Game 1 between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets gave us everything we wanted and then some.
The league-leading Celtics defense lived up to its reputation and put on an absolute clinic, switching on everything and forcing Kevin Durant into one of the worst playoff-shooting performances of his career.
TD Garden was buzzing more like the NBA Finals than the first game of the first round. Boston fans did what they do best and took every opportunity to make sure Kyrie Irving knew how they felt about him. Kyrie responded to the constant taunts from the crowd merely by scoring a magnificent 39 points on 12-20 shooting (6-10 from three).
Boston led by double digits for most of the game. They seemed to be in control until Irving and Durant helped Brooklyn climb back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. Their comeback was ultimately stymied by a last-second Jayson Tatum layup, the first buzzer-beater in 386 playoff games in Boston.
The Celtics barely took the first game of the series from the Nets, and every indication is that this thing will go the distance.
Here’s what we learned from Game 1 that can help us prepare for what’s coming.
Tatum, Celtics Outlast Nets In Game 1
Things Got Physical in Game 1
In the first quarter alone, officials called 18 fouls, nine on each team. That’s more fouls called in a single quarter than in any quarter of a game this entire season. Eight of the 10 starters finished the game with more than four fouls. The constant whistles slowed down the pace of the game and made it clear to both sides just how the officials were going to call things.
One key difference between the Nets and Celtics entering this series was their front-court depth. Foul trouble can quickly expose those flaws, which is exactly what happened in Game 1. By the end of the first half, Nets center Andre Drummond had four fouls, forcing Nic Claxton into an extended role off the bench. The Celtics out-rebounded the Nets 43-29 – without their starting center Robert Williams. Al Horford (who’s 35 years old!) posted 20 points and 15 rebounds in 41 minutes.
Playoff games/series are as much about game planning as they are a team’s ability to adjust to the flow of the game. The Celtics are a much more physical team than the Nets. They proved more adaptable to the way the game was being called and took advantage of the Nets’ lack of depth up front. We should expect to see more of this.
Durant had an off night and the Nets almost still won
In what was one of the best defensive efforts we’ve seen from a team all season, the Celtics barely squeaked by with a victory on their home court. Durant and Kyrie combined to score 62 points.
Kevin Durant is one of the most gifted offensive players of all time. He’s a career 50% shooter from the field during the regular season. This season he shot 52% throughout 55 games. In the playoffs, Durant for his career has hit 48% of his shots.
On Sunday, Durant went 9-24 (37.5%) and the Nets lost by one point. Let that sink in.
We should expect the Celtics’ defensive game plan to remain focused on limiting Durant and Irving as much as possible. We should also expect Durant to come out firing in Game 2 on Wednesday and see his shooting efficiency more closely resemble his career averages.
Offensive Imbalance plagues Nets
After Irving’s 39 points and Durant’s 23, only two other Nets players produced double-digit scoring efforts – Goran Dragic (14) and Claxton (13). Dragic’s performance (6-11 from the field) particularly in the mid-range provided the Nets with a much-needed boost off the bench in the second half. The Nets’ next three highest scorers – Bruce Brown, Seth Curry, and Drummond – combined to score 22 points. They’ll need better efforts from their role players moving forward.
The Celtics, on the other hand, had four players score 20+ points in Game 1. Tatum led the way with 31 on 9-18 shooting. Horford and Marcus Smart each contributed 20 points, while Jaylen Brown dropped 23 (and four steals!).
Last season when these two teams squared off in the first round, Jaylen Brown was injured. The Nets’ game plan forced the ball out of Tatum’s hands and put pressure on his supporting cast, a task they couldn’t measure up to. This time around, Brown is healthy. The Celtics are built to create opportunities for multiple players to get open looks. Tatum is the top dog on this team, but we can continue to expect Brown, Horford, and Smart – who all looked incredible on Sunday – to play a huge role offensively going forward.
Grab Your Popcorn
Both of these teams entered the playoffs with legitimate title aspirations. Only one will advance past the first round.
There were moments during the first half when the Celtics had complete control of the game. There were moments during the second half where the pace slowed down and the Nets found their way back into a game that had seemed all but lost.
Down 0-1, the Nets need to win four of the next six games, and at least one in Boston.
If Game 1 is any indication of what’s to come in this series, we’re in for a treat.
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