Nets Beat Celtics in Game 1 as Durant, Harden, Irving Combine for 82 Points

Blake SchusterContributor IMay 23, 2021

Basketball: Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving (11) in action vs Boston Celtics at Barclays Center. 
Brooklyn, NY 4/23/2021
CREDIT: Erick W. Rasco (Photo by Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images) (Set Number: X163593 TK1)
Set Number: X163593 TK1

The No. 2 Brooklyn Nets took Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with the No. 7 Boston Celtics, 104-93, at Barclays Center on Saturday to retain home-court advantage in the best-of-seven contest.

It's the fourth consecutive Nets win over Boston after they handily swept the regular-season series and has the short-handed Celtics club already in danger.

Without Jaylen Brown (left wrist) available for the postseason, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker were forced to take on more responsibility on offense, combining for 37 points and seven assists in Game 1.

That wasn't nearly enough to contend with Brooklyn's Big Three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, who tallied 82 points in the victory despite having played just eight games together in the regular season.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

The Nets have played 8 games with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden available, going 6-2.<br><br>The fewest games played together by any champion’s top-3 scorers during the regular season is 10 by Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant-Derek Fisher with the 2000-01 Lakers.<br><br>H/T @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/hCIJZlx1as

After going 2-6 over their final eight regular-season games, the postseason has the Celtics still struggling to find the win column.

Notable Performers

Kevin Durant, SF, Brooklyn Nets: 32 points, 12 rebounds

Kyrie Irving, SG, Brooklyn Nets: 29 points, 6 rebounds

James Harden, PG, Brooklyn Nets: 21 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals

Jayson Tatum, SF, Boston Celtics: 22 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds

Robert Williams III, C, Boston Celtics: 11 points, 9 rebounds, 9 blocks

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Feel bad for whoever is put on an island guarding Kyrie 🏝<br><br>Welcome to the playoffs, rook. pic.twitter.com/V7lfXLddN5

ESPN Stats &amp; Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Kevin Durant is the only player with 30 points and 10 rebounds in his postseason debut with a team in the last 10 seasons. He also did this with the Warriors in 2017.<br><br>He's the only player in NBA history with a 30-point, 10-rebound game in his postseason debut with multiple teams pic.twitter.com/NZySnhLCPe

Nets Rely on Defense as Offense Stalls

If the Nets were out to prove they could create instant chemistry in the postseason, the first half of Game 1 didn't help convince anyone. Durant, Irving, Harden, Blake Griffin and Joe Harris were all in the starting lineup for the first time this season, and the results were far from what anyone in Brooklyn hoped for.

The first half saw the Nets miss their first 10 three-point attempts before Harris finally got one to go down with 2:18 left in the second quarter. By that point, Boston had already built a nine-point lead and went into the break up 53-47 while the Nets continued to struggle.

Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

🌀 @KyrieIrving spin cycle 🌀 pic.twitter.com/VVG12NRltD

Overall, Brooklyn went 1-of-13 from behind the arc in the first half, shot 40.5 percent from the field in general and committed twice as many turnovers (eight) as the Celtics.

All while Boston went 9-of-17 from three and continued to put pressure on the home team.

"We knew it was a matter of minutes before things started to turn for us on defense," Durant told ESPN on the court after the win."... Most of it was settling down. We rushed a lot of shots early."

The offense may not have settled in for Brooklyn, but the defense certainly did. While the Nets finished the night shooting 41.7 percent from the field, they gave up just 20 points in both the third and fourth quarters, kept Walker's mid-range game from getting into a rhythm and made sure Tatum didn't get many clean looks at the rim.


KD buries the baseline pull-up J.. 3-point game midway through 2Q.#NBAPlayoffs on ABC pic.twitter.com/CJW24Ca4SN

Boston shot 36.9 percent from the floor for the night and couldn't hold back the Nets once they regained the lead early in the second half. It only took under two minutes in the fourth quarter to prove how thin the Celtics' margin for error is in this series.

After Evan Fournier missed a jumper that would've kept it a one-possession game, Brooklyn went on a 9-0 run to go up 12 and close things out with ease.

Robert Williams III Has Arrived

After the Celtics drafted center Robert Williams III No. 27 overall out of Texas A&M in 2018, the big man became somewhat notorious for a missed introductory conference call and a flight. The joke among Boston fans was that Williams was actually a Time Lord and he wasn't late to those events so much as living in a different timeline.

Whatever the case, the nickname stuck, though Williams' performance Saturday showed he'd arrived at just the right time against Brooklyn.

Despite battling through a turf toe injury that limited his minutes in Game 1, Williams was far and away the most impressive player on Boston's bench, nearly posting a triple-double while setting a franchise playoff record for blocks (9).

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Robert Williams is EVERYWHERE 🖐<br><br>Already has 7 blocks <br><br>(via @NBA)pic.twitter.com/W4LgVo7JsF

ESPN Stats &amp; Info @ESPNStatsInfo

According to @EliasSports Robert Williams III 9 blocks are the most by a player off the bench in a playoff game since blocks became official in 1974. pic.twitter.com/5vsZbcCCun

"He's shifting over on every one of our drives," Irving told reporters afterward. "His timing is amazing."

With Tatum in foul trouble and Walker's shot struggling to fall, the defensive prowess of Williams kept the Celtics alive for far longer than anyone would've imagined without Brown available. That he did it in just 23 minutes—playing behind Tristan Thompson and Jabari Parker—made it all the more impressive.

Williams was the only Celtic besides Parker to play at least 20 minutes and post a positive plus-minus (plus-five) against Brooklyn. His nine rebounds, 11 points and no turnovers made him the Celtics' top weapon on a night when both teams were forced to rely on their defense.

Boston Celtics @celtics

watch out below 🔨 pic.twitter.com/ypCXmLxnSl

If Williams can remain a top player—which means staying healthy in the process—the loss of Brown may not be the dagger in Boston's season many thought it was. If not, this series could end pretty quickly as the Nets' Big Three continues to build chemistry.

What's Next?

Game 2 between Boston and Brooklyn is set for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT from Barclays Center.