Kevin Durant’s Nets spent the entire season searching for solutions, and they’ve finally run out of time

NEW YORK — On the brink of elimination, winless in three playoff video games towards the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets as soon as once more tried to clarify what went incorrect. Steve Nash stated they’d turned the ball over as a result of they had been second-guessing themselves. Blake Griffin stated they did not have the proper spirit and have not been a cohesive unit. Kyrie Irving stated they had been nonetheless attempting to jell. Kevin Durant stated he did not have a lot area to function, did not need to drive it and was pondering an excessive amount of. 

“Just a shitty sport,” Durant stated at Barclays Center, following Brooklyn’s 109-103 loss in Game 3 of its first-round collection on Saturday. “Shitty sport.” 

Superstars see fewer double-teams and much less assist protection after they group up, and superteams are imagined to make the sport look straightforward. Why, then, have Durant and Irving had such a tough time? Is it simply that Boston is the finest defensive group conceivable? Aside from getting yet one more cease in the collection opener, is there something the Nets might have finished to keep away from this?

What occurred to the PG from PG County?

Less than two weeks in the past, after Brooklyn’s remaining sport of the common season. Irving known as Durant the “PG from PG County (i.e. the level guard from Prince George’s County) in the locker room and in the post-game press convention. Durant did not shoot nicely towards the Indiana Pacers, however he had a career-high 16 assists. Irving praised him for “permitting the sport to return to him” and “not overthinking.”

All season, Durant has been seeing extra excessive defensive coverages than he would like. Sometimes, groups trapped him as quickly as he handed halfcourt. The Nets have routinely performed two and even three gamers whom defenses ignore. It is just not a coincidence that, in the first sport that Joe Harris missed along with his season-ending ankle harm, the Golden State Warriors used a box-and-1 and a triangle-and-2 in Brooklyn.

At their finest, Durant and the Nets had been capable of capitalize on all that spotlight, counteracting their subpar spacing with ball motion and well timed cuts. In the 523 regular-season minutes that Durant and Irving performed collectively, Brooklyn scored 122.8 factors per 100 possessions. That quantity dropped to 111.9 per 100 in 111 playoff minutes towards the Celtics. Boston denied Durant off the ball, took away his airspace, took away his driving lanes and made him assume. 

It’s not simply the switching and the physicality that bothered Durant. Boston is a complicated defensive group that communicates, closes out to shooters and makes use of its size in addition to anyone. And Brooklyn acquired in its personal approach. 

In the collection, the Celtics have tried 103 pictures from 3-point vary to the Nets’ 74. Even after Brooklyn dialed again its lengthy 2s on Saturday, following two consecutive video games wherein it took greater than it did throughout any regular-season sport, too many possessions went a well-known approach: Durant catches the ball remoted towards a troublesome defender about 17 toes away from the basket, taking a look at a loaded protection, with a number of teammates inside the 3-point line. 

You’re not going to create many 3s out of this situation. But Durant is used to discovering his rhythm by getting these sorts of touches and attending to his spots. 

“We’d like to [shoot more 3s],” Nash stated after follow on Friday. “It’s not essentially the nature of our group. Ironically we have now tons of good 3-point shooters, however … it isn’t all their No. 1 sort of candy spot, so to talk.” 

Instead of working laborious to get Durant the ball inside the arc, the Nets might have had him provoke the offense extra usually. Part of Mike D’Antoni’s rationale for placing James Harden on the ball six years in the past was saving Harden from utilizing a lot power “down there in the wrestling match of individuals attempting to carry him and hold denying and all that.” Brooklyn discovered some success towards Boston when Durant ran excessive ball screens in Game 3, however this was not the major technique. The Nets turned the ball over a number of instances attempting to throw him entry passes.

“I believe we had been simply looking for a steadiness of him being at the high of the key attacking but additionally not taking as many wasted dribbles going towards a wasted protection,” Irving stated. 

Boston makes issues sophisticated 

Last June, the Milwaukee Bucks dared Durant to beat them by himself and he got here extraordinarily near doing so. In addition to going through the exact opposite defensive sport plan to Boston’s, Durant was in a radically completely different offensive atmosphere — in his 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist masterpiece in Game 5, the Nets tried 43 3-pointers. Their “facilities,” Griffin and Jeff Green, shot a mixed 10-for-14 from deep. 

The best strategy to clarify Brooklyn’s troubles on offense is to level to an outdated teaching aphorism: Offense is spacing, and spacing is offense. Before Saturday’s sport, although, Nash calmly pushed again towards the notion that the Nets merely wanted extra capturing on the court docket. 

“That’s a part of it,” he stated. “Obviously, Joe Harris is a loss. But we nonetheless must assault, we nonetheless must play collectively, we nonetheless have to stay to our rules. I assumed we noticed them on show in the first half [of Game 2] and we slowed down loads in a quantity of methods in the second half .. however I’m very hesitant to present black-and-white solutions as a result of the sport’s not black and white.”

Brooklyn scored 130 factors per 100 possessions in the first half of Game 2. On Saturday, it scored 128.2 per 100 in Durant’s 22 first-half minutes. The ugly possessions that adopted will likely be remembered, however the Nets confirmed that that they had some concepts about find out how to assault a protection with few weak hyperlinks.

On this first-quarter possession at Barclays, Irving acquired the ball to Durant, then instantly ran off a flare display screen from Nic Claxton. Boston switched it, leaving the smaller Marcus Smart on Claxton. Irving acquired into the paint, drew assist and discovered Claxton in the dunker spot with a lob:

Next play, identical idea: Durant will get off the ball shortly, Claxton is in the dunker spot towards Smart and Irving has area to go one-on-one as a result of Durant and Seth Curry are on both aspect of him:

Here, Claxton slips a display screen for Patty Mills on baseline out of bounds play. Grant Williams and Jaylen Brown bungle the swap and Durant drops the ball off to Claxton, who seems off a reducing Bruce Brown and finds Mills huge open for a 3:

This is the sort of stuff that the Nets wanted to do after they could not go after Daniel Theis or Payton Pritchard. (It’s nonetheless unclear, by the approach, why they let Pritchard off the hook in Game 2.) But it’s troublesome and sophisticated. The Celtics do not make many errors, and, while you attempt to manipulate the matchups, you may be up towards the shot clock by the time you get what you are wanting for. Advantages disappear shortly.

Nash stated that Boston’s protection made Brooklyn indecisive, which resulted in turnovers and straightforward baskets on the different finish. “We’re not taking part in our greatest basketball, we’re not being forceful with our actions, having that perception,” he stated. No one ought to have anticipated this group to morph into the 2019 Golden State Warriors group that conquered the Houston Rockets‘ switching scheme with fixed movement and misdirection after dropping Durant to a calf harm. It would have helped, nevertheless, to have fewer lapses like this: 

The Nets have spent the final six months searching. On opening night time towards the Bucks, they began Griffin subsequent to Claxton in the frontcourt and performed James Johnson, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jevon Carter on the second unit. Paul Millsap took Johnson’s spot in the subsequent sport. DeAndre’ Bembry was an vital half of Brooklyn’s protection for some time. On Christmas Day, Harden began a streak of 4 straight video games wherein he scored at the least 33 factors and dished at the least 10 assists. In mid-March, the Nets had been reportedly hopeful that Ben Simmons could be again for their final couple of regular-season video games. 

In a must-win sport on Saturday, Brooklyn began the fourth quarter with a lineup that had no wing defenders and had by no means performed collectively: Mills, Curry, Irving, Durant and Griffin. Griffin had been out of the rotation since mid-February, and he had logged six minutes in a single sport in the 4 weeks main as much as Game 3. There was by no means a second in the 2021-22 season wherein Nash’s teaching workers didn’t must compromise protection for spacing or vice versa, experimenting with imperfect options to its twin issues of roster imbalance and a scarcity of continuity. Against the Celtics, a group that gives the strongest doable distinction, the Nets ran out of time. 

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