The Brooklyn Nets locked down the Boston Celtics in the second half and broke away to a 104-93 win in Game 1 of their NBA Playoffs first round series on Saturday night at Barclays Center.
With a sellout crowd of 14,391 on hand, the Nets opened the third quarter with an 18-4 run to finish wiping out a 12-point first-half deficit and never trailed over the final 20 minutes to draw the early series lead with Game 2 scheduled for Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
Brooklyn held Boston to 40 second-half points on 32.5 percent shooting, including 15.3 percent from 3-point range, at the same time finding its own footing on the offensive end after a shaky shooting start.
“The first half was just so uncharacteristic from a shotmaking standpoint for us,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “That put us in a bit of a hole. But we all had confidence that it would be hard to shoot that poorly in the second half. Still plenty of things to clean up, plenty of things to look at and to continue to get better at. Not a great performance at all at that end of the floor. But plenty to be proud of defensively and plenty to build on down there. I’m sure that’s some of it. You know, I’m sure it’s some of it. But I think it’s more the occasion. Everyone is excited and the place was packed and maybe we just rushed and were a little impatient to start the game.
“So I’d probably say the truth is somewhere in a little bit of that. They haven’t played much together, a little bit that it was an exciting evening for everyone to walk in the gym and see that many people and our fans were outstanding and I just think it was all new, off to a fresh start and we just really weren’t sharp offensively. So, probably a few factors contributed.”
With a three-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Nets locked up the game with a decisive 17-3 run to go up by 17 points with two minutes remaining. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant combined for the first 12 points of that run before a Jeff Green 3-pointer with just under three minutes remaining.
Ultimately, Irving, Durant, and James Harden combined for 28 of Brooklyn’s 31 third-quarter points and 48 of 57 in the second half.
“We didn't want to stop being aggressive because we missed shots,” said Durant. “We tried to tell everybody that like just keep being aggressive and those shots are gonna fall but we got to keep getting stops and we was able to get stops and rebounds and not let them get too many extra possessions. And I think once your energy is focused on the defensive side of the ball it will start to turn for you. You've seen that for us in the second half and we picked it up offensively, but our defense was the reason why.”
Playing his first playoff game since he injured his Achilles’ tendon in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, Durant recorded with 39th career playoff double-double in leading the Nets with 32 points and 12 rebounds. It was also Durant’s 63rd career 30-point playoff game, sixth-most in NBA history.
Irving scored 29 points with six rebounds and Harden had 21 points, eight assists, and eight rebounds. Joe Harris added 10 points.
Boston jumped out to a quick 13-4 lead on a string of 3-pointers and led 21-16 going into the second quarter.
With the Celtics up 32-20 in the second quarter, the Nets ran off eight straight points keyed by Harden, who started off with a runner in the lane, lobbed to Nic Claxton, then made four consecutive free throws to make it a 32-28 game. Boston extended its lead back to nine in the final minutes of the half before Durant’s pull-up jumper and Bruce Brown’s transition finish made it 52-47 and Brooklyn went into halftime down 53-47.
The Nets quickly erased that six-point halftime deficit over the first five minutes of the second half.
It started with Durant’s jumper in the paint and then two Durant free throws. Harden drained a 3-pointer and the Nets were in the lead for the first time since the opening minutes, 54-53. With the Celtics back up 57-54, Irving and Durant hit consecutive 3-pointers, Durant dropped in an elbow jumper, and Harden’s 3-pointer made it 65-57 with seven minutes to go in the quarter. The Nets opened the third quarter making six of their first seven shots and — after shooting 1-for-13 from 3-point range in the first half — four of their first five 3-pointers.
Brooklyn extended its lead to as many as nine points while limiting the Celtics to 33.3 percent shooting in the quarter — 0-for-7 on 3-pointers — and took a 78-73 lead into the fourth quarter.
With the Celtics back within 92-79 five minutes into the fourth quarter, Irving drained a long jumper, then followed with a 3-pointer 30 seconds later. Durant’s steal and breakaway dunk had the Nets back up 89-79 with 5:48 remaining. After a Boston timeout, Irving’s two free throws extended the Brooklyn run to 9-0 and the lead to 91-79. Robert Williams put back a rebound for Boston, Durant hit 1-of-2 for the Nets, and Irving’s rebound tip-in made it a 12-2 Brooklyn run and a 94-81 lead with 3:26 remaining. Green’s 3-pointer put Brooklyn up 97-82 and Irving’s layup gave the Nets a 17-point lead with two minutes to go.
“We didn’t play well offensively,” said Nash. “Some of it was shotmaking, some of it was cohesion, some of it was just, I think, first time out, in the playoffs, with fans, the atmosphere was unbelievable. The fans were incredible. We knew it would be fun to play in front of the fans. But to step out there and see the place packed like that and the energy in the building was unbelievable. There was a little bit of newness in many ways. We weren’t sharp offensively but we found a way. We were tough, physical defensively, we made our share of mistakes but we covered it up with an intensity and a will and held them to 40 points in the second half.”