Nets slowly smothered by Celtics' defense in Game 2, go down 2-0 in series
BOSTON — The Nets spent two days answering questions about the crowd at TD Garden, the venom directed toward Kyrie Irving and a promise that it wouldn’t affect them.
And when they took the court Wednesday the roar was there, the derisive and profane chants for Irving loudly resonating through the arena.
But it wasn’t the crowd that did them in. Rather it was the stifling pressure and physicality of the NBA’s best defensive squad as the Celtics shut down the Nets star tandem of Kevin Durant and Irving. The sound of the crowd down the stretch was a celebration for a 114-107 Celtics win and a 2-0 lead for Boston in the best-of-seven opening-round series.
Durant, after a 9-for-24, six turnover struggle in Game 1, finished with 27 points, but was just 4-for-17 from the field — 18-for-20 from the line — with six turnovers again. And in the second half as he desperately tried to find a way to drag the Nets to the finish line he was 0-for-10 with four turnovers. It’s the most field goals attempted without a single make in any half of his entire career (regular and postseason).
Irving, as much as he may have been in the center of the fans attention, was nearly invisible for much of the night, 4-for-13 for a pedestrian 10 points.
“Well, clearly it helps if they have their typical outings,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “But that’s not the only way. I think there’s plenty of ways. Look at their superstars, didn’t have incredible games, so it’s a team sport. It’s a team effort and I think our group’s got a lot of ways where we can improve. It’s important for our group. It’s a new team with little common experiences to go through some of these battles, learn from it and be able to execute under more pressure.”
“It’s on me to just finish it and figure it out,” Durant said. “I’m not expecting my teammates or the defense to give me anything. I’ve just got to go out there and play, watch film. The name of our game is playing extremely hard.”
The Nets might not have expected 39 points from Irving again as he put up through the noise in Game 1, but the two stars combining for just one field goal in the second half was too much to overcome. There were no middle fingers flashed by Irving this time, but the fans and the Celtics silenced him and the Nets in every way.
“Our identity is what it is,” Irving said. “I just believe that even me coming out tonight and I only shot 13 times, I felt like we were in a great position coming out of halftime just as a team. It’s no time for me to look at my individual stats and what I need to do. I want us to continue with that effort. I believe we can do it. We’ve just got to show it.”
Trailing by as many as 17, the Celtics pulled even with 3:09 left in the third quarter on a short shot in the lane by Daniel Theis and that seemed fitting since it was an assortment of unlikely offensive heroes on this night.
With 7:49 remaining Payton Pritchard connected on a stepback jumper from 20 feet out, giving Boston its first lead of the night. After a turnover by Irving, trapped along the baseline, Jaylen Brown drove in for a four-point edge. And when Irving responded with a jumper, Brown delivered a three, setting off a thunderous roar in the arena. Brown came on strong in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 22 points. But for the Nets, Durant never was able to get on track.
“I think they’re being physical,” Nash said. “They’re up and into him, grabbing him, holding him, all that stuff you come to expect. He’s been uncomfortable and hasn’t looked like he’s quite been able to get his rhythm but there’s other areas of the game that we’ve got to improve at. We made some big strides in the first half, played a lot better, and now we have to sustain it for two halves.”
All night it was the secondary weapons rising. Bruce Brown had 23 points. Goran Dragic added 18 off the bench. The Celtics put seven players in double-figures with Grant Williams providing an early lift until Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown took over down the stretch.
“They punched us in the mouth in the first half,” Tatum said. “We eventually responded in the second half.”