Kyrie Irving entered Friday concerned about racism and belligerence from the Boston crowd. It looks like the Nets should have been more worried about the anger and aggression the Celtics had in store...
Kyrie Irving entered Friday concerned about racism and belligerence from the Boston crowd. It looks like the Nets should have been more worried about the anger and aggression the Celtics had in store for them.
There was no spittle sprayed at Irving, and no shower of racism hurled at his Nets. Just aggressive physicality from the Celtics and raucous boos from the stands, neither of which the Nets could overcome in a 125-119 loss in Game 3 of this first-round playoff series.
Even with capacity limited to just one quarter normal, a sellout crowd of 4,789 made Irving’s first game in front of Celtics fans since his 2019 departure from Boston a bitter one.
The racial lines Irving spoke about earlier this week never got crossed. But the Nets did get the desperate, dangerous Celtics team Steve Nash had warned them about. The Nets coach proved prophetic.
“It’s the mental toughness of the group, the approach to the game,” Nash said of the key to the series. “You definitely never in the playoffs want to feel like you’ve arrived. You always are going to get a reaction from the losing team. The Celtics are a very capable team, coming to their home court, lots of playoff experience. We definitely need to have an even better performance in Game 3 to win.”
They got it from two-thirds of their Big 3.
James Harden had 41 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, notching only the third 40-point night in team playoff history and tying a team playoff record with seven 3-pointers. Kevin Durant added 39 points and nine boards. They’re only the second teammates in Nets playoff history to both top 30 in a game — but it wasn’t enough.
Irving was far quieter than the crowd that booed his every touch, finishing with 16 points. He had just two in the first half as he was greeted with chants of, “Kyrie sucks” and “[Bleep] you Kyrie.”
The Nets coughed up a 17-2 spurt spanning the first and second quarters — part of an extended 36-15 Celtics run — and never led again.
Trailing by as many as 10, the Nets did pull even at 75-all with 5:23 left in the third on a pair of Durant free throws. But just 12 seconds later, Irving fouled Marcus Smart on a four-point play — amid chants of “[Bleep] you Kyrie!” — and the floodgates opened.
The Celtics blew the game open with a 21-4 run. By the time Jayson Tatum (game-high 50 points) capped it with a fadeaway, Boston led 96-79 and the fans were in a delirium. The clock read 58.5 seconds left in the third, but it was essentially over.
The Nets lead the first-round series 2-1, with Game 4 on Sunday. That game, which is slated to be played with the arena at near full capacity, could be even tougher now that Tatum — held to .281 shooting in Games 1 and 2 — finally has had his huge breakout.
“Yeah, he’s not going to shoot that way the entire series. He’s just too good a player,” Nash said. “We expect him to play better.”
Oh, he did. As did all the Celtics.
After the Nets hit six of their first seven shots — and 4-of-5 from deep — to take a 19-4 lead on a Joe Harris 3, Boston didn’t blink.
The Nets still led 32-23 before they coughed up a dozen unanswered points spanning the first and second quarter to fall behind by three.
Irving had just two points on 1-for-5 shooting at the break, with the Nets trailing 61-57. His jumper put them back ahead 73-72 midway through the third, but it didn’t last.
After Durant pulled them back even, the Nets imploded on both ends. They shot just 1-for-8 in the run and Boston hit 6-for-7. They never got closer than four the rest of the way.
“We’ve just got to come out, be professional and stay on task and not allow ourselves to look down the road or to feel like we’ve arrived,” Nash said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to get better.
“We’re not just trying to win this series: We’re trying to improve every night. … Our nine rotation guys have played two games together. It’s something we’ve got to continue to build and take advantage of every night, not only for this series but for our team’s growth.”
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Brian Lewis