Thursday, September 28

Observations as the Celtics parry every Nets rally, and send Brooklyn to the brink in Game 3 – The Boston Globe

Boston holds a commanding 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, and will have a chance to complete the sweep here on Monday night.

Jayson Tatum had 39 points to lead the Celtics and was serenaded with ‘MVP’ chants when he went to the foul line in the final minutes. Brown finished with 23. Robert Williams returned after missing nearly a month with a knee injury and had 2 points and 2 rebounds in 16 minutes.

Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had another quiet night, held to 16 points apiece on 12 for 28 shooting. Brooklyn committed 21 turnovers.

The Celtics fell behind by 7 points early, but bounced back without much trouble and led for the final 40 minutes of the game. Patty Mills hit two late 3-pointers to give Brooklyn some fleeting hope, but it never developed into a real concern for the Celtics.

Observations from the game:

⋅ For the second consecutive game, Bruce Brown provided most of Brooklyn’s first-quarter offense. The Dorchester native scored the first 9 points of Game 2, and at the start of Game 3 he had a steal and a layup, then a tip-in and a 3-pointer before adding another 3-pointer later in the quarter. Nash will have some tough decisions to make if Ben Simmons is indeed cleared to make his debut in Game 4 on Monday.

Regardless, Brown, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, has made himself some money this series. His 26 points on 10 for 19 shooting Saturday led the Nets.

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⋅ Brown’s flurry staked Brooklyn to another early lead, and this time it had a surprisingly rowdy crowd behind it. But the Celtics didn’t flinch or get flustered. They calmly stuck with their plan and used quick, precise passes to generate open looks. At the other end, Boston’s defense was as locked in as ever, leaving the Nets with several late shot-clock situations that ended with heaves. The early jolt provided by the crowd was wiped away.

⋅ Durant has struggled mightily on offense this series, but Celtics coach Ime Udoka wasn’t pleased when Brown sagged off of him and allowed him to drill a 3-pointer to start the game. Durant hit his next shot soon after, but Brooklyn was unable to free him up to get him on a roll. Durant didn’t take another shot until midway through the second quarter. Also, he took 20 free throws in Game 2, but only two on Saturday, hitting both in the fourth quarter.

He has appeared completely unsettled, with turnovers seeming just as likely as baskets. Boston’s defense deserves plenty of credit.

⋅Robert Williams, who had been sidelined since tearing the meniscus in his left knee on March 27, checked in with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left in the first quarter. He certainly did not appear uneasy at the start.

He soared in for an alley-oop that was waved off due to a foul. At the other end, Andre Drummond tried to challenge Williams in the post, and had his shot swatted away. Then Williams soared in for an alley-oop that did count, taking a lob from Tatum. But Williams did not have a rebound through the first three quarters.

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⋅ The first two games of this series were filled with touch fouls and free throws, and they crushed the flow for both sides. The first half Saturday provided at least a temporary respite from the whistles, with just six total free throws attempted.

⋅ Irving stayed in the game after collecting his third foul with four minutes left in the second quarter. Irving’s defense is below average even when there are no other hindrances, and when he is in foul trouble, it presents an even juicier opportunity.

But the Celtics didn’t do enough to go right at him over those final four minutes. The Nets whittled away at a 12-point second-quarter deficit and pulled within 53-50 at the break.

⋅ Tatum had a scorching stretch in the first quarter and finished it with 12 points. But in the second, he took just one shot and did not score. No matter how he’s being defended, that can’t happen.

It was also an unusually quiet night for Al Horford, who was held to 3 points and had just 2 rebounds.

⋅ Nash tried to shake things up a bit with his team trailing by 6 and less than two minutes left in the third quarter with Griffin, who had not played since April 2. He played some solid defense on Brown on one possession, but then threw the ball away a couple of plays later. That capped a big 6-0 run for Boston in the final 48.7 seconds, after the Nets had pulled within 75-72. It felt like Nash was just grasping at straws.

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Griffin made a few good hustle plays and even drilled a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics hunted him nearly every time downcourt, with Brown doing the most damage in the fourth.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.

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