The Celtics beat the Nets and took the 3-0 lead in the first round

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NEW YORK – As a general rule, it’s better to play with too much energy early in a must-win game than to play with not enough.

Too much energy suggests a hectic desire to win; not enough hints of indifference. Too much energy can disappear as the competition unfolds; not enough can seep into the cracks of a team like red wine on the carpet.

If there was ever a night for the Brooklyn Nets to come out in a hurry, it was Saturday. After the Boston Celtics 2-0 in their first round series, Kevin Durant and Co. should have been desperate. Instead, they were a flat mess for most of the first quarter, and they were unable to conjure up the offensive rhythm and flow that made them favorites for the title in advance. It never got better in a 109-103 loss.

The Nets made 21 turnovers at the end of the evening, and these were flawed mistakes from a team of players who do not know each other well enough to pull themselves together when faced with a crisis. Brooklyn’s mistakes in the first half included a couple of 24-second violations of the shot clock, a careless pass by Kyrie Irving and a thoughtless lob pass from Goran Dragic to Andre Drummond, which ended with the center hitting the ball backwards over his head. another turnover. At the other end, the Brooklyn Boston guard let Jaylen Brown free for an open dunk on a backcut and repeatedly lost sight of the shooter.

Box score: Celtics 109, Nets 103

The Celtics built up a 12-point lead early in the second quarter and held on to the comfortable victory at the Barclays Center, where they took a 3-0 league lead and established a possible sweep in Game 4 on Monday.

After a couple of hard-fought losses to the Nets at Boston’s TD Garden this week, Brooklyn coach Steve Nash had a clear understanding of the biggest difference between these two teams: shared experience. The Celtics rolled into the playoffs as the East’s second seed, and their core squad has moved synchronously thanks to their previous postseason trips. In contrast, the Transformed Nets still found each other out: Durant and Irving sought their own offense in isolation situations, while newcomers like Dragic, Drummond, and Seth Curry often looked like seat-fillers at an awards ceremony.

“We started the season with one group,” Nash said before game 3. “We had a big trade. We’ve got a couple of guys released. We’ve had Kyrie’s absence most of the season. We had Kevin out for five weeks. We “has had very few pockets with everyone able to play. It’s probably 10 to 12 games if you put it all together. It’s part of our challenge: to try to find some continuity.”

The fact that continuity continued to prove intangible was not surprising, but the assumption was all the time that Brooklyn’s stars would rise to the moment. Instead, the change of venue did not change the Nets’ fortunes.

Irving’s solo act drew only occasional ohh and aahs, and he found himself inexplicably in bad trouble. Meanwhile, a strangely passive Durant struggled to free himself from Boston’s defense for the third game in a row. Nash suggested that fatigue could be a factor for both Irving, who fasts for Ramadan, and Durant, who handled a particularly heavy workload during the regular season.

“You could put it on me,” said Irving, who finished with 16 points on 6-for-17 shots and nine assists. “In terms of playing better, controlling the game better, controlling our possessions, being more in one [defensive] attitude, do not turn the ball so much. “

Durant went down and battled in last year’s playoffs, heroically taking Brooklyn to a game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round despite injuries to Irving and James Harden. In this series, he has been a spectator rather than a driving force.

After scoring 23 points on 24 shots in Game 1 and shooting 4 for 17 in Game 2, Durant finished with 16 points on 6-to-11 shots and did not attempt a free throw until the 5:35 mark in the fourth quarter. For the third game in a row, the 2014 MVP was played by Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who scored 39 points, which received scattered “MVP” singing from traveling Celtics fans and ended the victory with an outburst of bang in the final seconds.

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“I’m just thinking too much, to be honest,” said Durant, who credited Boston’s size for making life difficult in Brooklyn. “I try to figure out how to become the best version of myself and also not get in the way of my teammates. Sometimes I think too much about it. Sometimes I need to go out there with no thoughts in my head and just play. ”

The Celtics, who have arguably been the most impressive team in the playoffs, welcomed Robert Williams III back after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Williams logged 16 minutes from the bench and moved well in his first action since March 27th.

Looking for his own spark, Nash approached Blake Griffin in the third quarter for his first act since April 2nd. Within minutes, Griffin threw a lazy pass on the edge, which Brown returned the other way for an undisputed dunk.

With Irving sitting for an extended stretch of fourth quarter with five errors, Griffin teased three-pointers apart to briefly lift Brooklyn’s mood. But Brown responded with a hiss and scored eight of his 23 points on a two-minute stretch to fend off the rally attempt.

“Our attention to detail needs to be increased,” Griffin said. “It’s for everyone. We all need to take a look in the mirror. The first match at home, your mood must be high. We did not have the right spirit throughout the match.”

The Barclays Center crowd watched Nets topple in astonishing silence, perhaps exhausted by a roller coaster season filled with Irving’s drama, a mid-season deal with Harden, and a seemingly endless wait for Ben Simmons to make his debut after handling a back injury.

Nash said Simmons underwent a three-on-three training session on Saturday without suffering a setback, and the triple all-star striker took the pitch for a pregame training that was heavy on passes and easy on shooting. While Simmons reportedly is looking at a return to Game 4, Nash remained non-committal.

“It’s possible,” Nash said. “I’m not sure. It’s not a normal return to play. There’s a much bigger picture and greater coherence to how he feels, how capable he would be of adapting to the environment. It’s a little different than playing. a match hidden away in the middle of the regular season. “

That mindset makes some sense: Throwing Simmons, who has a tainted postseason track record, into a high-pressure playoff environment for his first action since June would be a risk. Then again, the Nets approached their first home game of the playoffs, as if it were a random night in the regular season, so maybe the Simmons still have nothing to worry about.

“It’s about our character now,” Nash said. “Dig deep and have pride.”

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