BOSTON (CBS) — Buzzers are fun. The furious respawns are just as entertaining. The Celtics have done both the last four nights and now hold a 2-0 lead over the Brooklyn Nets in their first-round playoff series.
Through two postseason games, the Celtics have shown incredible resilience in their two wins. The resilience to win a close game that almost coughed up, and the resilience to shake off a terrible start and climb out of a giant hole.
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In Game 1, Boston overcame a late run by the Nets and some absurd shooting by Kyrie Irving to win a close game at the buzzer. Winning close games was one of their biggest issues during the regular season, but the Celtics rose to the occasion Sunday thanks to a near-perfect final minute of basketball.
That perfection lasted much longer in Game 2 on Wednesday night. After Seth Curry started the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to put the Nets up 92-85, the Celtics went on a 23-4 run over the next 10-plus minutes to take a 108-96 lead. Boston’s 17-point first-half deficit was an afterthought at the time, with TD Garden once again struggling to keep its ceiling intact.
The Celtics continued to drop after falling behind in the second quarter. They stuck to their game plan and never panicked. Once they ramped up their defense in the third, it felt like one of those games where all they had to do was take the lead to open the floodgates.
That is exactly what happened. Once Payton Pritchard stepped back to break a 92-92 tie with 7:49 to go, the Celtics never looked back.
It was during his massive run in the fourth quarter that Jaylen Brown scored 10 of his 22 points. Jayson Tatum went on a 7-0 run on his account, hitting a 3-pointer with 2:07 remaining to sink the dagger.
The dynamic duo from Boston were just 8 for 25 going into the fourth. But Brown made four of his six shots in the fourth quarter, while Tatum was two of his three. After Boston’s illustrious ball movement was stagnant for most of the first half, they turned around again in the second. The Celtics finished with 27 assists on their 39 baskets Wednesday, led by Tatum’s 10 dimes. He played the role of facilitator when his shot didn’t go down, and now has 18 assists in the series.
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Brown was the star of the fourth and Tatum added some big baskets, but everyone who played had their fingerprints on Wednesday’s win. Ime Udoka, who came up short, injected some energy, and sticking with Pritchard at the end helped seal victory. Al Horford once again kept the team afloat as Tatum and Brown battled it out in the first half, and Grant Williams was a wizard off the bench with 17 points. All five of Boston’s starters scored in double figures, and all focused on defense in the second half.
“This was a huge team effort,” Tatum said after the win. “This was an ugly game, especially during the first three quarters. He wasn’t throwing the ball well at all, JB started to pick up the slack late. Grant, Smart, Al, [Daniel] Theis, [Derrick] White, Payton: everyone contributed. This was a complete team win. We needed everyone. Everyone who played brought something to the table.”
Boston’s hard-hitting defense simply wore Brooklyn down for the final 24 minutes, allowing just 42 points. The Celtics outscored the Nets 29-17 in the fourth. Six of those points were free throws by Kevin Durant, and five were scored in the final minute when Boston already had the win in its back pocket.
The Celtics continued to intimidate Durant every time they took the court, limiting the superstar to just 4-for-17 shooting. He scored 18 of his 27 points at the free throw line, a product of that vigorous Boston defense the Celtics will live with. (Although Udoka said that 20 gifts was too many). Durant didn’t look comfortable at any point during the first two games, and the Celtics were able to block two of his attempts on Wednesday, something that just doesn’t happen with the 6. 10-foot midrange killer.
Durant is now just 13-for-31 in the series.
The Celtics also kept Irving out of his game Wednesday night, limiting him to 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting. The former Celtic praised Boston’s cohesiveness after the game, something he said the Nets are sorely lacking.
Boston completely pulled the rug out from under the Nets on Wednesday, leaving two of the best players in the league searching for answers. The odds heavily favor the Celtics to advance, though we know a series doesn’t really start until an away team wins a game. Boston will get its first opportunity to do so on Saturday night.
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“We just take it one game at a time, and that’s all that matters,” Brown said. “We cannot look forward or backward, only at what is in front of us. The series is not over. We won two games on our home court and there’s still a lot of basketball left to play… I’m excited for Game 3.”