The series now shifts from the two games in Boston to play the next two games in Brooklyn. The Celtics lead the series 2-0. The Celtics won the first game 115-114 on a last second layup by Jayson Tatum. They fell behind by as many as 17 points in game 2 and were behind by 5 points going into the 4th quarter. The Celtics then outscored the Nets 29-17 in the 4th quarter to come away with a 114-107 win.
Kevin Durant has struggled in both of the games played in Boston. He shot 9-14 in Game 1 and then followed that up with 4-17 shooting in Game 2. Jayson Tatum and the Celtics defense have harassed him at every turn and made everything very difficult for him. Both Durant and Steve Nash have spoken out about the Celtics physicality in both of the games so far. I’m sure they are hoping for more free throws for Durant, although I’m not sure how that is possible since he shot 20 free throws in Game 2.
The Celtics should feel some urgency in spite of being up 2-0 in the series. I know the statistics favor the team that is up 2-0, but the Celtics can’t depend on those statistics from past teams. The Nets are 0-12 all time when falling behind 0-2 in a best of 7 series. The Celtics are 40-1 all time when leading a series 2-0. In the first round, 188 teams have gotten a 2-0 lead in the series. Of those 176 teams went on to win the series and 12 teams came back from 0-2 to advance. The Celtics can’t get complacent and expect to win just because statistics say they should. If they do, they may very well join the 12 teams that didn’t advance after being up 2-0.
The Celtics could get a boost in this game with the return of Robert Williams, who has been out since March 27 when he suffered a partial tear of the meniscus. He has gone through the last 2 practices 5 on 5 with no pain. He is officially listed as questionable but the plan is for him to play limited minutes in this game and then if that goes well, he will resume a more substantial role in Game 4. I’m going to guess that they bring him off the bench to ease him back in for his limited minutes and so I have included Daniel Theis in the starting lineup.
For the Nets, Joe Harris remains out for the season with the ankle injury. Blake Griffin has joined the injury list as questionable with an ankle sprain. That shouldn’t affect the team one way or the other since he hasn’t been in their rotation since some time in March. Ben Simmons is expected to return to play in Game 4 and is listed as out for this game. Simmons should give them another defender, but after being out since last year’s playoffs and not having played with this team before, I’m not sure how much he will be able to help them.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams (knee) questionable
Probable Nets Starters
Joe Harris (ankle) out
Ben Simmons (back) out
Blake Griffin (ankle) questionable
Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Durant
As in the first two games, Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Durant is the key matchup for this game. Tatum and the Celtics have done a masterful job of defending Durant so far. He has shot a combined 13-41 in the first two games and has turned the ball over 6 times in each game. This is the first time in his career where he has shot under 40% and turned the ball over 6 times in consecutive games. He has vowed to figure it out and play much better in this game. The Celtics need to be ready for any adjustments the Nets make to try to get Durant back on track.
Marcus Smart vs Kyrie Irving
Along with Durant, Kyrie Irving is key for the Nets play. Kyrie went off for 39 in the first game but was held to just 10 points in the second game. After Game 2, he was very complementary to the Celtics, Ime Udoka and Brad Stevens. Whether that was his way of giving up on the Nets, or just a slam on his teammates and coaches, I’m not sure. The Celtics need to be ready for the Nets to make adjustments to try to free up Kyrie to have another big game in the series.
Ime Udoka vs Steve Nash
Much has been made of the coaching matchup in this series. Ime Udoka served as an assistant coach under Steve Nash last season and has been a couple of steps ahead of him in both games so far. Nash has been criticized by most of the commentators and sports writers for not having a better offensive systems. He has also been criticized for not making adjustments in the series. I’m sure none of that is lost on him and he will likely try to make some adjustments and look to try to beat the Celtics defense. On the other hand, Ime has the Celtics playing at an incredibly high level, especially on defense. Will Ime continue to own this matchup in Game 3?
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning, and even more so in the playoffs. The Celtics defense on Durant and Kyrie has been excellent in the first 2 games. However, the Celtics defense has not been as good as it could be. Games 1 and 2 were the 4th and 6th worst defensive games in the last 18 for the Celtics. They allowed 115.1 points vs the 105.3 points that they allowed between Christmas and the end of the season. Getting Robert Williams back should help to tighten up their defense, but every player needs to make defense a priority.
Rebound - In order to score, the Celtics need the ball and to get the ball, they will need to crash the boards as a team. Rebounding gives them extra possessions and second chance points. The Celtics out-rebounded the Nets 43-29 in Game 1 but in Game 2, both teams had 36 rebounds. In the first half where the Celtics were behind by as many as 17 points, the Nets out-rebounded the Celtics. But, in the second half, when the Celtics surged ahead, the Celtics out-rebounded the Nets 26-13. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics need to put out that extra effort for the entire game to beat the Nets on the boards.
Stay Focused and Play Hard - The Celtics need to come out focused and ready to play hard from the opening tip until the final buzzer. The Celtics lacked focus in the first half of Game 2. They missed 6 free throws and seemed a step late on rebounds, loose balls, and on defense, allowing the Nets to shoot 60% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. In the second half, the Celtics came out more focused and played harder and held the Nets to 30.6% from the field and crashed the boards to out-rebound the Nets. The Celtics must stay focused throughout this game as if they have a bad quarter and fall behind as they did in Game 2, it will be much harder to come back on the road. And they have to play hard for 48 minutes.
Don’t Be Over-Confident - The Celtics are up 2-0, but they haven’t won anything yet. They are playing on the road and in front of a hostile crowd. They are playing against a very dangerous team with two of the best scorers in the league. The Celtics must come in and play as if their backs are against the wall and they need to work harder than the Nets and not underestimate the Nets in any way. If they lose this game, the Nets are right back in the series with some momentum and confidence and so the Celtics must look at this as a must win game and play like it is Game 7.
On the Road - The Celtics had a very loud crowd behind them in Games 1 and 2. The crowd definitely affected Kyrie and helped to motivate and push the Celtics to the two wins they got there. Now they will be in a hostile arena where the cheers will be for Kyrie and KD rather than against them and the Nets will gain some motivation and encouragement from their fans. Can the Celtics block out the distractions of playing on the road and stay focused on the game?
The Return of Timelord - Robert Williams is expected to play limited minutes in this game. This should give the team a boost and help their defense to get back to the elite level that they were at before he was injured. Will he pick up right where he left off? Will he need some time to get back to the athleticism that made him so special? Will his return require some adjustments from the players who have been filling in for him? Will he return to the starting lineup or come off the bench and will that affect his play?
Officiating - The officiating can always be an x-factor and maybe more so in this game. So far in the first two games of the series, the officials have called an average of 52.5 fouls combined per game. In the regular season, they averaged just 38.9 fouls combined per game. Kevin Durant alone took 20 free throws in Game 2. Nash and Durant have both made statements about how physically the Celtics have played the Nets so far and that could cause them to tighten up even more. Some referees call the game tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it evenly. Some refs just seem to have an agenda that doesn’t fit the play on the court. I wouldn’t be surprised if the league would want to stretch this series out with some help from the officials. The Celtics have to play through however the refs call the game, whether it is tight or they let them play. They can’t allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on the game.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are three-point underdogs in Brooklyn for Game 3. With the razor thin margins in both games in Boston, that isn’t a surprise. Games 1 and 2 have been decided by x-factors. In the opener, Boston’s size (and obviously, a Tatum game winner) was an issue for the Nets; the Celtics grabbed 14 offensive rebounds to Brooklyn’s 5 and outscored them in the paint 56 to 32. In the second game, Grant Williams’ hot shooting in the first half followed by Payton Pritchard’s in the second buoyed a comeback effort from a 17-point deficit.
Brooklyn’s bump in the odds is coming from their home court advantage, but it’s hard to discount the expected return of Robert Williams even if it’s at Barclay’s Center. The Celtics defense has been ferocious against the Nets’ two superstars and it can only get better with the free safety addition of Time Lord.
However, what we haven’t seen in this first round series yet is both Durant and Irving going nuclear together. It’s technically not a must-win game obviously, but an 0-3 hole with fewer days of rest now heading into Game 4 doesn’t bode well for the 30+ duo.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.