Game 1 of the Nets’ opening round Eastern Conference playoff series on Sunday against the Boston Celtics on the road was the Kyrie Irving show, and not because the Nets guard unabashedly peppered the foul-mouthed TD Garden crowd with a double middle finger retort, garnering widespread national attention.
The former Celtics guard also shaped the series narrative by giving the NBA’s regular season league leading defense the business, torching them for 39 points in a 115-114 Game 1 Nets’ loss. Irving shot 12-22 overall and 6-10 on 3-point attempts, disregarding his former teammate Marcus Smart’s lofty status as one of the game’s best stoppers. Affirming his standing, Smart was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year on Monday.
But the previous day, he and the rest of the Celtics, who held opponents to a league low 104.5 points per game this season, had no answers for Irving. However, they did limit the damage Kevin Durant, one of the best scorers in the history of basketball, and other Nets potentially could inflict. Employing multiple defenders, the Celtics used physical and multi-level schematics to stifle the league’s fourth leading scorer during the regular season (29.9) and 21st all-time
(25, 526) and rapidly climbing.
Durant had just 23 points and was an uncharacteristic 9-24 after shooting 51.8% from the field this season and 49.8 for his career. “They did a good job of forcing me away then helping in the paint. I just got to be more fundamental in my moves,” he said afterwards.
The Celtics won’t hold down Durant. They are acutely aware he will put his offensive stamp on the series and Irving will be a persistent problem. So Celtics first-year head coach Ime Udoka, who has done a masterful job leading the team to a No. 2 seed in the East, and his staff, will seek to create a design that will minimize the contributions of the so-called others, the No. 7 seed Nets’ capable secondary players.
One member of that group, guard Seth Curry, was the team’s third leading scorer during the regular season at 14.9 points per game. The younger brother of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, universally considered the greatest shooter ever, Seth is a historically efficient marksman in his own right. He is tied with injured Nets guard Joe Harris for the third highest 3-point field goal percentage in the NBA all-time at 43.9%, trailing only Warriors head coach Steve Kerr (45.4) and North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Hubert Davis (44.1).
Yet versus the Celtics in Game 1, Curry generated just nine points and was 1-4 on threes. Reserve guard Goran Dragic and second-unit center Nic Claxton were unexpectedly the Nets’ third and fourth leading point producers in Game 1 with 14 and 13 respectively. Game 2 was last night (Wednesday) in Boston. Games 3 (Saturday) and 4 (Monday) will be at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.