The most effective offense in NBA history wasn’t very clear in the opening 24 minutes of its first playoff game. The Brooklyn Nets’ Big 3s of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined to shoot just 11 for 32 in the first half of Game 1 of their first-round series against the Boston Celtics. But the Nets did enough in the second half on both sides of the field to claim a 104-93 victory on Saturday.
Number to know
240 – According to the Second Spectrum follow-up, the Nets only passed the ball 240 times, tied for their third lowest total of the season, in Game 1. It was a slow game (93 possessions for each team), but the Nets 2.58 assists per possession were well below their regular season average (2.84).
It was an iso-fest, with lots of 1v1 basketball. Both teams changed almost every screen and both teams were happy to target some clashes. And, while the Nets have three of the best isolation players in the league, it worked best for the Celtics in the first half. They picked Blake Griffin, attacked the paint, and generated much better shots than the Nets, who scored just 47 points out of their 48 possessions in the first half with minimal ball movement.
The Nets started the second half with 18-4 points (scoring those 18 points from nine offensive possessions) to turn a six-point deficit into an eight-point lead. Durant (9), Harden (6) and Irving (3) totaled 18 points, scoring four of their five threes after going 0 for 10 over the arc in the first half. The ball didn’t necessarily move more, and part of that run was just straight 1 on 1 shooting, but they got Durant a few catches in the post, where he could shoot Marcus Smart or make a fault.
The Celtics would come close to three midway through the fourth quarter, but Brooklyn was in charge once the offense started early in the third. After scoring just 47 points out of 48 possessions in the first half, the Nets scored 57 out of just 45 in the second half.
A little film
The Nets actually had four assists in that 18-4 run, with some movement to free Irving for his three points. Harden gave Griffin the ball then went to screen for Irving in the left corner. Kemba Walker passed Harden and slid underneath to avoid a cut in the basket, but Marcus Smart was slow to respond to Irving, who came to a halt on Griffin’s transfer (preventing Tristan Thompson from being able to exit) and drained an open 3 …
Just as important as the Nets’ offense in the second half was that they kept the Celtics to just 40 points out of 45 possessions in the final 24 minutes. For the night they were better defensively with Jeff Green in the center (29 points allowed out of 34 defensive possessions) or with Nicolas Claxton at five (21 of 22) than they were with Griffin (43 of 40), who was the pick-and-roll target of the Celtics whenever ‘he was on the ground.
But the Nets made a nice adjustment on a possession early in the third quarter, before the switch to prevent Griffin from coming up against Walker. Smart came in for (presumably) a double swipe screen with Thompson for Walker, but then backed down, so the Celtics could just get the Griffin Switch. But when Smart did that, Harden switched to Thompson and ultimately Walker, as Griffin stayed with Smart. Walker dropped the ball, Smart tried to return it to him, and Walker went out of bounds:
Game adjustments 2?
The Nets will be happy to play more one-on-one in Game 2 Tuesday (7:30 a.m. ET, TNT). They will also be happy if the Celtics send two defenders to the ball …
Both teams can do things (beyond targeting certain clashes) to take advantage of a switching defense. The Celtics played a play in the second quarter (that they used against the Nets before) where Jayson Tatum sets up a ball screen, seals the initial defender on the ball and then receives a large pass that flashes towards the ball:
Brooklyn will make some defensive mistakes, but Boston will have to force more mistakes than Saturday to stand a chance in this series. The Nets have too much offensive talent and likely won’t stay cold for more than 24 minutes each night.
John Schuhmann is a senior statistics analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archives here and follow him on twitter.
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