Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big storyline. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
“There will be some tip-your-cap moments where you’re going to have to like, ‘Nice shot,’ and go down the other end and score,” Stevens said after practice Thursday. “It’s probably the other part about this for us is you’re not going to hold these guys to 90 or whatever the case may be. These guys are a high-octane offense.”
Stevens said they’ll need to pick their spots wisely between challenging every shot and being in a scramble situation through rotating guys. When the Nets swept the season series 3-0 against the Celtics, they were still at varying levels of health as their star players were injured at one point or another during the season.
Brooklyn swept their season series with the Celtics, with an average margin of victory of 15 points.
So, frankly, this is not an ideal matchup. But I would argue that it’s not a foregone conclusion that the C’s are going to get swept either.
In three meetings this season, the Nets’ average margin of victory was 15 points, but the per-game margins went -28, -12, -5. Now, granted, the Nets were playing without Harden and Durant in that last one, but the C’s were also without Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.
The C’s will be at a definite disadvantage going into this series, due to Jaylen’s season-ending wrist surgery, and this–quite honestly–could be turned, partially, to an advantage.
Stevens talks about ‘tip your cap’ moments with the Nets, and that puts me in mind of Stevens’ earlier teams—the ones that made life difficult for the Warriors when it seemed like few other teams could. The C’s had the relatively unique ability to observe Steph Curry hit a three from a point closer to the tipoff circle than the three point line, reset the ball and then head up court as though nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. And they were able to do this in the Oracle Arena madhouse.
The way the Warriors were able to boatrace teams was as much psychological as anything. Guys would see Curry hit some out-of-the-world shot and feel like they had to answer in kind—as though an ordinary corner three was somehow worth fewer points than one that involved mind-boggling accuracy and control.
So that’s going to be a major issue with the Nets. Back when Kyrie was a Celtic, I pointed out that his genius was his ability to score in spite of exceptional defense. Irving’s ability to demoralize opponents comes down to his ability to make shots in the teeth of the best defense the other team can muster.
That’s just as true now, and the C’s will need to shake off Kyrie makes and respond in kind at the other end of the court.
3. How does Kemba Walker hold up in a well-spaced series?
Despite all the starts and stops in a season where the Celtics put a premium on taking care off Kemba Walker’s balky knee, the veteran point guard has produced some solid basketball at the finish line of the season. Now it’s time to rip off the Band-Aid a bit and we’re interested to see how Walker performs in a series that includes at least two off days before each of the first three games.
Basically, only one thing has gone right for the C’s in terms of player health this season: Kemba’s knee.
The team nursed Kemba along for months with exactly this goal in mind: Full health by the time the playoffs rolled around.
Walker is a thoroughly positive guy–and I don’t think he gets enough credit for helping the team keep an even keel this season.
But make no mistake, you don’t get to the NBA, much less to a point where you stand out as an outstanding player in the NBA by being a pushover. And Walker is no doubt aware that a large and vocal section of fans have already written him off two years after he chose to come to Boston, and that he’s generally considered a poor replacement for Irving.
If anything, Walker should be especially motivated to shut up fans who view him as, basically, a mistake the Celtics made, which they will have to pay another team to take off their hands.
Ultimately, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the C’s advance to the second round.
But it’s also possible to envision a scenario where the C’s do some real psychological damage to the Nets.
We’re intrigued to see how Boston plays without the burden of expectations that weighed this team down at times this season. The Nets are going to have a whole bunch of pressure to thrive and Boston could put a little scare into them by stealing a game early.
If Durant, Harden and Irving have a weakness in common it’s their inability to cope well with adversity.
Durant has famously—and repeatedly—gotten into spats with unknowns on social media while both Harden and Irving have demanded trades, with Irving souring on his new team in a relatively short period of time.
So there is a scenario where the C’s put pressure on the Nets—who are expected to coast—and the pressure leads to a sullen atmosphere in a Nets locker room that has, up until this point, been more or less a field of daisies (apart from the smell).
In many ways, the stakes for the Nets are sky-high. They are not trying to grow a contender. They assembled one by trading away a huge chunk of their future and some of their best rotation players. If they fail to win it all this year, the pressure will be that much greater to win next year, and I don’t know that this superstar core is going to be that good at coping with that. Especially in the hothouse atmosphere of New York’s sports media.
I don’t think the Nets are going to get a sweep. I think Boston has altogether too much of a chip on its shoulder—and too much talent, even without Jaylen—to be rolled. And I think that if the series goes to six games or, heaven forbid, seven, we’re going to see some cracks appear in the Nets’ bonhomie.
So… How do the C’s make things interesting?
Two things: Pace and offensive rebounding/second chance points.
In 2019 the league average regular season pace was 99.8 possessions per team per game among playoff teams. In the playoffs, it was 97.5.
Among 2021 playoff teams, the average pace is 98.1. The Nets’ average pace is 99.5, while the C’s is 98.3.
In the 2019 playoffs, the biggest upset was the Raptors over the Bucks in six games in the ECF. The Bucks’ season average pace was 103.3; in the playoffs it was 100.1, and in the ECF it was 96.2.
For the Raptors, their season average pace was 100.2 and their playoff average pace was 96.
Now the talent gap between the Nets and the Celtics is greater than that between the Raptors and the Bucks in 2019, and even if it weren’t, the gap in regular season pace between the C’s and Nets isn’t as great as it was between the Bucks and Raptors.
But here’s the thing: If, as we may expect, the pace slows down in the playoffs, the team which plays better at a slower pace gains an advantage.
Not enough of one to give the C’s an edge over an entire series, but enough of an advantage to make things more interesting.
Especially since Boston has very quietly become one of the better teams in the league at grabbing offensive rebounds. Now that in and of itself is not a predictor of playoff success, but Boston combines a decent offensive rebounding percentage with a decent number of second chance points (they’re 8th in the league per 100 possessions), while Brooklyn is the worst in the league when it comes to second chance points allowed. In fact, Brooklyn, for the season, allowed more second chance points per 100 possessions than Boston typically scored.
So if you have a situation where the number of possessions is reduced and where Boston is able to extend possessions further by securing rebounds and scoring baskets, that has the potential to be a real problem for Brooklyn.
Furthermore, Boston’s coaches know that they stand to benefit by slowing the game down, so it seems reasonable to expect that rather than letting the pace fall where it may, they are going to do their best to deliberately slow the pace down, knowing that their offensive rebounding and second-chance skills stand to benefit from that.
From a watchability standpoint, a Boston possession that eats up 40 seconds and ends with a three point shot after a rebound is much uglier than a simple Nets action that leads to the same result in 20 seconds, but by stretching out possessions, they effectively shorten the game for the Nets, and the C’s have the right skills to benefit from a shorter game.
The rest of the previews
Boston Sports Journal: ‘This is a fun challenge’