The Nets were a historically great offensive team this season, but they won Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with hard-nosed defense against the Celtics, who were held to 36.9% shooting, including a combined 14-for-46 effort (30.4%) from top scorers Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.
So the Nets would love nothing better to run back that same kind of defensive effort in Game 2 Tuesday night at Barclays Center, especially when it comes to controlling Tatum, who had 22 points on 6-for-20 shooting but made no field goals in the second half of Game 1. During the regular season, Tatum averaged 29.7 points on 50.7% shooting against the Nets.
"I just thought our intensity was great," Nets coach Steve Nash said after Monday’s practice. "Guys were locked in, the effort was there, the intensity . . . If you have that intensity and fire and will, that covers up a lot of mistakes. That was the most important thing for us.
"Jayson’s capable of scoring any night, so we’re not sitting here like we have an answer for Tatum. He had a big impact on the game, I thought, although he didn’t have a classic shooting night. We know the pressure he puts on our defense, and we go into this game with the same spirit and fire, knowing that’s what’s required to make it difficult for a player of his caliber."
During the regular season, the Nets had the highest offensive rating in the NBA (118.3), averaged the second-most points (118.6) and had the highest shooting percentage (49.4%). But when they struggled on offense in Game 1, the same team that was 21st in points allowed (114.1) and 22nd in defensive rating (114.40) locked down and held the Celtics to 93 points, including a mere 40 in the second half.
The Nets normally have one of the most productive benches in the NBA, but they got only 11 bench points plus just one point from starting center Blake Griffin, who had zero field goal attempts. It didn’t matter because they were so good at the other end.
"I’m glad we played well on the defensive end," said veteran Jeff Green, who often was matched against Tatum when he was on the floor. "There’s been so much talk about our defense. But I guess a lot of people saw that, when our shots are not falling, especially like it was in the first half, we were able to focus on defense and get stops.
"That’s what kept us in the game. That’s what got us Game 1. It’s important throughout the playoffs that we stay high energy on the defensive end because it took us a long way."
Asked specifically what the Nets did to contain Tatum, Green said, "We forced him to take some tough shots. I think he was very comfortable in the first half, and that’s what allowed him to get going. In the second half, people were a little bit more aggressive on the ball, and that’s what forced them to take some shots that were tough for them. I think we’ve got to stay on the pressure because that will make him put the ball on the floor and take contested shots."
Griffin also believes the Nets proved themselves as capable on the defensive end in a game where their own offense was misfiring, especially in the first half. Discussing the Celtics’ top scorers, Griffin said, "There weren’t a ton of shots where they were just missing wide-open shots. Tatum and Kemba are both explosive scorers and are very capable of hitting tough shots, but we’ll have to live with them hitting tough shots.
"I thought we did a solid job, but you can’t expect them to shoot a combined 31 percent."