As an unmistakable feeling of desperation closed in on the Nets, Coach Steve Nash reached towards the deepest recesses of his bench on Saturday and summoned a former star in twilight. Blake Griffin shed his warm-ups, together with some cobwebs, and reported to the scorer’s desk.
Griffin, 33, has a bum ankle and a surgically repaired knee that at a earlier stage of his profession — again when he was dunking over midsize sedans as one of many faces of the N.B.A. — had a full allotment of cartilage. But he had not caught a whiff of enjoying time in 21 days, courting to the common season. Now, with the Nets trailing the Celtics in Game 3 of their first-round playoff collection, Nash turned to Blake for one thing, something — a spark, a elevate, possibly even a miracle.
The Nets have been prepared to take what they may get, and for a few superb minutes at Barclays Center, Griffin delivered. He sank a couple of 3-pointers. He grappled for rebounds. He even tried to defend Jayson Tatum because the Celtics hunted for favorable one-on-one matchups towards him.
Miracles alone don’t win playoff collection, a lot much less championships. And whereas there was a time, not so way back, when the Nets have been celebrated as the newest superteam that appeared certain for excellent issues, they’ve found the exhausting method that titles can’t be store-bought or swiftly cobbled collectively after months of accidents and dysfunction.
“I just felt like we didn’t have the right spirit throughout the entire game,” Griffin stated after the Nets’ 109-103 loss, which pushed them to the brink of an early low season.
Boston, a group that has been ascendant underneath Ime Udoka, its first-year coach, can shut out the Nets with a collection sweep on Monday evening, and it’s in all probability solely a matter of time earlier than this one will get wrapped up regardless: No group in N.B.A. historical past has come again from a three-games-to-none collection deficit.
Aside from that inconvenient reality, the Nets seem acutely conscious that the Celtics are a extra full, cohesive group. Just take heed to them. Griffin cited the Celtics’ top-ranked protection. (“This is a great defensive team,” he stated.) Kevin Durant cited their size. (“I just think they got more size than us,” he stated.) And Nash cited their capacity to drive to the basket. (“We haven’t been able to contain the basketball,” he stated.) This is just not a successful system for the Nets.
On Saturday, the Nets supplied up loads of small moments that typified bigger issues. But think about one among their last possessions, as Durant dribbled towards the Celtics’ Grant Williams with the hope of making some house. Finding none, Durant threw a bounce go to Kyrie Irving that was intercepted by Tatum, who raced away for a dunk that punctuated the win. It was the Nets’ twenty first and last turnover of the sport.
“Poor decision-making,” Nash stated. “Not connecting simple passes, and they’re going the other way.”
The Celtics have smothered Durant, limiting him to 22 factors a recreation on 36.5 % capturing. On Saturday, he tried simply 11 subject objectives. His postgame information convention sounded vaguely like remedy.
“I’ve just been thinking too much, to be honest, this whole series,” he stated.
After capturing 4 of 17 from the sector in Game 2, Durant had come into Game 3 wanting to seek out his teammates extra usually and “let the ball find me” inside the circulate of the offense, he stated. But he was already questioning himself as he scrutinized one other depressing field rating in a collection stuffed with them.
“I probably should’ve took more shots,” he stated, including: “In my mind, I’m just trying to see how I can help everybody. Sometimes, I end up taking myself out of the game.”
Durant was not the one star who struggled. Irving shot 6 of 17 from the sector and missed all seven of his 3-point makes an attempt. Nash blamed fatigue for a part of their woes. Irving is fasting for Ramadan. Durant has been supplying enormous minutes for weeks — first when the Nets have been scrambling to safe a spot within the postseason, and now as they attempt to survive towards a superior opponent.
“They’ve both got to be tired,” Nash stated. “Fasting can’t be easy, you know? If I go play tennis and I haven’t eaten, I feel like I’m going to fall over. So I can’t imagine how he feels in an N.B.A. playoff game.”
At the identical time, the collection has supplied contrasting approaches to group constructing. The Celtics’ core is essentially made up of gamers whom they drafted and developed, a listing highlighted by Tatum and Jaylen Brown. That listing additionally consists of Marcus Smart, the N.B.A.’s defensive participant of the yr, and Robert Williams, the fourth-year middle who returned to the rotation on Saturday about three weeks after knee surgical procedure.
In that method, the Celtics are harking back to contenders just like the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies, groups that developed continuity and chemistry by sticking with their younger gamers.
The Nets went the opposite method, buying high-priced stars like Durant and Irving whereas buying and selling away their draft picks and prospects. It was championship or bust from the beginning. Sometimes that experiment pans out. The Los Angeles Lakers, in spite of everything, received the championship in 2020 by following a comparable script. But that appears to be the exception nowadays, and the Lakers have since crumbled into a pile of very costly and growing old mud after mortgaging their future to attempt to win now. The Nets will not be far behind.
The Nets, after all, have had a notably disjointed season, and even earlier than the beginning of Game 3, Nash was rattling off an abridged listing of the challenges his group had confronted: not having Irving for a lot of the season as a result of he refused to be vaccinated; buying and selling James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers; shedding Durant for six weeks due to a sprained ligament in his knee. Nash stated he was not making excuses, however. …
“We’ve had very few pockets with everyone able to play,” he stated.
At this level, they could have solely one among them left.