The road ahead will get tougher from here. On Sunday night, the Brooklyn Nets were in Florida to face the always tough Miami Heat. The game came down to the final seconds, and Royce O’Neale came through with a clutch offensive rebound and putback to escape South Beach with a win. There was an unfortunate development in this game, and we’ll get to it in a bit.
The Boston Celtics are trying to be the first Eastern Conference team to have back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals since the LeBron James era (version 2) Cleveland Cavaliers. The C’s have been the best team in the NBA, but they’ve dealt with a few hiccups here and there. Boston pushed their current winning streak up to four games with a victory over the New Orleans Pelicans last night.
Where to follow the game
All eyes on us as this game is on TNT. The game will not be carried on YES. WFAN has us on the radio side. Tip after 7:30 PM.
Kevin Durant left Sunday night’s game after Jimmy Butler fell into his knee. He underwent testing when the team returned to Brooklyn and he will be out for a few weeks. Nic Claxton is probable with a left shoulder impingement. Brooklyn will be getting some reinforcements from the Long Island Nets as David Duke, Jr., Kessler Edwards, and Alondes Williams are with the big club tonight.
Danilo Gallinari is out as he continues to recover from an ACL tear he suffered in Eurobasket. Marcus Smart left Saturday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs with a knee contusion. He's missed the last two games and his status for tonight is up in the air. Robert Williams III missed last night's game for left knee injury maintenance. His status for tonight is unknown.
Boston won the first game on December 4.
If there’s any advantage for the Nets, it’s that this is the second leg of a back-to-back and third game in four nights for the Celtics. Even if the C’s might be a little fatigued, they’ve got talent up and down the roster and a showcase game like this always gives you a little extra juice.
You can’t replace Kevin Durant. It’s impossible. Durant has played at an MVP level and it will be up to everyone on the team to hold the fort down while he recovers. TJ Warren figures to take on a bigger role, and we’ll see if Jacque Vaughn ups his minutes total. Warren has been a solid contributor off the bench for the team and is someone who can get their own shot.
Vaughn won't play Warren superstar minutes, so look for Joe Harris to see a lot of time on the court as well. Harris has been much better as a starter (47 percent from the field and 46 percent from three point range) as compared to coming off of the bench (33.8 from the field and 24.1 percent from three point range).
A national TV showcase will do wonders for the Nic Claxton All Star campaign. Clax had his usual excellent game with 13 points, ten rebounds, and three blocks in 30 minutes. He’s held the interior down for the Nets all season long, and he’s due for a battle tonight. The Celtics have been rolling with a two big lineup now that Robert Williams, and it’s got a fan in Malcolm Brogdon:
“I think it’s just knowing your personnel, knowing how other teams are going to guard you. It’s really how the other team is guarding you, whether they’re going to drop back, whether they’re switching or not, one through five, or one through four. That’s the challenge of having a five man like Al that can pop and a five man like Rob that rolls and puts pressure. The defense has to constantly adjust.”
Williams did not play in the first game, and we’ll see if he’s on the court tonight. If both bigs are out there, the Nets will have to work even harder to secure the boards.
Jaylen Brown had himself a great Wednesday evening. He lit the Pelicans up for 41 points on a .714/.500/.889 shooting split. Brown has given the Nets fits over the years and cut em up to the tune of 34 points, ten rebounds, four blocks, two steals, and two assists in the first meeting. Brown’s size on the wings will make it incredibly unlikely the Nets go with a small guard lineup tonight. Nets fans still have nightmares from last year’s first round matchup.
This is the first extended run for Kyrie Irving as the lead option on the Nets since the 2019-2020 season. Over the next few weeks, defenses will pay even more attention to Irving as they try to fluster a sparkling Brooklyn offensive attack. Irving struggled in game one as he only went 7-21 from the field (1-5 from three point range). Irving is a tremendous finisher at the basket, but the Celtics don’t allow many shots near the rim. Boston has only allowed 23 shots per game inside of the restricted area, third lowest in the NBA this season. Irving made four layups in the first game, but the Celtics heavily contested each of those attempts.
Player to watch: Jayson Tatum
Say hello to one of the MVP frontrunners. Tatum is fourth in the NBA in scoring at a shade under 31 points a game on .471/.358/.871 shooting in 36 minutes a night. Tatum is able to do everything on the court you can ask for and as the superstar of the team, he has them in great position to bring the gold back to Boston. He had 29 points and 11 rebounds the first meeting against Brooklyn, but turned it over a career high nine times that night. It was uncharacteristic for a player and team that takes tremendous care of the basketball (Boston has the fourth lowest turnover rate in the league). Tatum will have his adjustments and it will be up to the Nets defense to force him into tough spots.
With Durant out, all eyes turn to Ben Simmons. Simmons missed the first meeting against the Celtics due to a calf strain. He’s helped the Nets defense become one of the league’s very best as he’s fit in well for the most part on that end. Without Durant, a lot more will be asked of him on the offensive end. And with that ask comes greater attention on when he takes his field goal attempts...
That ain’t gonna cut it. Everyone has to do a little bit more, and that starts with Ben. As Lachard Binkley explained over at the mothership:
Do the Nets need him to start scoring 20 points a game? Of course not, but they need him to increase his offensive output and at least become a threat on the offensive end. More than anything, they need him to help get his teammates easier shots. The gravity Irving and Durant draw is usually the Nets best offense, making it easier for everyone on the court with them. Of course, most of that falls on Irving with Durant out, but he can’t shoulder the entire offensive load.
Simmons is also averaging a career-low in assists at 6.0, but with Durant out, he needs to bring back some of the playmaking skills that made him an All-Star. At his peak, Simmons could control every aspect of the game. He was a dynamic passer, an elite defensive player who could guard any position and a force on fast breaks. We have seen glimmers of that this season, but now is the time for him to approach All-Star Ben Simmons if the Nets are to stay near the top of the East.
True indeed. All of the preparation and hard work to make it back to this point will need to shine through for Simmons.
DraftKings Odds [via Tom Lorenzo]
Brooklyn Nets +3 [ML +130]; O/U 228
Betting on this one is going to be tough. First, you have the Boston Celtics coming off a home win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night, so this is going to be night 2 of a back-to-back for them.
Second, you have the Brooklyn Nets first attempt at life after Kevin Durant, as he’s out with an MCL injury.
I think even though the Nets won’t have KD that the OVER will be easy to hit at 228. You have two of the best offensive teams going head-to-head, it’s hard to see where we’ll find ourselves hitting the under on this one. I feel more confident in the O/U and taking the OVER than I do in predicting a winner.
The Nets are still a very good team without Durant. They’ll have to rely on their bench to pull some of the weight that they’ve been sorely missing all season. I don’t think they have enough, however, to do so against (arguably?) the best team in the NBA. So I am going to take the Celtics with the +3 on this one, but I see it being a high-scoring affair.
From the Vault
And speaking of being a while, it’s been a while since the Nets last beat the Celtics
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.
More reading: Celtics Blog
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- Boston Celtics Game Notes - Boston Celtics
- Nets get first taste of life without KD when they host Celtics - STATS
- Boston visits Brooklyn following Brown’s 41-point game - AP
- Jacque Vaughn’s message to Kevin Durant-less Nets: ‘no excuses’ - Peter Botte - New York Post
- Kevin Durant’s injury doesn’t change Nets’ plan for T.J. Warren - Peter Botte - New York Post
- Nets won’t make excuses, will adapt to Kevin Durant’s absence - Denis P. Gorman - Newsday
- What changes for the Nets with Kevin Durant out? - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Without injured Kevin Durant, Nets must forge ahead as mid-season mark approaches - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic
- Nets coach says mission ‘doesn’t change’ without Kevin Durant - Nick Friedell - ESPN
- Can the Nets stay afloat with Kevin Durant out? (Video) - The Hoop Collective - ESPN
- NBA Insider says Nets will survive Kevin Durant’s two-week absence - Ian Begley - SNY
- Practice Report: the mood and the plan without Kevin Durant - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown punish Pelicans, and they are becoming the most dominant duo in the NBA - Gary Washburn - Boston Celtics