You may have heard, the Brooklyn Nets defense has some doubters.
Through two playoff games though, the Nets have been stout in jumping out to their 2-0 series lead on the Boston Celtics.
The Nets have allowed 103.1 points per 100 possessions through two games, limiting the Celtics to 39.7 percent shooting overall and 35.9 percent from 3-point range.
“I see a lot of people comparing our defense now to the regular season, I think every team's defensive effort has ratcheted up in the playoffs with the amount of preparation and throughout the regular season there wasn't a lot of practice time for anyone,” said Kevin Durant. “And that's what you need when you want to fine tune your defense is actual reps. And we were able to get some reps right after the regular season was over. Right after we found out that Boston won the play-in we started getting reps in on what we wanted to do on the defensive side of the ball. Everyone here is capable of guarding one-on-one and helping each other but we needed to actually get some reps in in practice in order for our bodies to go through for it and mentally to see what we wanted to do.”
The Brooklyn defense did have its ups and downs through the regular season, ultimately landing ranked 22nd in allowing 113.1 points per 100 possessions. As Nets head coach Steve Nash has noted, the Nets went thru multiple iterations before arriving in the postseason with a ready-to-go roster. Prior to that, continuity had been an issue and it showed with a lack of consistency.
The roughest stretch on the defensive end for the Nets came as they adjusted to being without center Jarrett Allen following the trade for James Harden. About a month later, 26 games into the season on Feb. 9, the Nets ranked 27th, allowing 114.2 points per 100 possessions.
But as they went on to win 15 of their next 17 games, that number dropped to 111.7. From Feb. 10 to the end of the season, as the Nets closed with a 34-12 mark, their defensive rating was 112.4, closer to the middle of the pack than the bottom of the league.
“We've worked at it,” said Nash. “We've kept on them all year. We have a full complement of players now. They understand what we're trying to do, and when you get in the playoffs, both teams are gameplanning for one another. There's a little bit more of what you're trying to take away, and then the intensity. Our guys are playing really intense, physical basketball. So our defense has gone up a level here. But that's always got to be something we fight and claw like an underdog if we want to perform on that end of the floor.”
Now they’ve tightened things up even further, particularly over the last six quarters after they went into halftime of Game 1 trailing by six points. After shooting 9-of-17 from 3-point range in the first half on Saturday, the Celtics have made 14-of-47 3-pointers, 29.7 percent. Boston’s leading scorer, Jayson Tatum, is 3-for-18 from the field since halftime of Game 1, having to leave Game 2 three minutes into the second half after being poked in the eye.
Durant has been a primary defender on Tatum and his presence alone is significant after he was limited to 35 regular season games. Even when Durant was available, there were times Nash wanted to be cautious and not ask for too much on the defensive end, particularly at the beginning of the season when Durant was making his return from an Achilles’ tear that sidelined him for all of the 2019-20 season.
But there’s no doubt that Durant is a unique and impactful defensive presence with his length and agility at 6-foot-10, disrupting driving and passing lanes and defending the rim with four blocks in Game 2.
“I feel like I've always been a good defender,” said Durant. “Early on in my career, I was asked to score for my teams. And we had defenders that were asked to guard the best wing player, but I felt like I was always helping, learning what help defense is like. It's a journey as a scorer to try to learn defenses in the NBA, especially as an 18, 19-year-old. So I've just been trying to learn from the defenders on my team and my coaches and over time, I think I just gradually got better at it. I'm still looking to improve in all different areas of defense, especially mentally. But I felt like I've always been a — I haven't been a liability. That's probably the main thing when you're out there. You don't want to be a liability, so my teammates trust me.”
Durant has had experience playing alongside premier defenders from Thabo Sefolosha to Draymond Green. While he drew from them individually, it always came back to the team concepts.
“I think I just tried to take from everybody I played with and also know that most of defense is playing hard and being in the right spots, and my teammates, and if we're not on one string, then I'm not good at all as a defender,” said Durant. “As long as we're on one string, then we'll all be pretty solid.”