For most of their NBA game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, the Nets looked like a formidable team that many observers have long said are hiding behind their mediocre record. Kevin Durant was gorgeous. Kairi Irving didn’t miss a single shot until the fourth quarter. Several teammates made significant contributions, far exceeding what was usually expected of them.
And yet the game came to a close minutes after Cleveland, who trailed by 20 points after the first quarter and then by 22 in the third, reduced the deficit to 6 just over a minute before the end.
The work was done in the end: the Nets won 115-108 and finished 7th in the Eastern Conference, and also met the Boston Celtics in the first round. But the game was the latest example of Nets performance, which could be quantified as a combination of global talent and unsettling lethargy.
For the glass-filled crowd, stars Nates Irving and Durant scored 59 points on 31 throws, giving up 23 assists. a fascinating look at what their partnership might be at its peak – a summit that was a rare spectacle during their time together in Brooklyn.
But it wasn’t just them. Bruce Brown, the team’s top player, scored 18 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists, often offering himself as a decisive valve in attack when Durant and Irving received defenders ’shots. Andre Dramand beat Cleveland on the boards, scoring 16 points and making 8 rebounds in just 19 minutes. Nick Claxton, a nimble reserve center, added 13 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks from the bench.
But the half-empty glass party also had evidence after the Nets nearly blew another advantage against a smaller team. On Sunday at home against the Indiana Pacers, one of the NBA’s worst teams, the Nets experienced a similar final that became uncomfortably close. In the game before that – also against Cleveland – the Nets undermined the double-digit lead in the third quarter. Before that was a game against the Knicks, another less talented team that played the string; The Nets were 21 points behind in the first half.
To win all three of these games required a rally in the fourth quarter, but all three repeated the pattern that had been in effect for most of the season: The Nets, though extremely talented in several places, are a team that struggles . And in the playoffs against the best teams in the league it could be their Achilles heel.
“It’s also part of our journey,” Nets coach Steve Nash said Tuesday, trying to find a way to change his team’s propensity to flirt with disaster. “It’s not easy to go out and create a 20-point advantage. Turn it into 30 ”.
In the opening game of their first-round series on Sunday, the Nets will travel to Boston and find the Celtics, which is not the same team that the Nets easily sent last season. And, thanks to Brown Nets, the Celtics will now have material for bulletin boards as motivation.
Asked about the Celtics on Tuesday, Brown suggested that the absence of Robert Williams III, Boston’s starting center-back and one of the league’s best defenders, would mean “they are less present in the paint”.
Durant disliked the comments, dismissing them as “caffeine talk.” Brown said that without Williams, the Nets could “attack” Al Horford of Boston and Daniel Theis. ” referring to Horford and Daniel Theis, who are completing the Celtics rotation. Durant grimaced and remarked, “These two guys can do the same thing.”
Durant’s fitness is another long-standing concern over the Nets’ appearance on the Celtics. Just participating in the game tournament required a big workload for Durant, who played Tuesday night for 42 minutes. Since the break at the All-Star Game, Durand has spent an average of 38.6 minutes per game. While other league stars were able to manage their minutes – and save their legs – during the stretch, the 33-year-old Durant had to expend more energy than usual to pull his team into the playoffs.
One way or another, the Nets will reach the playoffs just like last season: with high expectations and little time together. Last year it was the result of injuries and the exchange of James Harden. This year it was due to injuries and the decision to replace Harden (not to mention Irving’s long absence due to his refusal to vaccinate against the coronavirus).
“We’re just such a new band,” Nash said. “I think it was the seventh game these nine players played together today. So, every day is a day to learn about yourself».
But all season the Nets have been betting that talent outweighs cohesion. That’s why they often shuffled players into the rotation and out of it, why they were willing to exchange Harden. Tuesday night’s victory showed a tease of the championship potential in the group.
Anyway, in the first three quarters.