Fresh off their most impressive road win of the season, the Nets (13-22) hope to finish 2017 on a high note in Boston.
Brooklyn’s defense sparked its surprising 111-87 rout of the Heat at the American Airlines Arena on Friday and Kenny Atkinson will be looking for a repeat performance against the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics (29-10) in the final game of their five-game road trip. Boston is a heavy favorite at the TD Garden, but the team hasn’t played as well as it did when it started the season 22-4.
The Celtics are 3-3 in their last six games, although it’s currently on a three-game winning streak capped off by an impressive rally from 26 points down to beat the Rockets. Defense is the backbone of Boston and Brad Stevens even has Kyrie Irving, a player who used to be criticized for that area, buying in. The team is second in the NBA, after the Spurs, in points allowed per game (98.3).
Still, the Nets played the Celtics well in the opening of the season series between these two teams. Boston was in the midst of 12-game win streak and came into Barclays Center seeking its 13th. While they would prevail, Brooklyn gave the visitors a fight until the end in a 109-102 loss. The game also hinted at the current form of Caris LeVert, who sparked a strong showing from the Nets bench – sound familiar?
Boston could be in for a surprise if it takes Brooklyn lightly.
Here’s Three Things to Watch For:
Key Matchup: DeMarre Carroll vs. Jayson Tatum
Tatum has been better than most would have anticipated and is giving the Sixers’ Ben Simmons a run for the Rookie of the Year award. The former Duke star has seamlessly fit into the Celtics’ gameplan, which isn’t an easy task considering the expectations the team has for this season. In his last five games, he’s averaging 17.4 points and 4.6 rebounds on 54 percent shooting. Carroll won’t have an easy assignment on Sunday.
Carroll will be looking to get back on track offensively. While the veteran remains a solid defender, he’s recently struggled on the other side of the court – converting just 34 percent of his shots (26 percent from behind the arc).
Nets Need to Take Care of the Ball
Brooklyn was almost perfect against Miami on Friday – aside from their struggles in the turnover department. The team committed 18 turnovers in the commanding win and is in the bottom five of the league in that area.
The Celtics have two remarkable perimeter defenders in Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart to go along with two solid ones in Tatum and yes, Irving. That’s how far the former Cavaliers star has come since his trade to Boston.
The Celtics are struggling on offensive recently, ranking in the bottom third in that mark at 103.3 points per game. The Nets can’t afford to give the home team extra possessions or it will get punished.
Can the Nets’ Bench Continue Strong Play?
Brooklyn’s defense against Miami got the most attention, but it was the play of the second unit that sparked the team’s win. The visitors got off to a slow start, falling behind by 10 early in the first quarter, and it was the play of LeVert and Joe Harris that resulted in a 16-2 run. The Nets will need more of the same against the Celtics.
The Nets currently have the second-highest scoring bench unit in the league (45.6), a clear advantage against their opponents, who rank 22nd at 32.6 points per game. They’ll need another strong game from their subs if they want to pull out a victory at the TD Garden.