1. The Celtics held the Nets as in-check as you can possibly expect in Game 1. Brooklyn shot well under their season average at 41.7%. For a large portion of the game, the Nets couldn’t buy a three. While, Brooklyn missed some open ones, Boston’s defense was very good. They were active, they were engaged and they contested most shots.
Unfortunately, the Celtics offense couldn’t match the defensive play.
Boston shot just 36.9% from the floor. It wasn’t a case of the Nets forcing the “other” guys to beat them either. The Celtics main scoring trio of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier combined to go 14-of-46 from the field. And there were a lot of open misses in there too.
The Celtics missed a chance to steal Game 1. They did a lot of good stuff, and can feel great about their effort. But if they had shot it just at their normal levels, this would be a 1-0 series lead for Boston.
2. Part of holding the Nets offense down was personnel-based. The Celtics were able to go at Blake Griffin enough that they played him off the floor. It started early on. This is a good example of Jayson Tatum drawing Griffin on a switch and getting downhill against him:
Getting good offensive players off the floor is as good as defending them well. Boston did a nice job of that in Game 1.
3. It might get a little lost in everything else, but the Celtics did a terrible job on the boards. Brad Stevens talked about the need to control the glass before the series started, and his guys didn’t handle their business well.
Because the Nets shot poorly, it didn’t show up in second-chance points, but Brooklyn grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. For an offensive team as good as they are, you can’t give the Nets extra looks like that. If that happens again in Game 2, Boston will get blown out.
4. Let’s get to Robert Williams because he was dominant off the bench for the Celtics. He scored 11 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked a franchise playoff-record nine shots. Here’s a small sample of Williams’ blocks.
Williams gets beat off the dribble by Kyrie Irving here, but he’s so athletic that it doesn’t matter:
This one is pure hustle. Williams is about even with the ball in the backcourt at the start of the play. He finishes it by blocking Bruce Brown at the rim:
When James Harden gets his step-back jumper blocked, it usually happens from behind. Because Williams gets up so high so quickly, he’s able to pull off the pretty rare feat:
5. Robert Williams also had a pretty big impact on offense. He grabbed five offensive rebounds to give the Celtics extra chances. This one is a good example of Williams’ hustle and skill. The first tip is to keep it alive. The second one is controlled in the direction of Aaron Nesmith:
Williams has also become one of the preeminent vertical spacing threats in the league. The pass only needs to be in the general vicinity of the rim for Williams to dunk it:
Williams played 22:40, which is probably close to the max minutes he can play. He’s gutting through a painful turf toe injury and he and the team have said it’s about his pain tolerance. For Boston to have a chance, they need the talented young big man on the floor and he’s delivering.
6. Brad Stevens largely went with an eight-man rotation. Robert Williams, Aaron Nesmith and surprisingly Jabari Parker got the bulk of the minutes off the bench. Williams was great. Nesmith looked fine in his first playoff game. Parker was the biggest surprise of Game 1. Payton Pritchard got just a cameo appearance and looked slightly overwhelmed. If Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier continue to struggle to make shots, Pritchard may need to play more to help open up the floor.
7. As noted above, Jabari Parker was the surprise of Game 1. He was competitive defensively and delivered some really solid offense. Parker was able to attack some mismatches to create scoring chances. Once he was feeling good, he confidently pulled this three-pointer with no hesitation:
In the second half, Parker continued making plays. This was solid defense against Kevin Durant. Parker comes up with the strip and immediately sprints the floor for the dunk:
For Boston to make this a series, they need unexpected contributions. They got that from Parker Game 1.
8. Something to watch from a Game 2 adjustments standpoint is how Boston defends Brooklyn. The Celtics made a ton of low to no-resistance switches in Game 1. These regularly left Tristan Thompson on an island against James Harden. Perhaps the idea was to bait Harden into playing isolation ball versus keeping the ball moving.
In the second half, with Robert Williams in the game, Boston almost played him as a one-man zone. Williams was simply guarding the player closest to the basket, while Boston switched all the baseline cuts. That allowed Williams to stay in the paint, because he constantly had an offensive player nearby.
Playoff series are about adjustments and then adjustments to those adjustments. We’ll see what Brad Stevens and Steve Nash have up their sleeves for Game 2 and beyond.
9. Tristan Thompson played a solid game, despite being put in some difficult defensive positions. We’ve chided Thompson at times for being a black hole, but he made some nice passes in this game. This one was a beauty to Jayson Tatum on the backdoor cut:
Thompson also grabbed five offensive rebounds. This tip-dunk was a good example of how he can beat the Nets simply by being more active than they are:
10. Game 1 was a missed opportunity for the Celtics. They needed more from Kemba Walker most of all, but also Jayson Tatum and Evan Fournier as well. If they get that, they can make this a series.
Here’s what Boston fans can take some heart in: the effort level was great. The Celtics created open looks all game long. They found some stuff that works against the Nets defensively.
Most of all, Brad Stevens coached a great game. Almost every offensive trip was a set play called by Stevens. The Celtics got a bunch of great shots, they just didn’t make them. On defense, Stevens was vocal and loud. He was calling out switches, switch-backs and scrambles on most trips. Without the mask (vaccinated coaches can coach without a mask now), it was clear to hear Stevens’ impact.
The Celtics have a chance to keep this close and make the Nets sweat a little bit.
Game 2 is at Brooklyn on Tuesday at 7:30 PM ET on TNT.