Celtics

Celtics fall to Nets in Game 1 despite Robert Williams’s historic defensive performance

Williams finished with nine blocks, but the Nets had too much offense for the Celtics in Game 1.

Jayson Tatum attempts a shot as Kevin Durant contests.

The Celtics fell in Game 1 of their first-round series to the Brooklyn Nets, fading down the stretch in a 104-93 loss.

Here’s what’s happened.

The Big Picture

The Celtics were energetic and engaged in the first half and took a six-point lead into the break as the Nets shot just 1-for-13 from 3-point range.

Then the Nets woke up and seized the lead. The Celtics remained competitive and were within a single possession in with 7:27 remaining in the fourth quarter, but former Celtics star Kyrie Irving buried a pair of consecutive jumpers, and Kevin Durant finished in transition with 5:48 left to push the lead back to double digits.

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The Nets expanded their lead as high as 17 before the Celtics trimmed back into it for the final tally.

Star of the Game

Kevin Durant — 32 points, 10-for-25 shooting, 12 rebounds.

Robert Williams was a contender, but his team lost by double digits which seems disqualifying.

Durant struggled from 3-point range, but the Celtics — like the rest of the NBA — don’t appear to have answers for him when he’s rolling, which will be one of the most difficult puzzles they need to solve.

What’s Next

The Celtics have time to rally, but they played a near-perfect first half and still couldn’t take Game 1. Brad Stevens suggested multiple times after the game that the Celtics can clean up their offense, but a missed opportunity won’t feel good as they prepare for a crucial contest.

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Game 2 tips off Tuesday at 7:30 p.m on TNT and NBC Sports Boston.

Takeaways

1. In the first half, the Nets looked like a team whose three best players only played eight games together. They turned the ball over, and took turns offensively which simplified the game for the Celtics.

In the second, the Nets resolved all of those issues. They started making 3-pointers, but more importantly, Durant, Irving, and Harden picked their spots and played within themselves. Durant punished the Celtics with pull-up jumpers. Irving burned Celtics defenders at key moments with dribble moves that left the crowd ooh-ing. Harden worked his way to the free-throw line and facilitated.

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“They’re going to go on some runs, but it just can’t be 9-0,” Brad Stevens said. “I mean, they have to be 9-4 or 9-6 and then you manage that throughout the course of the game.”

The Nets had never started with Saturday’s starting lineup, but they worked through the kinks quickly. If the Nets neutralized the Celtics’s continuity advantage in the first two quarters of Game 1 already, the Celtics might be in for a difficult series.

2. Playing on one functional toe, Robert Williams was easily the Celtics’s best player. He pieced together a monstrous defensive performance with nine blocks (a Celtics playoff record since blocks were recorded) to go with 11 points and nine rebounds. He made the Nets feel his presence.

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“His timing is amazing,” said Kyrie Irving, who was the victim of the first of Williams’s blocks. “It’s great to see a big that’s active in our game, and he challenges you at the rim every single time. So it’s just going to test our IQ for the rest of these games.”

Perhaps Williams’s most impressive play came in the fourth quarter. Isolated against Harden for an entire possession, Williams stayed with the Nets star through a drive and stayed down when Harden went into his patented step-back. Williams finally swatted Harden’s shot away.

“It don’t mean s— if we losing, man,” Williams said after the game, which is partly true, except that Williams made a strong case for himself entering the offseason as he’s due a rookie extension. The Celtics are clearly better with Williams on the floor, and the only potential catch is his health. On Saturday, he pulled up limping several times on his injured toe.

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Williams said doctors told him if he can tolerate the pain, he can play.

“When I’m out there my adrenaline, the excitement of the game, kind of overtakes the pain,” Williams said. “So I use that.”

3. The Nets targeted Tristan Thompson heavily with switches against their best scorers, and the Celtics seemed pretty content to let it happen. Left on an island out on the perimeter, Thompson did what he could but the Nets’s star guards got by him with relative ease.

The Nets also targeted Jabari Parker, who got extended minutes in Jaylen Brown’s absence. Parker fared slightly better, but dealing with the Nets’s Big Three 1-on-1 repeatedly is a lot to ask of any defender.

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Stevens noted that Parker is one of the few Celtics big enough to challenge Durant.

“Obviously, Jabari has real size and he’s long,” Stevens said. “I thought he did a good job today on both ends.”

4. Tatum finished with 22 points on 6-for-20 shooting, which won’t be enough to heave the Celtics to victory. After a strong first quarter, Tatum went cold and never found his footing. The Nets focused their defense on him, and without Jaylen Brown, the Celtics simply didn’t have the firepower to draw them away.

“We can attack better for sure,” Stevens said. “We just have to do it.”

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Tatum faces a tough challenge. The Nets know how much the Celtics rely on him, so he needs to be spectacular against a team whose entire game plan is built around preventing him from being spectacular.

5. The Celtics shot 9-for-17 from 3-point range in the first half while Brooklyn shot 1-for-13. In the second half, the Celtics finished 2-for-13 from deep while the Nets shot 7-for-21 — uninspiring but more than enough. Kemba Walker (15 points, 5-for-16) made both of the Celtics’s threes late with the game all but wrapped up.

Teams can’t afford to go cold against the Nets. They certainly can’t afford to make their first 3-pointer of the second half trailing by double digits in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.

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“You can guard these guys really well, but you’re still going to have to score,” Stevens said. “So we need that same emphasis as we move forward. We got another couple days to get ready for Game 2. That’s going to be really intense.

“But hey, our guys are ready to compete and we’ll look forward to that. And we’ll be better. We’ll attack them better.”

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