Despite Kevin Durant's 39 points, Celtics sweep Nets
History would tell you that even if they had survived Monday night’s Game 4 at Barclays Center, the Nets had little chance to advance past the first round of the playoffs. In NBA postseason history, after falling behind three games to none in a best-of-seven series, a total of 143 teams previously tried and failed.
All that really remained to be determined on this night was how the Nets were going to go out, how they would be remembered. And in the end, this was a fitting obituary on their season.
Barely an hour after the Boston Celtics finished off a convincing four-game sweep with a 116-112 victory, Kevin Durant sat down on a stage and was asked to sum up not just this embarrassing ending but all that had gone on in this soap opera of a season.
“No regrets. [Expletive] happens,” he said. “No crying over spilled milk. It’s about how we can progress and get better from here. You see what we’ve been through — a lot this year. Everybody in this organization knows what we went through. No time to feel regret or be too [ticked] off about it. Find a solution to get better, proactively as an organization, and get better.
“Even the great teams, they don’t dwell on what they do. They just try to continue to keep getting better. For us, we know where our mistakes were. We just try to make them into strengths. But we can’t have no regrets on what we did. [Stuff] just played out the way it played.”
Regrets? The Nets certainly could have a few, from Kyrie Irving’s one-man stand against the vaccine mandate that cost him much of the season, to the MCL injury to Durant that sidelined him for an extended period, to James Harden’s run for the exit and the Ben Simmons will-he-or-won’t-he watch.
But even as they exited, Irving was starting his postgame interview with a bizarre rant — blaming the high expectations for the disappointment that enveloped Barclays Center on Monday night.
“I know so many people wanted to see us fail at this juncture, picked us as contenders and have so much to say at this point,” Irving said. “So I’m just using that as fuel for the summer and coming into the season starting from October, and just getting a good start as a team and hopefully we don’t run into any barriers, and we could just start fresh and be realistic with our own expectations and live with our team results rather than be in the polarization of the media scrum and having our names be dragged for a series that naturally happens in people’s careers.”
No matter how he wanted to play it, this four-game sweep in the first round was a far cry from the expectations outside — and surely inside — the organization. And there wasn’t a hint of that on display as the Celtics manhandled them after pulling out a last-second win in Game 1. On this night, as close as it got in the end, the Nets never led for a moment.
Durant didn’t go out without a fight after struggling through the first three games, aggressively attacking from the start and finishing with 39 points. He took 31 shots, making 13, after attempting only 11 shots in Game 3.
The Nets erased a 15-point third-quarter deficit and got within one with Celtics star Jayson Tatum on the bench after fouling out with 2:48 remaining.
But Durant missed a free throw with 22.2 seconds left that could have pulled them within one again. The Celtics raced the other way and Al Horford followed Marcus Smart’s miss for a four-point lead with 13.7 seconds left in the Nets’ season.
Durant missed a three-pointer, and when Smart ran down the loose ball and drew a foul, the celebration was on. Meanwhile, Nets fans streamed for the exits and more than a few of the rally towels were thrown from the stands, a symbolic gesture from the fans, if not the team.
Durant then sank a three-pointer with 2.8 seconds left, and as a “Let’s Go Celtics” chant grew, Smart hit a free throw to put the game away.
Irving receded into the supporting cast and Simmons was not even in the arena, the Nets left to pin the dying ember of their season on the likes of Goran Dragic and Blake Griffin.
This was no mirage. The Celtics were just better than the Nets on both ends of the floor. Tatum, who finished with 29 points, matched Durant even with Durant at his best, and the Celtics' complementary cast was balanced and better offensively and defensively. This was a workmanlike, methodical takedown.
“You know I think when you add it all up,’’ Nets coach Steve Nash said, “it’s hard to say they underperformed because they played so few games together, so little time together . . . I think it would be unfair for me to overreact and say four-nothing in the first round when you add up all the things that went on, the state of the roster by the end of the season, the fatigue, and we could do all the things we went through. And I think it would be harsh for me. We never wanted to give up on our expectations even though we were under duress. At the same time, you have to have a realistic view as well with where we were at the end of the year.”