The NBA playoffs are like on-court chess — move and countermove, adjusting to the adjustments.
The good news for the Nets is they have more pieces on the board than Boston, and a head start after winning Saturday night’s Game 1 opening gambit. But Kyrie Irving spent enough time starring for these same Celtics that he knows better than to take anything for granted — or take his foot off the gas for Tuesday’s Game 2.
“We just want to carry our even-keeled attitude, mentality — don’t get too high or too low. It’s a lot of days in-between the next time we play,” Irving said. “We know that this good Celtics team is going to make adjustments. We’ve just got to be prepared. We’ve got to stay balanced this series. We know there are a lot of ups and downs in a series, so you just can’t take any moment for granted.”
The Nets’ veterans were preaching as much down the stretch in Game 1, when they’d seen a nine-point third-quarter cushion shrivel to 82-79 with 7:27 left.
That’s when Irving — who played two tumultuous years in Boston before bolting for Brooklyn — took over and dominated his old team. The All-Star guard, who knows the pluck of the Irish all too well, led a 17-3 run to put the Celtics away. He had 11 points, three rebounds and shot 4 of 5 in the spurt.
Kyrie Irving and the Nets won Game 1 against the Celtics on Saturday.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post
“We needed a little separation, just to settle in for the rest of the game,” Irving said. “Fourth quarter, we’ve had the tendency of taking our foot off the gas pedal, of stopping attacking the rim or settling for jump shots or just not swinging the ball around and making easy plays for one another.
“We have All-World one-on-one players, but we make it easy when teams can just load up and our one-on-one game isn’t working. You see anything can happen at the end of the game. Kemba [Walker] hits two big 3s, we get a flagrant foul. Anything can happen, especially against the Celtics. That lucky Irishman is always around the Celtics, so we’ve just got to be aware of anything against the Celtics.”
There were a host of things that the Nets weren’t ready for in Game 1 that they’ll have to be aware of by Tuesday’s Game 2.
Boston gave them fits defensively, partly through daunting rim protection from Robert Williams III (who had nine blocks) and partly through catching them off guard by springing the zone earlier than expected.
The Nets fell behind 32-20 in the second quarter, missing their first 10 from 3-point range.
“We just didn’t make shots. I’m sure if we made shots it would have been a different conversation,” James Harden said. “But we stuck with it. They tried to throw a little zone in there, which we expected them to do in Game 2.
“We’ve just got to watch some film, see what we can get better at, see how we can get better, easier looks offensively. And then defensively we’ve got to stay physical and make sure we rebound the basketball.”
They could use more on offense from Landry Shamet, who went scoreless. And more importantly, need more defensively from Blake Griffin. Brad Stevens’ Celtics mercilessly went at Griffin, recognizing the Nets’ switch-happy scheme and using pick-and-rolls to get the big man into isolation situations on the perimeter.
Nets coach Steve Nash wisely recognized that, and pulled him with 4:36 left in the third for Jeff Green. Griffin didn’t play again, with Green and Nic Claxton getting the center minutes down the stretch.
Nash has nowhere near Stevens’ experience, but has the edge of a 1-0 series lead and a better roster. Who makes the better adjustments in Game 2?
“We’re going to have to go down the court and do better than scoring 93 or 94 points; it’s just not going to be enough,” Stevens said Sunday. “We’ve got to move the ball and move bodies better; then we have to read the over-help at the end of plays better. It’s easier said than done. They’ve got a lot of long, athletic guys. I don’t think there’s a ton of people that you necessarily want to isolate; there’s a lot of good prideful, good athletes, individual defenders.”