The Nets had to do this.
They had to come out and destroy the Boston Celtics, which they did, 130-108, Tuesday night. They had to make everyone – especially the lurking Milwaukee Bucks – forget about their incredibly tepid showing in Game 1 of this first round playoffs series.
The Nets aren’t supposed to just win this first round series. According to most sports books, they are supposed to win it all. So, after watching Milwaukee roll over Miami on Monday, the Nets had to find way to let the rest of the NBA know that their Game 1 was an aberration.
They did this by producing the best offensive first quarter in franchise history
They did this by jumping out to a 40-26 lead after the first quarter. They did it by riding the hot hand of Joe Harris, a player who had pretty much been a non-factor in the Nets win over the Celtics in Game 1.
Harriss 16 points in the first quarter were six more than he scored in all of Game 1. Harris, who finished the game with 25 points, was 4-for-4 from three-point range and 6-for-7 overall in the first quarter.
Harris admitted at the team’s shootaround on Tuesday morning that the team had been a little nervous in Game 1 Saturday.
"It was the first game of the playoffs, the crowds back, definitely some jitters," Harris said. "Just a lot of excitement there."
A lot of excitement and a lot of dealing with big expectations.
Perhaps no one has had bigger expectations placed on them than rookie coach Steve Nash, who is trying to become just the sixth first-year coach to win a title since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.
Paul Westhead and Pat Riley did it with the Lakers in the 1980s. Steve Kerr did it with Golden State in 2015, Tyronn Lue with Cleveland in 2016 and Nick Nurse with Toronto in 2019.
All of them took over pretty good teams. None of them took over a team like the Nash’s Nets, a team that was put together to win it all and win it all now. From the moment James Harden was traded to the Nets and the Big 3 was formed, there has just been one goal. Anything less than getting to the NBA Finals, and actually anything less than winning them, could very well be construed as a failure.
Before his second ever playoff game as a head coach – Game 2 of the Nets first round series against Boston – Nash said he tries not to think about the expectation. Yet, he also acknowledged they exist.
"I think they’re there. It’s impossible not to feel them or think about it at times, but it doesn’t lead the day for me. I don’t lead the day thinking we have to win. I lead the day thinking how can we get better."
The Nets certainly got better between Game 1 and Game 2 of this series, and one has to give Nash some credit for that. Nash uses a communication style that emphasizes the big picture rather than the current crisis.
When the Nets were ripping off a bunch of wins in a row, he did a good job of keeping the team from getting emotionally intoxicated with their success. And when they lost more than they wanted to, he found a way to turn it into a learning tool.
The Nets team that too the court Tuesday is going to be a tough one to beat. All five starters plus Landry Shamet scored in double figures, while the team as a whole hit 52.3 percent of its shots. What is more, the Nets much maligned defense held the Celtics to 42.9 percent shooting.
The Nets now head to Boston for two games. Yes, anything can happen. Yet, the way the Nets played Tuesday – both offensively and defensively -- they clearly have their eye on the horizon.