For a lot of their NBA play-in recreation in opposition to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night time, the Nets seemed just like the fearsome crew that many observers had lengthy stated lay hidden behind their mediocre file. Kevin Durant was magnificent. Kyrie Irving did not miss a shot till the fourth quarter. A number of teammates made important contributions nicely above what was normally anticipated of them.
And but, the sport nonetheless got here right down to the ultimate minutes after Cleveland, which had trailed by 20 factors after the primary quarter after which by 22 within the third, reduce its deficit to six with a simply over a minute left.
The job bought performed ultimately: The Nets pulled out a 115-108 victory to say the No. 7 seed within the Japanese Convention, and a matchup with the Boston Celtics within the first spherical. However the recreation was the newest instance of a Nets efficiency that might be quantified as a head-scratching combine world-beating expertise and worrisome lethargy.
For the glass-half-full crowd, the Nets stars Irving and Durant mixed for 59 factors on 31 pictures whereas handing out 23 assists, one other stat-sheet-filling show from probably the most proficient tandems within the NBA It was, once more, a tantalizing glimpse into what their partnership might be at its peak — a summit that has been a uncommon sighting of their time collectively in Brooklyn.
Nevertheless it wasn’t simply them. Bruce Brown, the crew’s consummate function participant, had 18 factors, 9 rebounds and eight assists, usually providing himself as an important launch valve on offense when Durant and Irving would get blitzed by defenders. Andre Drummond punished Cleveland on the boards, scoring 16 factors and grabbing 8 rebounds in simply 19 minutes. Nic Claxton, the spry reserve heart, added 13 factors, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks off the bench.
However the glass-half-empty set had proof, too, after the Nets practically blew one more lead down the stretch in opposition to a lesser crew. On Sunday at residence in opposition to the Indiana Pacers, one of many worst groups within the NBA, the Nets endured the same ending that grew to become uncomfortably shut. Within the recreation earlier than that — additionally in opposition to Cleveland — the Nets blew a double digit third-quarter lead. Earlier than that was a recreation in opposition to the Knicks, one other much less proficient crew enjoying out the string; the Nets trailed by 21 factors within the first half that point.
All three of these video games required fourth-quarter rallies to win, however all three repeated a sample that has performed out for a lot of the season: The Nets, whereas supremely proficient in a few spots, are a squad that struggles to place collectively wire – to wire performances. And within the playoffs, in opposition to the very best groups within the league, that could be their Achilles’ heel.
“That is part of our journey too,” Nets Coach Steve Nash stated Tuesday of looking for a option to change his crew’s penchant for flirting with catastrophe. “It is not simply go on the market and construct 20-point leads. Flip it into 30.”
Within the opening recreation of their first-round sequence on Sunday, the Nets will journey to Boston and discover a Celtics squad that’s not the identical crew the Nets simply dispatched final season. And, because of the Nets’ Brown, the Celtics now can have some bulletin board materials as motivation.
Requested in regards to the Celtics on Tuesday, Brown recommended the absence of Robert Williams III, Boston’s beginning heart and one of many league’s greatest defenders, would imply that “they’ve much less of a presence within the paint.”
The feedback didn’t sit nicely with Durant, who dismissed them as “caffeine pleasure speaking.” Brown had stated that, with Williams out, the Nets “might assault” Boston’s Al Horford and Daniel Theis.” referring to Horford and Daniel Theis, who spherical out the Celtics large man rotation. Durant grimaced and famous, “Them two dudes can do the identical stuff.”
Durant’s health is one other lingering concern for the Nets coming into the Celtics sequence. Simply moving into the play-in event required a heavy workload for Durant, who performed 42 minutes on Tuesday night time. For the reason that All-Star break, Durant has averaged 38.6 minutes a recreation. Whereas different stars across the league have been in a position to handle their minutes — and save their legs — throughout the stretch run, the 33-year-old Durant needed to expend extra power than regular simply to pull his crew into the playoffs.
A technique or one other, the Nets will enter the playoffs a lot as they did final season: With excessive expectations and little time collectively. Final yr, that was a results of accidents and a commerce for James Harden. This yr, it’s a results of accidents and the choice to commerce Harden away (to not point out Irving’s prolonged absence over his refusal to be vaccinated in opposition to the coronavirus).
“We’re simply such a brand new group,” Nash stated. “I feel that was just like the seventh recreation these 9 gamers tonight have performed collectively. So day by day is a day for us to find out about ourselves.”
All season, although, the Nets have guess that expertise trumps cohesion. It’s why they shuffled gamers out and in of the rotation with frequency, why they have been prepared to commerce Harden. Tuesday night time’s victory confirmed a tease of the championship potential within the group.
Within the first three quarters, anyway.