The series now shifts to Boston with the Celtics trailing the Nets 0-2 in the first round series. The Nets won the first game 104-93. The Celtics got off to a good start and led by 12 early and led by 6 at the half. The Nets surged ahead at the end to take the first game. The second game was the opposite with the Celtics trailing by 14 after the first quarter and down by 24 at the half. They never were able to come close in that game and lost 130-108.
Now, the venue shifts to the TD Garden with about 25% capacity attendance for this game. The Nets had full attendance for the first two games and the Celtics expect to have full attendance for Sunday’s game 4. This will be the first time that Kyrie Irving plays in Boston with fans since he left the Celtics to form his own super team in Brooklyn, after saying he would re-sign in Boston.
The Celtics can’t think too much about Kyrie or his return to Boston because they have basketball things to think about. They have to find some way to contain Brooklyn’s three stars and at the same time, keep others like Blake Griffin and Joe Harris (who is shooting 56.3% from beyond the arc) from having a big game. They also have to find a way to get Jayson Tatum going as he is shooting 28.1% from the field in the 2 games so far.
Tatum left Game 2 after being poked in the eye by Kevin Durant and his status for this game was unclear at first but as of now, he is expected to play. Kemba Walker was listed as questionable with a bone bruise on his left knee but was later listed as available. Jaylen Brown remains out after having wrist surgery.
For the Nets, Spencer Dinwiddie also remains out with the ACL tear. Jeff Green left game two with a foot injury and is listed as probably being out for the rest of the series with a strained plantar fascia. They will likely have the same starting 5 as they did in the first two games.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Evan Fournier
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Tristan Thompson
Robert Williams III
Jaylen Brown (wrist) out
Kemba Walker (knee) available
Jayson Tatum (eye) expected to play
Probable Nets Starters
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: James Harden
SF: Joe Harris
PF: Kevin Durant
C: Blake Griffin
Spencer Dinwiddie (knee) out
Jeff Green (foot) out
Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Durant
So far, Kevin Durant has clearly won this matchup. He averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 48.6% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc in the first two games. Tatum averaged just 15.5 points on 28.1% shooting from the field. Hopefully Tatum’s eye will be fine and he will be more aggressive in this game and will lead the Celtics to a win.
Kemba Walker vs Kyrie Irving
Kyrie has been the leader for the Nets, hitting big shots when they needed them in the first two games. He averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 53.1% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc in the two games in Brooklyn. As has been noted just about everywhere, he will be playing in front of the Boston fans for the first time since leaving the Celtics. Kemba is questionable and I’m hoping he will be good and can play.
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
Harden averaged 20.5 points, 7 rebounds and 7.5 assists on 44% shooting from the field and 37.5% from beyond the arc. Although I still see some Celtics fans complaining about Marcus Smart shooting, he has been the best player on the court for the Celtics in the first two games, averaging 18 points, 3 rebounds and 5.5 assists while shooting 46.2% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. The Celtics will need Smart’s defense along with his taking good shots and finding the open man when he isn’t open.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Once again, defense is the key to winning this game. The Celtics won’t win a shoot out with the Nets as they simply have too much firepower. The Celtics must up their defensive intensity and focus on getting stops. The Nets have definitely upped their defense from the regular season and the Celtics must increase their defensive intensity if they have any chance at winning this game.
Rebound - Rebounding is also a big key to getting a win. The Celtics have allowed the Nets to out-rebound them in the first two games of this series. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle. The Nets have definitely been putting out the effort on the boards and the Celtics have to match their effort in crashing the boards.
Be Aggressive - The Nets have been the more aggressive and more physical team in the series so far. The Celtics have to be more aggressive in all areas of the game. They have to be more aggressive in driving to the basket, in diving for loose balls, in grabbing rebounds, in defending and just more aggressive overall. They can’t let the Nets play harder or more physical. They have to play like the team that wants it more.
Move and Move the Ball - The Celtics have to run on every possession and not walk the ball up the court. They have to move without the ball in order to keep the Nets defense off balance and they need to move the ball to find the best shot. In the first quarter of game 2, the Nets had 12 assists to just 1 for the Celtics. For the game, the Nets had 31 assists while the Celtics finished with 23. Ball movement and player movement is a big key for the Celtics to get this win.
Back at Home - The Celtics played the first two games in front of a sell out very hostile Nets crowd. They are back at the Garden, where for this game they should have a 25% capacity crowd. Hopefully the crowd will be loud and cheer on the Celtics to give them extra motivation and energy. The Nets are mostly veteran players and they mostly aren’t as affected by playing on the road as are the younger players.
Coaching - Once again, one of the few advantages that the Celtics have is that Brad Stevens has been in the playoffs before while this is Steve Nash’s first time. In the playoffs, coaches have to make adjustments between games and find ways to counter the other team’s game plan. Can Brad pull a rabbit out of his hat and find a way to give the Celtics an advantage in this game?
Officiating - Officiating is always an X-factor. Will the officials call the game tight and call every little bit of contact? Will they let them play and allow them to be a bit physical? Will they call it evenly and not favor one team over the other? Will the home team get an advantage? However they call the game, the Celtics must focus on playing the game and not on bad calls or no calls.