The Brooklyn Nets scored 141 points on 98 possessions in Game 4 of their their first round series with the Boston Celtics on Sunday, taking a 3-1 series lead with a comfortable, 141-126 victory. That rate of 143.9 points per 100 possession was the sixth most efficient game for any team in a playoff game in the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data. The Nets shot 58% from the field, 16-for-27 (59%) from 3-point range, and 29-for-30 (97%) from the free throw line.
Kevin Durant (42 on 20), James Harden (23 on 12) and Kyrie Irving (39 on 24) had almost twice as many points (104) as field goal attempts (56). It was a ridiculous offensive performance.
The Nets led by as many as 27 points and the Celtics were never within 12 at any point in the second half. But the Nets’ stars remained on the floor until the final minute of the fourth quarter, each logging about 40 minutes of playing time. Despite a historic performance on one end of the floor, the game never got totally out of hand, because Boston had one of its most efficient performances of the season.
The Celtics were playing without three starters — Jaylen Brown (out for the season), Kemba Walker (left knee bone bruise) and Robert Williams (left ankle sprain) — on Sunday. But their 126 points on 97 possessions (129.9 per 100) made for the second most efficient playoff game for a losing team in the last 25 years.
And with the knowledge that the Nets will have to be better defensively if they want to win a championship, let us nitpick a 15-point, road playoff win …
Picking on Griffin
From the start of Game 1, the Celtics have targeted Blake Griffin in pick-and-roll. In his 84 minutes on the floor, the player Griffin has been guarding has set 71 ball screens, according to Second Spectrum tracking. In the regular season, Griffin allowed 1.21 points per possession on isolations, the second worst mark among 87 players who defended at least 50 isolation possessions, according to Synergy tracking. Jayson Tatum scored 13 of his 50 points against Griffin in Game 3 and had more success in that regard in Game 4.
Here was an early third-quarter possession where Griffin allowed Tatum to walk into a pull-up 3-pointer off a screen from Tristan Thompson …
The Nets also had issues off the ball. Midway through the second quarter, the Celtics got Bruce Brown switched onto Tatum. When Tatum backed Brown down and Romeo Langford dove from the right wing, Evan Fournier was left alone in the corner, with Irving essentially guarding nobody in the paint …
Later in the second, Langford got a wide-open look from the same spot with Irving again drifting away from the ball.
Among the 16 playoff teams, the Nets were the worst defensive rebounding team in the regular season, ranking 23rd with a defensive rebounding percentage of 72.6%. In the playoffs, they rank last at 64.6%. They’re somewhat fortunate that the Celtics are not great at converting offensive boards into second-chance points.
After Thompson grabbed nine offensive rebounds himself in Game 3, the Nets put more of an effort into keeping him off the glass … and the Celtics still registered 18 second-chance points, their high for the series.
Griffin guarding scorers is one issue with the Nets’ switch-nearly-everything defense. Another is their guards trying to keep bigs off the glass. There wasn’t a switch on the Celtics’ second to last possession of the second quarter, but Thompson was able to out-muscle Harden and convert a tough put-back …
To the line
This was a lopsided game in regard to how the two teams shot from the field, and turnovers were about even. But the Celtics got 42 free throw attempts, tied for the fourth most in the last five postseasons. Six different Nets committed at least three fouls.
Early in the third quarter, another Tatum iso vs. Griffin turned into a foul on Durant…
Better defense will be needed
Brooklyn ranked 22nd defensively in the regular season. Only one team in the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data — the 22nd-ranked and defending-champion 2000-01 Lakers — ranked lower than 11th on that end of the floor and went on to win a championship.
Of course, with their three stars playing only eight games together, the Nets had the most efficient offense in NBA history. Game 4 on Sunday was Brooklyn’s most efficient game of the year and its defensive issues didn’t matter much. They might not matter much as the Nets try to close out the Celtics in Game 5 on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
But a much better opponent is already waiting for them in the second round, when their margin for error will be much smaller. No team can stop Durant, Harden and Irving, but the Milwaukee Bucks just held the Miami Heat to 95.4 points per 100 possessions, the lowest mark for any team in a playoff series in the last five years.
We are set up for what should be a fantastic matchup in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But the Nets still have some work to do and some things to clean up before they get there.
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