Nets vs Celtics: Boston strangles Kevin Durant, whose Game 1 split-second lapse is now even bigger
Kevin Durant is indefensible. That’s what we’ve all been told. The media say so (me included). Coaches say so. His teammates say so. There’s supposedly nothing you can do with a sniper with guard skills that stands seven feet tall with a skyscraper release point. They all say the same thing: all you can do is try to make it hard on the guy.
On Wednesday, the Boston Celtics made it more than difficult for Durant. They made his life a living hell en route to a 114-107 Game 2 win over the Brooklyn Nets to take a 2-0 lead in their opening round series.
You won’t often see Durant rightfully bothered by a defender, even multiple defenders, but it turns out he’s is defensible. Of course you have to have the Celtics staff to be successful, which no other team in the league has, and those staff have to be almost entirely dedicated to stopping a man, and the officials have to let the game get extremely physical, which only happens in the playoffs…but here KD is in the playoffs, against the Celtics, who are almost entirely dedicated to stopping a man, and so far it’s actually working.
It’s relative, of course. Durant still scored 27 points on Wednesday, but it took 18 free throws. He shot 4 of 17 from the field, and he was 0 of 10 in the second half. This after going 9 for 24 in Game 1.
“I mean sometimes they play two or three guys against me when I don’t have the ball, they mess up plays when I run away,” Durant said. “I see [Al] Horford letting his man come and hit me sometimes. They just play — two or three guys hit me everywhere I go. You know? And that’s just the nature of the beast in the playoffs.
“I felt like I got a couple good shots there in the fourth that just didn’t get taken down,” Durant continued, “but I see a couple of their guys around me every time. whether I get the ball or when I’m getting ready, so I have to be more patient but also play fast sometimes too.”
I have to be more patient but also play fast sometimes too. That pretty much sums up the pickle Durant finds himself in. The Celtics are giving him several looks, and there are no easy answers. Playing fast can lead to forced shots, which Durant had plenty of on Wednesday. But patience can also easily turn into passivity, and indeed Durant grew less and less aggressive as he tried to fight for his position and navigate the sea of octopus arms that swarmed around him as he went. as the game progressed.
Finding that happy medium between patience and aggression is an art form that Durant has perfected over the years, but every once in a while a challenge arises that reminds even a player as great as Durant that he scored 30 and 40 points in an NBA game, let alone in the playoffs, is harder than it usually seems.
It’s not that Durant can’t handle hard.
He’s just not used to it.
I remember talking to the great Mark Price a few years ago, and I never forgot what he told me about trust. What he said, basically, is that it’s not a permanent thing. It comes and goes, even for the great players, who love to tell you that they never lose their confidence.
At the moment, Durant is not confident. Does that mean he stopped believing in himself? Of course not. It just means he hesitates. He is uncertain, nervous, caught in between. He thinks about who’s going to hit him next, where they’re going to come from, when they’re going to come and how big they’re going to be. He usually only sees the basket. Nothing else.
Durant was on a pretty good pace in the first half on Wednesday, but there’s a level of attrition at play here. Durant has played at least 41 minutes in his last six games. He played 42 in Game 2. He’s tired. He is frustrated. The Celtics wrap around him and they continue to tighten.
The next thing you know is he catches the ball further and/or later in the clock, or doesn’t catch it at all, just standing in the corner as Kyrie Irving tries his luck to create something.
This kind of surrender, even if it’s only for a possession or two at a time, tends to happen when with every step you take, someone is there to control you, hold you, catch you, and two other guys are just waiting to do the same. Sooner or later, you’re going to put your hands on your hips and take a game or two.
It doesn’t help that Steve Nash’s offense – insofar as you want to call it that – is largely about giving the ball to his top two scorers and, well, hoping they score. Movement is minimal, making it easy, or Easier, for Boston to besiege all Brooklyn stocks. There are flashes of good things. We know Bruce Brown’s short rolls and medium flashes, and I guess, or hope, for Game 3, Nash will use Seth Curry as a strong shooter more often to make it harder for Boston to dig the wing.
Because right now, when Durant has the ball in the middle (rather) of the floor, the Celtics are digging in with their wings in his line of sight at both elbows. They’re always quick and savvy enough to recover from shooters, so it’s not a simple drive and kick for Durant, but the better the shooter on the wing, the less margin for error there is on these shows, or stunts, or digs, or whatever you want to phrase those jab steps in Durant’s direction that give him pause as he tries to assess whether a second defender is coming.
Most of the time they come with a crowd, but in rare individual cases Boston has guys who can hold their own against Durant. Jayson Tatum does work on him. But most of this defense is a team effort, which makes it easier, in theory, to sustain.
Because Boston is so long collectively with so many athletic, switchable defenders, everyone’s individual burden is lightened. As Durant pointed out in other post-game comments, “[they] don’t have to hunt on screens or fight for stuff, [they] can use [their] length, sit in the lane and help out and execute the game plan.”
Indeed, for any other defense, putting Durant in such a grip would require extreme effort. But as easy as offense is for Durant, it’s as easy as defense is for the Celtics, who can cover without any dropouts rather than just having a few capable defenders who have to rush into the ground to chase Durant. . That’s how it usually works. During door you down during a game, not the other way around.
But thanks to two games, Boston has the big advantage. Brooklyn could have, probably should have, won Game 1, but Durant got caught staring at the ball in the final seconds as Tatum slipped behind him for a layup winner. You’ve probably seen the piece before, but look at Durant (top of the circle) standing like a statue. He looks up at the clock and then locks his eyes on Smart, who, to be fair, everyone thought he was going to shoot. In that split second, Tatum snapped for the bucket. That’s all it took.
That’s how thin the line is in this series. A split-second lack of attention could end up making the difference. If Durant had cut Tatum, Smart might have pulled the trigger himself or kicked out Jaylen Brown, whose territory Durant would have given up. Either way, it wouldn’t have been a lay-up. The odds would have been in favor of Brooklyn.
Even with how Durant struggled to score, if Brooklyn had secured Game 1 and was now heading home with the series tied at 1-1, it would only be a matter of time before Durant started scoring again. dominate.
But now he’s almost out of time. If he can’t find his groove in Game 3 and the Nets lose again, it’s over. Brooklyn is already highly unlikely to beat this Boston team four of the next five games to win this series, but if the Nets go down 3-0 and have to sweep four in a row, forget it. Durant and the Nets are ousted, and Boston isn’t going to loosen its grip.