Kyrie Irving, Nets Top Celtics to Overtake 76ers for East's No. 1 Seed

Blake SchusterSenior Analyst IIIApril 24, 2021

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving goes to the basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Friday, April 23, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

The Brooklyn Nets had no problem getting past the Boston Celtics, picking up a 109-104 victory at Barclays Center on Friday despite missing Kevin Durant and James Harden.

Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

NETS WIN!!! https://t.co/uCW0etoiG4

Brooklyn entered the night 5-5 in its last 10 games as it tries to navigate various injuries, making Friday's victory over its division rival even more crucial. Aside from Durant (thigh) and Harden (hamstring), the Nets were without Tyler Johnson (knee) and Nicolas Claxton (COVID protocol). 

With Kyrie Irving leading the way, the Nets proved they still have enough to get by a Celtics club playing for the second time in as many nights after knocking off the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. 

Irving and Jeff Green's 34 points combined helped keep Boston's Jayson Tatum in check as the Nets finished off a three-game season sweep of the Celtics. 

Notable Performers

Jayson Tatum, SF, Boston Celtics: 38 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists

Marcus Smart, PG, Boston Celtics: 19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals

Kyrie Irving, PG, Brooklyn Nets: 15 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds

Joe Harris, SG, Brooklyn Nets: 20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists

Brooklyn Takes First In The East

Even with no Durant or Harden available, the Nets haven't had too many issues capitalizing on openings in the standings. That paid off in a big way Friday as Brooklyn took advantage of the Philadelphia 76ers having the night off after falling to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday. 

Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

BIG dunk to get us going 😤 https://t.co/jzBJxjwF0F

Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

Height ain’t nothin but a number @BruceBrown11 | #BrooklynTogether https://t.co/0ZTicIyWKh

It was the third consecutive loss for the Sixers, and even with the Nets playing .500 ball over their last 10 games, Philadelphia has been one game worse. 

Now, Brooklyn is a half-game ahead of the Sixers in the race for the Eastern Conference and only getting stronger. 

As Durant and Harden work through their injuries, the Nets continue to remain afloat thanks to stellar play from Irving, who came one rebound from a triple-double against his former team. 

Considering the Nets and Sixers won't see each other again during the regular season, these are the types of games Brooklyn has to take advantage of if it's going to clinch the conference.

Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

MIKE JAMES! @TheNatural_05 | #BrooklynTogether https://t.co/T1ajgQ0Ril

That's not to say things won't be difficult. The Nets have a five-game road trip coming up in early May that could very well decide who wins the East. 

As of Friday's win over the Celtics, the Nets are in the driver's seat and control their own destiny. 

Turnovers, Hustle Plays Doom Celtics

There's no question the Celtics were tired heading into Friday's matchup. 

The Nets presented Boston with its third opponent since Monday, and without Walker, Brown and Williams available, the C's were going to have to find some extra energy to pull off a victory in Brooklyn. 

They couldn't. 

Instead, Boston looked ready to put all of its emphasis on offense and hope that its shooting would be enough.

That backfired in just about every way possible as the Nets took advantage in every hustle category. The Nets outscored the Celtics 32-0 on fast-break points, won the defensive rebounding battle and committed 11 turnovers to Boston's 19. Even if the Celtics were shooting well—and for most of the game, they were—it was the other areas of the game that cost them a win. 

Boston Celtics @celtics

Brad Stevens on tonight's game: "Turnovers have to improve. Transition defense has to improve. Transition offense obviously has to improve. And I think it will."

Brooklyn won the second quarter 39-26 and was able to coast for much of the second half. 

Even a late push by the Celtics in the fourth quarter was short-lived. 

Despite cutting the lead to three with seconds remaining, there wasn't enough time to put much more pressure on the Nets to cough up the lead. After taking an early seven-point lead in the first quarter, Boston wouldn't lead again after the 10-minute mark in the second quarter. 

The Celtics just looked far too gassed to complete the comeback. 

Boston Celtics @celtics

Smart locked in 🔒 https://t.co/MQl7NWnEwl

What's Next

The Nets wrap up a two-game homestand against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Celtics will continue out on the road with a 1 p.m. ET matchup with the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday before returning to Boston for a Tuesday showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder