If the Brooklyn Nets’ 2021-22 campaign was a disappointment, things took on a different tone on Tuesday night. Despite finding themselves in the Play-In Tournament and enduring some nervy moments down the stretch, Steve Nash’s men looked pretty good, outlasting the Cleveland Cavaliers to earn a 115-108 victory.
The positive vibes, however, probably won’t last for long. While Brooklyn managed to earn their way into the postseason, things won’t get any easier. As the seventh seed, the Nets will be shipping up to Boston for a tricky matchup with the red-hot Celtics.
The Brooklyn Nets beat Cleveland to survive the Play-In Tournament
In a one-off game, anything can happen. On Tuesday night, however, the Nets proved their quality from the opening whistle.
Brooklyn jumped out to an early advantage, and never looked really looked back. As much as Cleveland tried to claw back into the contest, getting within five points in the fourth quarter, the Nets’ star power was simply too much.
Kyrie Irving finished with 34 points, after dropping 20 in the first half without missing a shot. Kevin Durant also did his part, adding 25. The two stars combined for 23 assists, with Bruce Brown (18 points), Andre Drummond (16 points), and Nic Claxton (13 points) reaping the rewards.
With that being said, though, things aren’t all positive for Brooklyn. While you could argue that only the win matters, the Nets needed impeccable performances from their stars to outlast Cleveland. That doesn’t exactly bode well for tougher matchups.
The Nets’ reward is a tricky date with the red-hot Boston Celtics
At this point in the NBA season, easy matchups are few and far between. The Boston Celtics, however, will represent a sizable challenge, even for a team of the Nets’ talent.
After a rocky start to the season, Boston has turned a corner. Ever since Ime Udoka called out his own team, the Celtics have looked like a different team. They’ve only lost five games since the All-Star Game and have grown into the league’s top-rated defense. The club is also more than respectable on the offensive end of the floor, thanks to duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
In a must-win series, that’s bad news for the Nets. While they have the star power on their roster to pull off any upset, things won’t be easy on either end of the floor.
Boston’s defense will test the Nets’ depth and ability to play passing, rather than isolation-heavy, basketball. It’s safe to assume Durant will face constant double-teams — Marcus Smart has a knack for swooping in from the weak side — meaning that Kyrie Irving and Seth Curry will need to keep defenders honest. Andre Drummond has to be an important safety valve in the paint.
When Boston is in possession, the Nets will have their hands full facing Tatum, Brown, and the Celtics’ free-flowing offense. Those two stars can shred any defense, let alone the Nets’ 20th-ranked unit. While things could change if Ben Simmons manages to return – he takes a massive weight off of Kyrie Irving’s shoulders and simply gives Nash more to work with – even his presence won’t give Brooklyn an easy ride.
From a matchup perspective, it’s also worth considering how Boston’s defense can lead to offense. The Nets have a rather porous transition defense; if the Celtics can force bad shots or quick turnovers, they’ll likely have a chance to run the floor and pot some easy points.
While their star power won out on Tuesday night, Brooklyn will still face a tricky test when they meet the Celtics. That’s the price for landing in the Play-In Tournament, though. If the Nets are unhappy with their matchup, they only have themselves to blame.
Team stats courtesy of NBA.com