Nets don’t give Durant enough help in frustrating 103-92 loss to Celtics

Grant Williams and the Boston Celtics beat the Nets
Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) drives to the basket against Brooklyn Nets forward Royce O’Neale (00) as Nets forwards Joe Harris, right, and forward Nic Claxton, second from right, watch during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)

Before Sunday night’s game, Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn mentioned that last year’s postseason sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics informed some of the Nets’ offseason preparation and roster building. Unfortunately, those lessons didn’t pay off quite yet as the Nets failed to create consistent offense and faded down the stretch, falling to the Celtics 103-92

“Continuity; there’s something to that,” Vaughn said. “Stability; there’s something to that as well.” He continued by mentioning new Celtic Malcolm Brogdon as the perfect example of yet another player on Boston who can “get into the paint, who can shoot the three, who’s experienced at the same time. That combination, I’m not sure we tried to mirror it, but…at the end of the day, you’ve gotta have people who can do it on both sides of the basketball.”

Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Boston showed that same stability and versatility on Sunday night with four players in double figures and six with a positive plus/minus during their time on the court. 

In the first quarter, Jaylen Brown got the better of Kevin Durant and Royce O’Neale, with 20 points on 6-of-7 from the field and 5-of-5 from three. Brown went cold for the next two quarters before finishing the game with 32 points on 10-of-20 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

In the two quarters where Brown was held to six points, his teammates stepped up, just as Vaughn said the Nets learned the hard way last year.

Jayson Tatum scored the final seven points of the first half to push his first-half total to 14 points. He would finish with 29 points nine rebounds, and four steals, while the Celtics also got 13 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists from Malcolm Brogdon and 10 points, five rebounds, and three steals from Grant Williams. 

“Their guys are getting more experienced every year and it shows,” Durant said after the game. 

After Boston built a 62-50 first-half lead, Brooklyn used a strong defensive effort to make a push to start the third quarter, harassing Tatum whenever he touched the ball and pressuring the Celtics on all off-ball cuts to the basket. They held the Celtics to 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting from the field while cutting the lead down to 70-67 at one point late in the quarter. 

Kevin Durant dominated the period, posting 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting and blocking two shots. However, at the end of the day, it was simply too much on KD’s shoulders and Brooklyn seemed to fade in the fourth quarter, being outscored 26-16 until the bench players entered with under two minutes left. 

“You just look at the defensive numbers at the quarters,” said Vaughn after the game. “It looks like my heartbeat was watching the USA versus Netherlands. We want more like those Hallmark movies, just nice across the board. Consistency.” 

Before the game, Vaughn mentioned that if the Celtics chose to double Kevin Durant, as they did in last year’s playoffs, there would always be a Nets player open to hit key shots. But that didn’t materialize.

Boston played Durant straight up for much of the game, but after his hot third quarter, they started doubling him in the post in the fourth, and his teammates weren’t able to take advantage of the opportunities.

“Overall, we got some pretty good looks throughout the course of the night,” admitted Vaughn. “We have to take advantage when teams double team. If you’re gonna send a second guy at our best player then we need to make you pay for it.”

That didn’t happen on Sunday as the non-Durant members of the Nets shot just 21-for-60 (35%) from the field on the night, while the team itself, Durant included, hit just 34.6% from beyond the arc. 

Even though Kyrie Irving finished with 18 points, he was just 7-for-21 on the night and 1-of-5 from three. The only other Net in double figures was Joe Harris, who continued his strong play with 13 points on 5-of-9 from the field. 

Royce O’Neal in particular had a night to forget, shooting just 2-of-7 from the field while struggling to guard Brown on the wing. Yet, despite pre-game declarations that the team would continue to treat their rotation as a Rubix’s cube and find matchups that allowed Brooklyn to find an advantage, Jacque Vaughn never really adjusted his rotation, playing essentially just seven players. 

O’Neale played 41 minutes despite his struggles and only two Nets got any reasonable minutes off of the bench with T.J. Warren seeing 18 minutes and Seth Curry seeing 14. Cam Thomas, who was the first reserve in the game, played seven first-half minutes and then never saw the floor again until the benches were cleared with the game all but decided. 

Boston now sits at 19-5 with the best record in the NBA, so tonight’s loss is nothing for Brooklyn to hang its head about. However, if they thought last season’s playoff sweep had taught them lessons that they could use to propel them farther this season, it appears that there is still some learning to be done. 

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Kevin Durant Nets
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, center, shoots a 3-point basket against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) and forward Jayson Tatum (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)