As Celtics push Nets to brink, Ime Udoka says they’re a complete team
NEW YORK — When the Celtics arrived in town on Friday, the Empire State Building and surrounding downtown towers glowed green.
Maybe it was for Earth Day, maybe it was for the Celtics. Impossible to say.
Whether it was the MVP chants for Jayson Tatum or just the fact that Kyrie Irving received as many boos as cheers on Saturday night, it was clear Boston felt at home at Barclays Center as the Celtics took a lead. 3-0 on the series. Nets with a 109-103 victory.
The difference between a team that revolves around two great players and a legitimate contender was once again evident. Nets coach Steve Nash kept trying to find something to turn things around when Boston was in charge, but the Celtics always closed the door.
From Blake Griffin raining down 3s to Nic Claxton cleaning the offensive glass, nothing lasted more than a few minutes for the Nets. Either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown ended it.
By the time Tatum completed a quick layup past Kyrie Irving to freeze the game, the Nets’ season seemed over as the Celtics’ title hopes seemed to roar full speed ahead. Tatum seemed like the best of the best, snatching the torch from Durant’s hands.
“Honestly, it’s not something I think about. I’m sure that’s what Twitter and TV will say, but myself and all the guys in the locker room, we’re just worried about one game at a time and winning,” Tatum said. “I’m not trying to make it a one-on-one thing or a confrontational thing. For me to try to go out there and play as hard as I can, give it my all on both sides and do everything I can to make sure we get a win every night. And everyone on our team does that, sacrificing, competing, being on the same page. So not necessarily focused on individual matches. As long as we win, that’s all we care about.
The Celtics coalesced into something special, a team so resilient they barely needed Rob Williams when he returned. The Celtics never feel like they need a particular player at any given time. They can keep scoring with Brown or Tatum off the bench. They can run their defense with any pair of bigs they have on the floor. Marcus Smart and Derrick White can take turns pressuring Irving for 48 minutes. It all works, whatever the time, whatever the player, and they have the Nets about to crack.
“I feel like we’re a complete team,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said.
“We didn’t have the right spirit throughout the game,” Griffin said.
“It’s a shitty game, man. A crap game. Durant said.
The Celtics had 37 points on 21 turnovers and 25 quick break points to just nine for the Nets. The Celtics had as many offensive steals and rebounds (13) as free throws (13). They did it in every facet of the game.
Brooklyn ran off early in the game to force Udoka into an early timeout. Tatum then led a 10-2 run and it was Boston’s game from there. As the Celtics continue to find ways to win, they take on the aura of a juggernaut. But what’s made them so great this season is that they stay grounded in reality. They lost that for a few minutes in crunchtime, but they showed why they are who they are on Saturday when they quickly put the game away.
“It’s just part of being in the playoffs with a group that continues to find ways to win. Your confidence is starting to grow a little bit,” Brown said. “But we don’t want to be blindsided. We want to continue to respect our opponent. We know who we are playing against. We know what they are capable of.
Udoka set the tone for a team that doesn’t care about the opponent, focuses on itself and gets the win. He epitomized that when the Celtics were the only team not to attempt to dodge the Nets in the final week of the regular season. Udoka shoved the Celtics’ chips mid-table and bet they could impose their will on the Nets like they were any other play team. Three games into the series is exactly what look like the Nets as the Celtics continue to outplay and outplay them.
“I tell guys all the time in time outs, especially late in games, my message is nobody plays harder than us,” Tatum said. “I always remind the guys that whoever’s on the pitch, guys coming off the bench, that’s what I want people to think about. That we are the toughest team in league 1-15. When I step on the floor I try to set the tone. (Marcus) Smart, even Al (Horford) diving on the floor, we need that from everyone. If Al dives to the ground, there’s no excuse for me or JB not to.
Boston consistently disrupted the Nets’ offensive sets, such as when Irving and Durant failed to complete a pick-and-roll in the third quarter and Irving was seen giving Durant a pep talk. Irving is trying to keep the Nets in the right frame of mind after going 0-for-7 from deep against Smart and the Celtics’ other perimeter defenders.
“The ball should go a bit more in the circle, we should stop on the defensive end, our defense shouldn’t fall apart as often, and then that possession happens and we’re on camera and everyone’s watching,” Irving mentioned. “But it’s just that we’re brothers, and we expect mountain greatness from each other. And when we don’t live up to that, I think it kind of touches our hearts and that expression is emotionally honest and I honor that, so move on to the next thing.
So even with the Celtics having an insurmountable advantage, they still stick to their principles. The nets can still explode. The Celtics must defend. They have to work. They must be what got them there.
“These guys, you know what they are capable of there. They did it time and time again,” Brown said. “We have neither the space nor the time to think about what they are doing. We focus on ourselves, try to be the version of ourselves, and we live with the results. Fortunately, these guys missed a few shots. We ended up winning the game and we want it to continue.
Boston has learned from its failures. He went through the entire arc of a franchise’s history in one season. Maybe that’s what makes the Celtics so strong, that they always run away from their past.
“I think those at the end of the season and those at the start of the season, when we had big leads and we were blowing them up like that, it was hard to deal with at the time,” Tatum said. “But I always said it was going to make us stronger. I think a big growth in our team is our mental toughness and the way we react to races, and I think we’ve done a good job there. regard.
This mental strength determines what happens from here.
“Just character. It’s about our character now,” Nash said. “It’s about digging deep and being proud and finding a way in the next 48 hours to come back ready to win on Monday night. .”
From what we’ve seen all playoffs, all season, this is exactly where the Celtics want their fortunes to turn.
(Photo by Jayson Tatum: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)