Kevin Durants Nets spent the entire season searching for answers and they have finally run out of time

NEW YORK – On the verge of elimination, without a win in three playoff games against the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets once again tried to explain what went wrong. Steve Nash said they had turned the ball over because they were in doubt about themselves. Blake Griffin said they did not have the right spirit and have not been a cohesive entity. Kyrie Irving said they were still trying to jelly. Kevin Durant said he did not have much room to operate, did not want to force it and thought too much.

“Just a shit game,” Durant said at the Barclays Center after Brooklyn’s 109-103 loss in Game 3 of his first-round series on Saturday. “Worn game.”

Superstars see fewer double teams and less auxiliary defenses when they team up, and super teams need to make the game look easy. So why have Durant and Irving had it so hard? Is it just that Boston is the best defensive team imaginable? Aside from getting one more stop in the series opener, is there anything Nets could have done to avoid this?

What happened to PG from PG County?

Less than two weeks ago, after Brooklyn’s last game of the regular season. Irving called Durant “PG from PG County (ie the point guard from Prince George’s County) in the locker room and at the post-match press conference. Durant did not shoot well against the Indiana Pacers, but he had a career-high 16 assists. Irving praised him for” letting the game go come to him “and” do not overthink. “

Throughout the season, Durant has seen more extreme defensive coverage than he would prefer. Sometimes teams caught him as soon as he passed the halfway line. The Nets have routinely played two or even three players that the defense ignores. It’s no coincidence that the Golden State Warriors used a box-and-1 and a triangle-and-2 in the first game that Joe Harris missed with his season-ending ankle injury.

At their best, Durant and the Nets were able to capitalize on all that attention, counteracting their subordinate distance with ball movement and timely cuts. In the 523 minutes of the regular season that Durant and Irving played together, Brooklyn scored 122.8 points per 100 possessions. That number dropped to 111.9 per 100 in 111 playoff minutes against the Celtics. Boston denied Durant the ball, took his airspace, took his lanes and made him think.

It is not only the shift and the physical that bothered Durant. Boston is a sophisticated defensive team that communicates, shuts down shooters and uses its length just as well as anyone. And Brooklyn came in its own way.

In the series, the Celtics have attempted 103 shots from 3-point range to the Nets’ 74. Even after Brooklyn hit its long 2s back on Saturday after two consecutive games, where it took more than it did during any regular season game, for many possessions went a familiar path: Durant catches the ball in isolation against a tough defender about 17 feet away from the basket while looking at a full defense, with several teammates within the 3-point line.

You are not going to create many 3s out of this scenario. But Durant is used to finding his rhythm by getting those kinds of touches and getting to his places.

“We would like that [shoot more 3s], “said Nash after training on Friday.” It’s not necessarily the nature of our group. Ironically, we have plenty of good 3-point shooters, but… it’s not all their No. 1 kind of sweet spot, so to speak. ”

Instead of working hard to get Durant the ball inside the arc, the Nets could have gotten him to launch the attack more often. Part of Mike D’Antoni’s rationale for putting James Harden on the ball six years ago was to save Harden from using so much energy “down there in the wrestling match with people who tried to keep him and keep denying and all that. there. ” Brooklyn had some success against Boston when Durant ran high ball screens in Game 3, but this was not the primary strategy. Nets turned the ball over several times in an attempt to throw him entrance passes.

“I think we were just trying to find a balance between him being at the top of the central attack, but also not taking as many wasted dribbles against a wasted defense,” Irving said.

Boston makes things complicated

Last June, the Milwaukee Bucks Durant dared to beat them alone and he was extremely close to doing so. In addition to facing the completely opposite defensive game plan for Boston, Durant was in a radically different offensive environment – in his 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist championship in Game 5, the Nets 43 tried 3 3-pointers. Their “centers”, Griffin and Jeff Green, shot a combined 10-to-14 from deep.

The easiest way to explain Brooklyn’s problems on offense is to point to an old coaching aphorism: Offense is space, and space is offense. Before Saturday’s game, however, Nash easily pushed back against the notion that the Nets simply needed more shooting on the field.

“It’s part of it,” he said. “It’s clear Joe Harris is a loss. But we still have to attack, we still have to play together, we still have to stick to our principles. I thought we saw them on display in the first half [of Game 2] and we slowed down a lot in several ways in the second half .. but I’m very hesitant to give black and white answers because the game is not black and white. “

Brooklyn scored 130 points per 100 possessions in the first half of Game 2. On Saturday, it scored 128.2 per 100 in Durants 22 minutes in the first half. The ugly possessions that followed will be remembered, but the Nets showed they had some ideas on how to attack a defense with few weak links.

On this first quarter possession of Barclays, Irving got the ball to Durant, and then immediately ran off a burn screen from Nic Claxton. Boston switched it and left the smaller Marcus Smart at Claxton. Irving got into the paint, pulled for help and found Claxton in the dunker spot with a lob:

Next game, same concept: Durant quickly gets off the ball, Claxton is in the dunker pitch against Smart, and Irving has room to go one-on-one because Durant and Seth Curry are on either side of him:

Here, Claxton throws a screen for Patty Mills on baseline out of bounds games. Grant Williams and Jaylen Brown confuse the contact, and Durant passes the ball to Claxton, who looks at a cutting Bruce Brown and finds Mills wide open for a 3:

That’s the kind of thing the Nets should do, since they could not go after Daniel Theis or Payton Pritchard. (It’s still unclear, by the way, why they let Pritchard get off the hook in Game 2.) But it’s hard and complicated. The Celtics do not make many mistakes, and when you try to manipulate matchups, you can be up against the clock when you get what you are looking for. Benefits disappear quickly.

Nash said Boston’s defense made Brooklyn indecisive, resulting in turnovers and easy curves at the other end. “We do not play our best basketball, we are not powerful with our actions and have that belief,” he said. No one should have expected this group to turn into the Golden State Warriors team in 2019, conquering the Houston Rockets’ shift plan with constant movement and error correction after losing Durant to a calf injury. However, it would have helped to have fewer outlets like this:

Nets has spent the last six months leading. On the opening night against the Bucks, they started Griffin next to Claxton in front line and played James Johnson, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jevon Carter on the other unit. Paul Millsap took Johnson’s place in the next match. DeAndre ‘Bembry was an important part of Brooklyn’s defense for a while. On Christmas Day, Harden started a streak of four games in a row, scoring at least 33 points and making at least 10 assists. In mid-March, the Nets were reportedly hopeful that Ben Simmons would be back for their last couple of regular season games.

In a must-win match on Saturday, Brooklyn started the fourth quarter with a lineup that had no wing defenders and had never played together: Mills, Curry, Irving, Durant and Griffin. Griffin had been out of rotation since mid-February and he had logged six minutes into one game in the four weeks leading up to Game 3. There was never a moment in the 2021-22 season when Nash’s coaching staff did not have to compromise defense for intervals or vice versa, experiment with imperfect solutions to its dual problems of imbalance in the shift and lack of continuity. Against the Celtics, a team that provides the strongest possible contrast, the Nets ran out of time.

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