For two and a half quarters of Tuesday’s 115-108 play-in win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Nets gave fans what they wanted: full and uncontested command of the game.
Victory is considered major for the contender for the championship. It should feel comfortable. This is going to remove any shadow of doubt as to which of the two competing teams is better.
It must have felt almost uncontested, and for most of Tuesday night’s matchup, the Nets looked like an uncontested title fighter, punching down on very little competition.
Almost everything looks uncontested for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who led Brooklyn to victory and a first-round playoff matchup against the second-seeded Boston Celtics. He became the first Nets teammate since 1993 to each have a 20-point, 10-assisted game. Irving missed his first 11 shots despite fasting sunset for Ramzan and finished with 34 points on 12-in-15 shooting, and Durant had his Playmaker Toolkit to go with his 25 points on 11. Took out help.
For the first two-and-a-half quarters, two superstars led the Nets to an impressive result, the likes of which have turned this team away too many times this year.
And then it happened, and it was almost predictable: The wheels began to fall in the middle of the third quarter.
Twenty two Twenty. seventeen. fourteen. Twelve. The Cavaliers reduced the Nets’ lead to six with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. You can feel the anxiety bubbling up in the crowd.
Oh no. It’s happening again.
“I think you have to be prepared for that in basketball,” said head coach Steve Nash. “That’s the game. Anxiety is part of the game, stress is the backbone of the game.”
But the Nets have been here before. In fact, they’ve been here more times than Durant.
Blown lead is almost intertwined in the DNA fabric of the nets. They form the lead, take their feet off the gas, then ramp it up – no pun intended – when the game gets too close.
It was after they blew an 18-point lead against the Indiana Pacers when they blew a 17-point lead against the Houston Rockets when the league-worst Pistons took a 10-point Nets lead to their own 12-point. converted into profit. , and it happened in last week’s matchup against the Cavaliers.
That night, the Nets led 17 at the end of the first quarter and found themselves in a tie game in the fourth quarter and retreated to win 11.
“I think our group stays confident the whole time. That’s the nature of our team at this time of year,” Nash said. “It’s part of our journey: It’s not just going out there and building 20-point leads and turning them into 30. It’s how we adapt, how we adjust when they change and different. Do different things, and try to reconcile that on the fly into those common experiences.”
The only thing different on Tuesday night was the stakes.
The damage done on Tuesday will be devastating. This would have sent the Nets from a solid matchup against No. 2 Boston to a win-or-go-home consolation showdown against the winner of the No. 9-10 game between the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks.
A disadvantage, however, would have been par for the course. This is what nets are. They can play with their food, and it may not always be pretty, but they handle business when it matters most.
“We just stay prepared,” Durant said. “We know when we get up and zone throw the teams are going to end the game, and on the next possession they can trap the pick-and-roll. So sometimes they would throw curveballs at us defensively. And it might slow us down a little bit, but I think we handled everything pretty solid even if they played different defences.”
That’s because they’re led by two players who’ve won it all before, and Nash, a calm, calm, and collected head coach who may not be the best tactician among his teammates, but sees this team as incremental improvements. continues to strive for on a nightly basis.
Durant, Irving and, yes, Nash, continue to keep this team on the right track, even when the going gets tough, even in adversity, when the other team’s run seems like it This can throw the momentum out of their favor.
“It’s desperation basketball,” Irving said. “Anything can happen under a stretch. It’s necessary for both of us, so it was to be expected. We didn’t want it to get too close.”
More importantly, the win reaffirms the belief that this Nets team can turn to the Jets when needed, that they can flip the switch from a team that plays the postseason through the regular season. The medium is ready to come to power and potentially upset a high-ranking opponent.
The Nets can’t take many wrong moves against the Celtics while waiting for the arrival of Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Coach of the Year candidate Ime Udoka.
However, the Nets have something that most other teams do not have. He has Durant and Irving, two shoo-in Hall of Famers who are the two best scorers in NBA history. And they have experience with their backs against the wall because, in a way, they’ve been playing instant, desperate basketball for the past two months.