The Nets have won the opening two games of their first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center thanks to the full force of Brooklyn’s offensive alternatives.
After Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden accounted for the majority of the scoring in Game 1, Joe Harris buried the Celtics with a barrage of early 3-pointers in Game 2, leading the Nets to a 130-108 victory.
The Nets scored 11 of their first 14 shots, including five of their first six 3-pointers, to take a 29-13 lead just seven minutes into the game. They went on to lead by as much as 26 points in the first half and by 24 at halftime.
Harris scored 16 of the team’s first 29 points in the first seven minutes, making all four of his 3-point tries and shooting 6-of-7 overall.
“You could see early in the game that us driving the ball and collapsing the defence was going to provide guys open shots, and Joe happened to be the receiver of a few of those early in the game and created separation, and we were able to pace on both ends of the floor when we got it going offensively, so it was good,” Irving said. “It was a terrific night for Joe, and it was a fantastic night for all of us to simply play off each other and make simple reads.”
In the second half, the Nets shot 52.3 percent overall and 44.7 percent from 3-point range, with 95.5 percent from the free throw line thrown in for good measure. With 3:30 left in the third quarter, they surpassed the 100-point mark.
Harris scored 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting in the playoffs, including 7-of-10 3-pointers, tying a franchise playoff record for 3-pointers made. He scored 22 points in the first half alone, hitting 6-of-8 3-pointers and shooting 8-of-11 overall to set a franchise playoff mark for 3-pointers made in a half.
Joe was on fire tonight,” Harden said. “We were all aware of it. KD, Ky, and I basically pitched in where we could. But it’s a group effort. Guys, different games will be different. Joe was the victim tonight. It may be someone else in the third game. We’re just looking in the same direction and on the same page. Whatever it takes to get the job done.”
All five Nets starters scored in double digits, with Durant leading the way with 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting (including 2-of-2 from 3-point range) and a perfect 8-for-8 free throw line, as well as eight rebounds and five assists.
Harden finished with 20 points, seven assists, and five rebounds while shooting 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. Irving had 15 points, six assists, and six rebounds in the game. Landry Shamet added 10 points to Blake Griffin’s 11 points.
The Nets had assists on nine of their first 11 field goals, and they finished with 31 assists after a regular season in which they established team records for assists per game and the most of games with at least 30 assists.
““We’re really difficult to defend whenever the ball moves,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “We can score on our own, but the more the ball travels, the more we knock down the first domino, and the teams come after us, and we’re great in those scenarios. We want to try to make it a habit for us, which will take some time, but I think tonight was a good signal of where we can go with that, and we should build on it and make sure that we try to truly play together, play off one another, and make sure that everyone is a danger and that we get as many possessions as possible.”
Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s shut-down defence from Game 1 carried over, with the Nets holding the Celtics to 42.4 percent shooting. Brooklyn has kept the Celtics to 39.7% overall shooting and 35.9% from 3-point range through two games.
Nash stated, “We now have a complete complement of players.” “They understand what we’re trying to do, and in the playoffs, both sides are gameplanning for one other.” There’s a little more of what you’re trying to get rid of before the intensity kicks in. Our players are playing a really tough and furious game of basketball. As a result, our defence has improved. However, if we want to perform on that end of the floor, we must always struggle and claw like an underdog.”
The Nets shot 52.0 percent overall and 52.4 percent from 3-point range — 11-for-21 — in the opening 24 minutes, en route to a 71-47 halftime lead, with 19 assists on 26 field goals. Going all the way back to a 73-point first half against Milwaukee in 1986, it was the second-highest scoring half in Nets playoff history. It was also the second-largest halftime advantage in team history, trailing only Chicago by 25 points in 2013.
Four minutes into the first quarter, the Nets took a sharp-shooting start to the next level. Harris hammered down three consecutive threes, then came up with a steal and a breakaway layup for a 27-13 lead after Irving scooped in a layup off a drive. The Nets were 11-of-14 overall and 5-of-6 from 3-point range with nine assists at the time, and Jeff Green followed with a baseline jumper to make it a 15-0 Brooklyn run. Boston closed to within 31-24 before Durant and Green teamed for a 9-2 run to complete the quarter, sending the Nets into the second quarter with a 40-26 advantage.
“I thought our spacing was certainly better today,” Harris commented. “I believed we did a better job transitioning out as well. We got a lot of strange looks early on because we got stops and were able to push. Now, in Game 1, it looked like a lot of the attacking possessions were a little slower, and even when we had a stop, we weren’t always moving out and putting pressure on them. And today, it was clear that we were the aggressors from the start, putting a lot of pressure on them. But, as I indicated this morning, a lot of it started with the defence; and, as I noted earlier, we saw how hard they were collapsing on everyone when they got into the paint in Game 1. So it’s really just being a willing passer, and there’s a lot of extra pass situations where players have open looks.”
Harden opened the second quarter with a pair of 3-pointers, drew a foul, and converted a four-point play to extend the margin to 21 points. Brooklyn led 58-32 after a Harris 3-pointer and Shamet’s reverse layup, and the Nets extended their lead to 26 points twice in the waning minutes of the first half before taking a 24-point lead into halftime.
With a 76-55 lead in the third quarter, the Nets scored 11 consecutive points, including six straight from Durant and another Harris 3-pointer for an 87-55 advantage. With 5:51 left in the third quarter, they went on an 18-5 run to take a 94-61 advantage, their largest of the game. Brooklyn went into the fourth quarter with a 109-82 lead, a franchise playoff record for most points scored through three quarters.
“Defensively, I think we played well,” Nash said. “Our zeal was palpable. We squabbled and fought. We had a strong first half defensively, and compared to the first game, we made more shots and started the game hot. We did a good job on both ends of the floor, but our defence was the most significant.