Lack of team chemistry puts Nets on brink of elimination
Steve Nash doesn’t want to deal in what-ifs.
The Nets are one loss away from having their season come to an embarrassing end. And their coach has taken a lot of heat for the fact that the Nets are down 3-0 in their first-round series with the Celtics.
Still, as the Nets enter Monday’s must-win Game 4, Nash said he never contemplates how differently his team might be playing if Kyrie Irving had gotten vaccinated like the rest of his teammates and been available all season.
“I don’t think about it,” Nash said. “That’s not realistic. It’s not a worthy exercise. We deal with what’s in front of us. We deal in reality. And our reality is the one we’re facing, and if you don’t face that reality with honesty and presence, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
What’s in front of the Nets is a Boston Celtics team that has developed chemistry, an intimate knowledge of one another and good playing habits over the course of an 82-game season. The Nets, by contrast, have been exposed as a team of two superstars, Irving and Kevin Durant, and a supporting cast trying to figure out how to fit in around them.
The contrast between the two teams is so blatant that Irving couldn’t help but comment on it after the Nets’ 109-103 loss Saturday.
“We’re all just trying to jell,” Irving said after scoring 16 points and shooting 6-for-17 in Game 3. “Usually, you’re jelling around the right time. That team in the other locker room is jelling at the right time. They’ve been jelling since Christmas. So for us, it’s a new experience as a group . . . I don’t have a lot of answers for how you make up time from October until now when usually teams would be jelling and things would be feeling good.”
Undoubtedly the biggest reason the Nets are not jelling is that Irving, their point guard, played in only 29 regular-season games. While the Celtics were working out major chemistry kinks in the early part of the season, Irving was watching his teammates play on television.
Because of the vaccine mandate that prohibited him from playing in New York City and Canada, Irving did not play at all until Jan. 5 as the Nets initially declined to have a part-time player. After they changed their minds, he played in only road games until New York City Mayor Eric Adams lifted the mandate in mid-March, paving the way for Irving to play full-time.
Irving, who lost approximately $380,000 for each home game he missed, repeatedly has said he believes he made the right decision by not getting vaccinated. That decision, however, was costly to the Nets in a number of ways.
First, it likely forced the James Harden trade. Remember the Big 3 and the predictions by almost everyone that the Nets would roll into the NBA Finals? Harden might not have stuck around in the long run, but he likely would still be on the team today if he hadn’t felt Irving’s part-time situation was going to impact the Nets’ chances. The Nets gave up a lot to get Harden a year ago, and they have received in return two complementary pieces, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, and Ben Simmons, who has not played a game yet.
Second, the Nets might not look so gassed in this series if they had had Irving all season. It would have helped them weather the knee injury that kept Durant out for six weeks. It likely also would have kept the Nets from falling from first place in January to a play-in game, meaning they could have had an easier first-round opponent.
Nash may not want to play a game of what-ifs, but he agrees it has been one weird season. “I think it would be hard to top last year,” he said. “We just haven’t had any continuity for the two seasons. That’s our challenge. And we’ve got to embrace that and see what reward there is in embracing that challenge and trying to overcome.”
Kevin Durant’s playoff history has been excellent, but he’s having his worst postseason since his initial playoff year in 2010.
Year Team FG% PPG
2010 OKC 35.0 25.0
2011 OKC 44.9 28.6
2012 OKC 51.7 28.5
2013 OKC 45.5 30.8
2014 OKC 46.0 29.6
2016 OKC 43.0 28.4
2017 GS 55.6 28.5
2018 GS 48.7 29.0
2019 GS 51.4 32.3
2021 BKN 51.4 34.3
2022 BKN 36.5 22.0