Kevin Durant’s Nets spent the complete season trying to find solutions, they usually’ve lastly run out of time

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NEW YORK — Getting ready to elimination, winless in three playoff video games towards the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets as soon as once more tried to elucidate what went incorrect. Steve Nash mentioned they’d turned the ball over as a result of they had been second-guessing themselves. Blake Griffin mentioned they did not have the precise spirit and have not been a cohesive unit. Kyrie Irving mentioned they had been nonetheless making an attempt to jell. Kevin Durant mentioned he did not have a lot house to function, did not need to pressure it and was pondering an excessive amount of. 

“Only a shitty recreation,” Durant mentioned at Barclays Middle, following Brooklyn’s 109-103 loss in Recreation 3 of its first-round collection on Saturday. “Shitty recreation.” 

Superstars see fewer double-teams and fewer assist protection after they group up, and superteams are presupposed to make the sport look simple. Why, then, have Durant and Irving had such a tough time? Is it simply that Boston is the most effective defensive group possible? Except for getting another cease within the collection opener, is there something the Nets may have achieved to keep away from this?

What occurred to the PG from PG County?

Lower than two weeks in the past, after Brooklyn’s ultimate recreation of the common season. Irving known as Durant the “PG from PG County (i.e. the purpose guard from Prince George’s County) within the locker room and within the post-game press convention. Durant did not shoot effectively towards the Indiana Pacers, however he had a career-high 16 assists. Irving praised him for “permitting the sport to return to him” and “not overthinking.”

All season, Durant has been seeing extra excessive defensive coverages than he would favor. Typically, groups trapped him as quickly as he handed halfcourt. The Nets have routinely performed two and even three gamers whom defenses ignore. It isn’t a coincidence that, within the first recreation that Joe Harris missed together with his season-ending ankle harm, the Golden State Warriors used a box-and-1 and a triangle-and-2 in Brooklyn.

At their finest, Durant and the Nets had been in a position to capitalize on all that focus, counteracting their subpar spacing with ball motion and well timed cuts. Within the 523 regular-season minutes that Durant and Irving performed collectively, Brooklyn scored 122.8 factors per 100 possessions. That quantity dropped to 111.9 per 100 in 111 playoff minutes towards the Celtics. Boston denied Durant off the ball, took away his airspace, took away his driving lanes and made him suppose. 

It is not simply the switching and the physicality that bothered Durant. Boston is a complicated defensive group that communicates, closes out to shooters and makes use of its size in addition to anyone. And Brooklyn received in its personal approach. 

Within the collection, the Celtics have tried 103 pictures from 3-point vary to the Nets’ 74. Even after Brooklyn dialed again its lengthy 2s on Saturday, following two consecutive video games through which it took greater than it did throughout any regular-season recreation, too many possessions went a well-recognized approach: Durant catches the ball remoted towards a tricky defender about 17 toes away from the basket, taking a look at a loaded protection, with a number of teammates contained in the 3-point line. 

You are not going to create many 3s out of this situation. However Durant is used to discovering his rhythm by getting some of these touches and attending to his spots. 

“We would like to [shoot more 3s],” Nash mentioned after follow on Friday. “It is not essentially the character of our group. Satirically we’ve a number of good 3-point shooters, however … it isn’t all their No. 1 type of candy spot, so to talk.” 

As an alternative of working arduous to get Durant the ball contained in the arc, the Nets may have had him provoke the offense extra typically. A part of Mike D’Antoni’s rationale for placing James Harden on the ball six years in the past was saving Harden from utilizing a lot power “down there within the wrestling match of individuals making an attempt to carry him and hold denying and all that.” Brooklyn discovered some success towards Boston when Durant ran excessive ball screens in Recreation 3, however this was not the first technique. The Nets turned the ball over a number of instances making an attempt to throw him entry passes.

“I feel we had been simply looking for a steadiness of him being on the high of the important thing attacking but additionally not taking as many wasted dribbles going towards a wasted protection,” Irving mentioned. 

Boston makes issues difficult 

Final June, the Milwaukee Bucks dared Durant to beat them by himself and he got here extraordinarily near doing so. Along with going through the exact opposite defensive recreation plan to Boston’s, Durant was in a radically totally different offensive surroundings — in his 49-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist masterpiece in Recreation 5, the Nets tried 43 3-pointers. Their “facilities,” Griffin and Jeff Inexperienced, shot a mixed 10-for-14 from deep. 

The simplest method to clarify Brooklyn’s troubles on offense is to level to an previous teaching aphorism: Offense is spacing, and spacing is offense. Earlier than Saturday’s recreation, although, Nash flippantly pushed again towards the notion that the Nets merely wanted extra capturing on the courtroom. 

“That is a element of it,” he mentioned. “Clearly, Joe Harris is a loss. However we nonetheless should assault, we nonetheless should play collectively, we nonetheless have to stay to our rules. I assumed we noticed them on show within the first half [of Game 2] and we slowed down lots in a lot of methods within the second half .. however I am very hesitant to present black-and-white solutions as a result of the sport’s not black and white.”

Brooklyn scored 130 factors per 100 possessions within the first half of Recreation 2. On Saturday, it scored 128.2 per 100 in Durant’s 22 first-half minutes. The ugly possessions that adopted will likely be remembered, however the Nets confirmed that they’d some concepts about learn how to assault a protection with few weak hyperlinks.

On this first-quarter possession at Barclays, Irving received the ball to Durant, then instantly ran off a flare display screen from Nic Claxton. Boston switched it, leaving the smaller Marcus Good on Claxton. Irving received into the paint, drew assist and located Claxton within the dunker spot with a lob:

Subsequent play, similar idea: Durant will get off the ball rapidly, Claxton is within the dunker spot towards Good and Irving has house to go one-on-one as a result of Durant and Seth Curry are on both facet of him:

Right here, Claxton slips a display screen for Patty Mills on baseline out of bounds play. Grant Williams and Jaylen Brown bungle the change and Durant drops the ball off to Claxton, who appears to be like off a slicing Bruce Brown and finds Mills vast open for a 3:

That is the type of stuff that the Nets wanted to do after they could not go after Daniel Theis or Payton Pritchard. (It is nonetheless unclear, by the way in which, why they let Pritchard off the hook in Recreation 2.) However it’s troublesome and complex. The Celtics do not make many errors, and, while you attempt to manipulate the matchups, you is perhaps up towards the shot clock by the point you get what you are searching for. Benefits disappear rapidly.

Nash mentioned that Boston’s protection made Brooklyn indecisive, which resulted in turnovers and simple baskets on the opposite finish. “We’re not enjoying our greatest basketball, we’re not being forceful with our actions, having that perception,” he mentioned. Nobody ought to have anticipated this group to morph into the 2019 Golden State Warriors group that conquered the Houston Rockets’ switching scheme with fixed movement and misdirection after dropping Durant to a calf harm. It could have helped, nevertheless, to have fewer lapses like this: 

The Nets have spent the final six months looking out. On opening evening towards the Bucks, they began Griffin subsequent to Claxton within the frontcourt and performed James Johnson, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jevon Carter on the second unit. Paul Millsap took Johnson’s spot within the subsequent recreation. DeAndre’ Bembry was an essential a part of Brooklyn’s protection for some time. On Christmas Day, Harden began a streak of 4 straight video games through which he scored not less than 33 factors and dished not less than 10 assists. In mid-March, the Nets had been reportedly hopeful that Ben Simmons could be again for his or her final couple of regular-season video games. 

In a must-win recreation on Saturday, Brooklyn began the fourth quarter with a lineup that had no wing defenders and had by no means performed collectively: Mills, Curry, Irving, Durant and Griffin. Griffin had been out of the rotation since mid-February, and he had logged six minutes in a single recreation within the 4 weeks main as much as Recreation 3. There was by no means a second within the 2021-22 season through which Nash’s teaching employees didn’t should compromise protection for spacing or vice versa, experimenting with imperfect options to its twin issues of roster imbalance and an absence of continuity. In opposition to the Celtics, a group that gives the strongest doable distinction, the Nets ran out of time. 

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