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Turnover woes cripple struggling Nets

Alder Almo - Philstar.com
Turnover woes cripple struggling Nets
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets look on in the final seconds of their 109-103 loss against the Boston Celtics during Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 23, 2022 in New York City.
Al Bello / Getty Images / AFP

NEW YORK – The Brooklyn Nets could have been up 3-0 instead of facing elimination. 

If only they are taking care of the ball. 

Nets coach Steve Nash pinned the blame on their turnover woes after they fell to the Boston Celtics for the third straight time, 109-103, Saturday night (Sunday, Manila time) before a star-studded sellout crowd at the Barclays Center. 

The stars showed up led by Mary J. Blige, New York Knicks superfan and film director Spike Lee, comedian Trevor Noah, and New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge. 

But the Nets stars fizzled out again against the Celtics, who have been the best team in the league since late January. 

Kevin Durant had only one more field goal (6) than turnovers (5), while Kyrie Irving bled 16 points on 17 shots. 

They couldn’t match Celtics’ star power as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown played well on both ends of the floor, combining for 62 points, 11 assists and eight steals. 

“I think unforced turnovers hurt us in all three games. Uncharacteristically just giving [Celtics] the ball, and they’ve run out on us,” Nash said. “I think that will be the number one thing.”

The Nets are averaging 17.0 turnovers in the series, the second-worst in the NBA playoffs this season. Only the much younger Minnesota Timberwolves are worse than them, with 18.0 errors per game. 

They’re falling into the Celtics’ trap. 

“I think the frustrating part is the tangibles out there that we can control, meaning just the turnovers and the offensive rebounds. For the last three games, we’ve given up a lot of easy baskets in transition. And though they’re a good defensive team, I feel like sometimes we just put in their lap,” Irving said. 

Boston is the best fast-breaking team in the playoffs averaging 19.3 points in transition. They have parlayed the Nets’ turnovers to 15.7 points. 

While Nash credited the Celtics’ defense, their most glaring weakness in the playoffs is a sign of unfamiliarity and fatigue that have plagued them throughout this season. 

Durant has been playing 40-plus minutes every game since he returned from an MCL injury in the middle of the season. He only rested for two minutes in Game Three. 

Irving has been playing on an empty stomach this month in observance of Ramadan. He played 43 minutes in Game Three. 

“They’ve both got to be tired,” Nash said. 

Durant and Irving refused to accept it. 

“I feel good playing like I’m not winded. My body doesn’t hurt,” Durant said. 

Durant attributed his sub-par play in the series to overthinking. 

“I felt like in the first two games, I was trying to be aggressive,” he explained.

After re-watching Games One and Two, Durant decided to change tactics. The 6-foot-10 Durant, who had one of the silkiest jumpers in the history of the game, only took 11 shots in Game Three after taking 41 in the first two games. 

Different strategy. Same result.  

“I felt my approach to this game was to play off everybody and play off the plate. Get in the flow of the offense and let the ball move and find me,” Durant said. 

Except that the ball did not find him enough to impact the game. And when he had it, he was tentative at times, which led to unforced turnovers. 

There were two plays where Durant passed the ball to no one. 

“I’m just thinking too much, to be honest, this whole series,” Durant said, “like how I am I going to approach the game?”

The Nets need Durant to chill and play his usual game. But he’s caving in to pressure. The Celtics have been throwing different looks at him on defense — from Tatum to Brown to the undersized but physical Grant Williams. 

But despite Durant’s sub-par play (22.0 points on 38.5% shooting) in the series, the Nets have been competitive in all three games. 

Durant had seen these defensive schemes before throughout his first 14 years in the league. The difference, he said, is that the Celtics have size. 

Only Marcus Smart is standing below 6-foot-5 in the Celtics’ starting lineup, but he has a 6-foot-9 wingspan. 

Irving, Durant’s co-star, is having a tough time against Smart. 

In the first two games, the Nets guard was held to below 36% shooting before exploding for 39 points in a futile effort in Game Three. He’s averaging 41.7 minutes in the series. 

“My legs feel okay,” said Irving, dismissing Nash’s comments about fatigue. “I think it’s kind of the flow of everything right now. I mean, it’s just the end of the season, then I’m also fasting and just trying to find a balance there. But when I show up to the facility or the arena, there are no excuses that I have from me being ready and prepared.”

Veteran Blake Griffin, who’s been glued on the bench until Game Three, had a spirited performance with eight points in eight minutes. But the Celtics hunted him down on the other end of the floor, leading to his minus-4 net rating. 

He was the symbol of the Nets’ desperation to salvage the series. 

After the game, Griffin said their spirit wasn’t where it should have been coming into a crucial match. 

“I respect Blake’s pain and honor it,” Irving said. “I’m sure just for these last few games, he felt like he could make a bigger impact on our team. He should feel that way. What we saw tonight was just a glimpse of probably what he’s capable of doing. I would love to see more of it.”

“But in terms of our spirit, I think being in the series like this with guys that we’re just trying to gel, and usually you’re gelling around the right time, and that team in the other locker room is gelling at the right time.”

Irving should look at the mirror and answer why the Nets don’t have any semblance of chemistry. 

“I don’t want to be cliché, but I don’t have a lot of answers for how you make up time from October until now. You can put it on me in terms of playing better, controlling the game better, controlling our possessions, being in more stance, and not turning the ball over as much. I have five fouls tonight. So, you could put it on me more of just doing more and holding guys accountable. In the same way, I’m held accountable,” Irving said. 

Irving’s decision to remain unvaccinated had a ripple effect that eventually led to Harden asking out and Durant having to shoulder more load on his surgically repaired Achilles. 

It torpedoed their championship window that could mercifully end this week. 

The Nets could have been up, 3-0, but here they are on the brink of getting swept.  

They could have been playing with a homecourt advantage against a lower-seeded team. 

Nash had a fair share of criticism for getting outcoached. He was barking at the wrong tree. 

Their turnover woes are just a symptom of a larger problem that led to this inevitable flameout. 

Borrowing die-hard Nets fan Joe Makar’s tweet after the Game Three loss, the team’s hashtag should be changed from #NetsLevel to #maybeNetsyear. 


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Alder Almo is a former senior sportswriter for Philstar.com and NBA.com Philippines. He is now based in Jersey City, New Jersey, and writes for the New York-based sports website empiresportsmedia.com. 

BOSTON

BROOKLYN

CELTICS

KEVIN DURANT

KYRIE IRVING

NBA

NBA PLAYOFFS

NETS

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