The Boston Celtics take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Brooklyn Nets after grinding out a 114-107 win Wednesday night. Boston’s defense was the difference-maker in this contest, as it made life incredibly difficult for Kevin Durant once again limiting him to shooting just 23.5 percent from the field. The Nets took command of this game early on, working up a 17-point lead at one point, but after halftime the Celtics buckled down and began executing on offense.
Jayson Tatum hit clutch shots down the stretch and finished the night with 19 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, while Jaylen Brown tacked on another 22 points in the win. It was really a balanced attack from the Celtics as all five starters scored in double figures, and Grant Williams came up big off the bench with 17 points. The series will now shift to Brooklyn for the next two games, as the Nets try and get back in this series against a dominant Boston team.
Here are three takeaways from Game 2.
1. Celtics defense gave KD all sorts of problems
Durant has built a legacy off being one of the most difficult players in NBA history to guard. His unique combination of size and skill make it so his shot is essentially unguardable as he can elevate over anyone and get a clean look off. Each time the ball leaves Durant’s hands you assume it’s going in; that’s just how lethal of a scorer he’s been throughout his entire career.
But on Wednesday night, Durant didn’t look like the guy who’s typically unstoppable as he struggled heavily to get into any sort of rhythm. KD finished with 27 points, but he went just 4 of 17 from the field, and if it weren’t for the 18 points at the free throw line he would’ve had just nine points in the game. That’s insane, and you have to tip your hat to the Celtics defense. This wasn’t just an off night from the future Hall of Famer. This was an all-out defensive assault executed to perfection from the Celtics. Every trip down the floor Durant was met with defensive pressure, either from double teams or just straight up stifling defense.
This was more than just Boston trapping Durant a bunch and forcing the ball out of his hands. The Celtics weren’t allowing any breathing room for Durant to do anything on offense, and it didn’t matter who was in front of him either. That’s what makes Boston’s defense so elite. It has the ability to switch nearly everything, and the Celtics have so much length and athleticism that it’s not entirely surprising that Durant looks flustered on offense. Boston forced him into committing six turnovers as every player within arms length of Durant on defense had active hands trying to frustrate him and get him out of a rhythm, and it worked. This is without a doubt the best any team has ever defended Durant, and it’s going to force Brooklyn to adjust for the rest of the series to try and figure out a way to get him better opportunities.
2. A balanced scoring effort from Boston
This was one of those games that showed you why having great depth is so important in the playoffs. Seven players finished in double digits for the Celtics, and Boston got great production out of its two key bench players in Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard. Williams specifically had a stellar night from start to finish. In the first quarter he and Daniel Theis were the only two players on the Celtics who could get anything going on offense, and kept the game within reach as Brooklyn came out of the attacking gates. His defense was just as noteworthy as he had several solid possessions guarding Durant, and played a hand in forcing him into a couple turnovers.
If it weren’t for the production of guys like Williams, Theis and Al Horford in the first half, the Nets would’ve likely been up by a lot more at the start of the third quarter. But instead, the role players kept the team afloat and cut a 17-point lead into just 10 points heading into halftime. It’s also worth nothing that those players were able to get buckets oftentimes because of passes from Tatum. Though Tatum struggled scoring in the first half, going just 2 of 8 from the field, he racked up five assists and put his teammates in a great position to get easy shots. Tatum’s passing has been one of the key improvements in his game this season, an area where Smart said the team needed him to improve to elevate his game. Tatum certainly took that to heart, and his improved court vision was on full display in Game 2. He impacted the game with his passing in the first half, then began to take over down the stretch with his scoring to help Boston pull out a win .
3. Kyrie Irving needs to do more
Irving finished the game with just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field and recorded just one assist. That’s unacceptable. The Celtics are going to continue to swarm Durant every trip down the floor, and Irving needs to be able to pick up the slack when that happens. The Nets can’t afford for Irving to have an off night because they don’t have the depth where they can rely on guys when the stars are feeling defensive pressure.
Bruce Brown did an excellent job at generating offense, as he finished with 23 points. But that alone isn’t going to be enough. We’ve seen Irving completely take over games, and this was his opportunity to do that while KD was struggling. But Irving looked out of sorts, and nothing like the dynamic guard capable of torching you for 30-plus points on any given night. He wasn’t attacking the rim as much, or creating opportunities for his teammates, and instead was forcing a couple shots and became a non-factor in the fourth quarter as he went 1 of 4 for just two points in the final 12 minutes of the game. That’s not going to get it done against the Celtics, and Brooklyn will have to hope that Irving can get going in Game 3, because if Boston puts the clamps on Durant again, it’ll need Irving to step up.