The death knell may have sounded on the Nets’ disappointing season — killed by Kevin Durant’s surprising struggles and porous defense.
The Nets lost Game 3 to the Celtics, 109-103, on Saturday night in front of a disappointed crowd at Barclays Center and are now trailing in the series, three games to nil. The pre-season title favorites are now one loss away from elimination and looking straight down the barrel of an embarrassing first-round exit.
“S–t every game is a must win from now on,” Andre Drummond said beforehand. “We lost a tough game in Game 1 by a beater at the buzzer. In Game 2, we gave up a 17-point lead. So we have the tools to win the game. We know what they’re capable of, we know what they’re going to throw at us, and that only highlights it in the rest of the series.
No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. And nothing the Nets have shown in the first three games has instilled confidence that they can be first.
Bruce Brown scored a team-high 26 points, but Durant and Kyrie Irving (16 points) fell short for the Nets.
Durant, who was held in check by Boston’s top-ranked defense, had just 16 points on Saturday. For the first time in his career, he had been held to less than 40% shooting with six turnovers. Nets coach Steve Nash got him off the ball and dribbled less in Game 3, used more as a screen.
He was always rendered almost invisible – like the Nets’ chances. He shot 6 for 11 (better than 13 for 41 combined in the first two games) and had eight rebounds and eight assists, but still turned the ball over five times.
“I think [Saturday was] not a must, but every game is a must in the playoffs, so I don’t necessarily subscribe to that,” Nash said before the game. “You’re not going to say Game 1 isn’t a must win. You’re trying to win every game. So our mentality shouldn’t change; we’re trying to win every game.
They may only have one more, with Game 4 on Monday being an elimination game.
Jayson Tatum scored a game-high 39 points for Boston and was serenaded by chants of “MVP! MVP!” of Celtics fans dressed in green and white in Brooklyn. Jaylen Brown added 23 points.
Nash tried a host of tweaks and tweaks, desperate to change the momentum of the series. Toi Nets dusted liberally in some areas early, and even dusted Blake Griffin late.
With the Nets leading 75-69 with 1:27 left in the third, Nash gave Griffin his first minutes since April 2. He scored eight points and gave the Nets a spark, but not enough.
A star-studded crowd that included Spike Lee, Mary J. Blige, Trevor Noah, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge and Questlove may have watched the Nets’ last gasp.
The Nets actually led 12-5 early on, thanks to a quick seven points from Brown. But it didn’t last. They coughed up an 18-5 run — including seven unanswered runs in Boston — and could never mount a single serious threat to shoot even after that.
After taking a 20-19 lead with 4:26 left in the first on Durant’s fade court, the Nets gave up a 7-0 push. Boston guard Derrick White’s layup left them at six.
The deficit reached 12 when Payton Pritchard drilled a 3-point drop, making it 37-25. The clock showed 9:05 a.m. left in the first half, but the contest — and perhaps the Nets’ season — was over.
The Nets went 51-50 on Patty Mills’ 3-point kick just before halftime, but no closer.
It was 53-50 at the break after the Nets closed on an 11-5 run. But three successive quick turnovers – two by Brown and another by Seth Curry – sparked a 7-0 run.
When Tatum found Daniel Theis for a 3-pointer, the Nets trailed 60-50 with 10:35 left in the third. They never seriously challenged the rest of the way.
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