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Basketball fans tuning into the Celtics-Nets series over the next couple of weeks will be in for a treat, as they watch two of the NBA’s premier scoring duos go to battle.
Boston’s youthful star tandem of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will face off against Brooklyn’s veteran twosome of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in a matchup that has taken place several times in the regular season, but never before in a playoff series.
Brown’s absence from last year’s postseason matchup prevented such from happening, but his presence this time around will allow for an exhilarating 2v2 showdown to commence.
“It’s exciting. What more could you ask for?” Brown commented following Thursday afternoon’s practice, three days before the start of the series. “[Durant and Irving] are two of the best offensive players to touch a ball in NBA history if you ask certain people. It’s a great challenge and it’s something that I’ll be looking forward to, for sure.”
Combined, the four players average more than 100 points per game. Durant and Irving accumulate an average of 57.3 points, while Brown and Tatum put 50.5 points into the scoring column on a gamely basis. But against each other, their scoring numbers were identical: Tatum and Brown combined to average 48.0 PPG against Brooklyn, while Durant and Irving combined for the same exact total against Boston.
Although it will be pinned as a marquee two-on-two battle, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka emphasized that they are not viewing it as such from a defensive perspective.
Yes, Tatum will be tasked with guarding Durant much of the time, but he will have help from his teammates, given that not one single player can slow down one of the greatest scorers of all time. The same can be said about guarding Irving: a lot of the responsibility will fall on Marcus Smart, but Brown and others will contribute to the cause as well, as they try to clog the lane against one of the league’s premier finishers.
“I don’t think we get specific into the one-on-one battle or two-on-two with those guys,” Udoka said of Brown and Tatum. “It’s more so, we understand what we need from those guys in a playoff series, and I think we addressed that early in the season, taking on the challenges on a night-to-night basis. Jayson already relishes that, Jaylen as well, and I think when you have these two high-level scorers, for us, obviously, we’re going to have to defend those guys as a team, individually as well. But how can we hurt them on the other end and make them guard? And I think that’s the benefit of us having two guys that can really get baskets on their own, put the pressure back on them on that end.”
The Nets are focusing on putting extra pressure on Tatum, especially after allowing him to score a season-high 54 points against them in their most recent matchup on March 6. Though, they’re also aware that if they put too much pressure on the three-time All-Star, that will open the floor for the other weapons around him.
“It starts with really slowing JT down,” Irving said earlier this week. “He has a great feel at playing against us, and everyone else around is very complementary to that attack. And when JT’s getting doubled and Marcus Smart’s pushing the pace, JB’s playing well, hitting shots, Al Horford’s dominating offensive rebounds, and Daniel Theis filling in for Robert Williams, it’s big.”
As for how they’ll slow Tatum down?
“That’s a tough question,” answered Durant, whose Nets went 1-3 against the Celtics in the regular season. “He’s one of those players, you just gotta play hard, see what happens. He’s just so talented and skilled and efficient at what he does.”
Tatum feels likewise when it comes to defending Durant. He reemphasized Udoka’s message of not trying to make it into a 1-on-1 battle, though he also takes great pride in guarding the 12-time All-Star whenever the opportunity presents itself.
“Everybody knows who Kevin is and the things he's accomplished and what he brings to this game, but it's a team sport,” Tatum said of the defensive strategy against KD. “Obviously, he's the focal point of their team and you got to compete and game plan and things like that to make it tough for him. That's a tough task, but I’m looking forward to it. It's going to be fun.”
It's going to be a fun matchup in general, seeing two of the top 10 offenses face off over a seven-game series. All eyes will be on those four elite scorers – two star tandems trading blows.