

Hey, Time Lord’s back! Robert Williams came back from his knee injury a lot earlier than expected, and looked pretty dang solid in his 15 minutes of action on the court. Williams takes an already elite Celtics defense and makes them even more daunting. The Nets have had some success in the occasions that they’ve targeted Daniel Theis, but they’ve been few and far between. Having a roll man like Williams that can finish well at the rim opens up another option for Ime Udoka’s offense, and that’s one more problem the Nets have to solve.

By and large, the Nets don’t tell us anything or just lie when they do say something. They keep things close to the vest, and that’s their right. However, when things go haywire, the cloak and dagger routine winds up pissing people off. And with that, we have to talk about Ben Simmons.

From all of the available reporting and even from the man himself, Simmons was a sure bet to debut this series, but that won’t be happening as his back issues came back up. Throughout the process, the Nets said he needed to clear various tests, multiple practices, ramp up, get some work with the stay ready group, full 5-on-5 practices, etc. etc. etc. We all thought he would be back, but alas.

Simmons never seeing the court is a failure on all levels. When James Harden quit on the Nets and forced his way to the Philadelphia 76ers, getting something back for him was important, but getting somebody who could help now and fill in the team’s holes was even more important. Seth Curry has been a wonderful Net and done an admirable job since coming here and Drummond has been fine enough, but the headliner was Simmons. Simmons was supposed to be the last piece that allowed the Nets to finally be the best version of their 2021-2022 selves. At the time, I wrote:

And most importantly, they get a star in Ben Simmons that can jumpstart the team, solve their issues with rebounding and switching on defense, plus give them a star that can be a part of their future.

Curry explained it better:

“A big, long body defensively, guards all five positions, hopefully provide some pace, rebounds and transition game, and some playmaking and physicality.”

Simmons would have solved just about every problem that has popped up in this series for the Nets. With the Nets likely about to get swept, his absence looms even larger and is the perfect lead in to another offseason of uncertainty in Brooklyn. To some, playing someone that’s been out when the team is down 3-0 would be foolish or malpractice. I get their logic, but fuck that. If you’re healthy, ready to contribute, and not at risk of further injury, then you should play in the playoffs.

The Nets have spent all year biding their time until the playoffs, and now that they’re where they wanted to be all along, they’re about to get knocked out in unceremonious fashion. This entire season should cause the organization to reflect on: how they communicate injuries and timelines with the fanbase, how serious they take the regular season, accountability, roster construction and maximizing their financial strengths, what future they see themselves building, etc. Failure often leads you to reassess everything, so we’ll see where the road takes us from here.

The playoffs are when all of your regular season habits show itself, and for the Nets, that means incredibly dumb turnovers. The Nets coughed it up 18 times in Game three and Boston got 37 points off of those turnovers. Playoff series are won on the margins, and Brooklyn has lost on the margins each game. They just haven’t taken care of the rock and it’s bitten them in the butt over and over again. And to make matters worse, their turnovers are live ball turnovers which have lead to easy Boston buckets. If they want to pull off the impossible, they have to start there.

In the postgame, Blake Griffin said the following:

If and when things get blown up around here, that quote will DEFINITELY be something we think back to.

When Kyrie Irving is getting downhill, good things happen. When he’s forced to settle for difficult jump shots, the Nets offense gets stuck in the mud and they can’t get good looks. Irving went 0-7 from three point range on Saturday night and has gone cold after an incredible G1. He hasn’t made a three in two games and since the outside game isn’t working, you’ve gotta find a way to make it happen close to the rim. A lot of that is due to spacing, and that could be where some lineup tweaks could help spring him some more looks. When he does get those open looks and advantageous matchups, he has to cash in on all of them. Have to make the most out of whatever opportunity comes your way.

Player to watch: Jayson Tatum

Tatum has done everything you can ask of your franchise player. He’s made timely plays, given maximum effort, and has played lockdown defense. After the game, he mentioned that there’s some things the team can still be better at, and I think the turnovers could be what he’s hinting at. Tatum was awesome on Saturday, but he did turn it over six times, tying a playoff career high.

When your superstar is playing to standard, your team will go far. When they aren’t, you find yourself way down in the hole. Kevin Durant just hasn’t been able to solve this Celtics defense at all, and time is running out. In our G3 preview, we noted that KD continually hitting the open man instead of forcing it would help the Nets offense. On the one hand, he handed out eight assists. On the other, he turned it over five times and took only 11 field goal attempts in 47 minutes. He spoke about it in the postgame and said:

“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. 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.”

In any environment, once you start overthinking, it’s hard to stop. You start wondering what you need to do to get things back to normal, how to find your rhythm, and seeing ghosts that aren’t there. Once you’re in it, you’ve gotta pause, recollect your thoughts, and get back to doing what you do well.

For Durant, he’ll try to strike the right balance of making the right basketball play and getting his shot, tough defense be damned. The 11 field goal attempts were the lowest he’s had in a playoff game since April 24, 2017 as a member of the Golden State Warriors against the Portland Trail Blazers, and KD didn’t even play in the 4th that game. With the Nets about to get knocked out at home, Durant will get one more chance to crack the code that is the Boston Celtics defense. If you go down, go down fighting.

From the Vault

Snowfall wrapped up season five last week, and they broke out “In the Air Tonight” in one of the most dramatic moments of the series. The song is perfect any time, so what time better than the present to run this jam?

More reading: CelticsBlog

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