Kyrie Irving’s 37 points leads Nets past Celtics on Christmas

Brad Stevens has said the first time he watched Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on the floor together for Brooklyn, five minutes was enough to realize how good this new Eastern Conference power could be.
Or already is, probably.
Perhaps when healthy — when Kemba Walker is back in uniform — the Celtics will be better equipped to deal with this dangerous team. But as evidenced by their 123-95 Christmas Day loss to the Nets, the Celtics are a weapon or two shy of matching their new divisional rival.
Irving finished with 37 points and Durant, on the power of a 16-point third quarter that triggered the landslide, had 29 on 9-for-16 shooting.
And, as the Celtics discovered, when both Nets stars are hitting shots, and playing off each other like a duo that has been together for more than two regular season games, it can place great stress on the other team to match their shot-making.
“I think their shot-making really puts a lot of pressure on us and we didn’t execute on offense as good as we possibly could,” said Jaylen Brown. “I think our defense was solid, but against them it needs to be better than solid. It needs to be great, because obviously they’re going to make tough shots. They’ve got a lot of shot makers on that team and once they hit shots we can’t get discouraged. We can’t let that speed us up. We’ve got to keep moving the ball, keep playing our game. I thought once they started making shots we felt the pressure a little bit and that comes with poise, it comes with experience, and we’re going to continue to build on that.
“I think it definitely maybe had a little bit of an effect on us today. It’s the second game of the season and we’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us. But I’m faithful that we’re going to continue to learn and grow, guys are going to get comfortable in certain roles and we’ve got a team with a lot of fight about us. So I’m looking forward to the next few games and building with this group and this unit that we have.”
The Celtics thus wasted a 27-point performance by Jaylen Brown and another 20 from Jayson Tatum. Oddly enough, Tatum has yet to attempt a free throw after two regular-season games.
Durant’s 16-point third quarter (he combined with Irving for 25 in that stretch) was devastating for the Celtics, erasing a 54-51 halftime advantage and replacing it with an 86-77 Brooklyn lead at the start of the fourth. Durant had 25 points, Irving another 26, and both Nets were gliding through Celtics coverage.
But it was a unit with both players on the bench that increased the edge for Brooklyn, with a Landry Shamet 3-pointer good for a 95-79 Nets lead with 9:44 left in the game.
Brown, repeatedly driving the paint, scored the next five points for the Celtics. Irving and Durant checked back in with 7:08 left, and the former didn’t need long to hit a 3-pointer for a 102-88 lead. Durant followed by blowing past Tatum for a 16-point edge with 5:20 left, Irving drove the next time down, and the Nets’ brilliant two-man game again took charge.
Irving’s up-top bomb with 3:40 left was good for a 111-90 lead, and 33 seconds later the former Celtic laced a cross-court bounce pass to Spencer Dinwiddie. His 3-pointer with 2:39 left gave the Nets a 116-92 lead and, essentially, the game.
“You got two of the greatest players in the game to date. They’ve got some great players around them to follow,” said Marcus Smart. “So we’re not surprised, we’ve got to come out and be better. We have to be precise with everything we do. We have to execute to the best of our ability because that’s what they force you to do. They force you to have to be almost perfect, and you have to respect that.”
And the Celtics clearly weren’t that team on Christmas. Smart, after attempting to help stop that two-pronged attack after halftime, got emotional during a third quarter timeout. Kemba Walker, respendent in a maroon jacket and black mask, was moved enough by Smart’s exhortations that he, too, got animated.
“Just to keep playing. We weren’t getting calls our way, shots weren’t falling,” Smart said of his message. “They were hitting some tough shots like we knew they would. Just to keep playing. It’s only the second game of the season. We got our ass kicked in preseason by those guys, and just to come out and keep playing. So we didn’t win, I like the way my guys fought. We definitely can be better, there’s a lot of things we can clean up. Like I said, it’s only the second game. We have to be able to compartmentalize and move on to the next.”
The second time around: After making his presence felt with 12 points and eight rebounds in the Celtics’ season-opening win over Milwaukee, Tristan Thompson came back with eight points and eight boards against the Nets, though he also fell into foul trouble as a result of sharing time on Durant.
But don’t be surprised if Brad Stevens continues to opt more for double big lineups, even if the Thompson/Daniel Theis combination didn’t have as much success this time around. The Celtics were also missing Rob Williams (illness) for the night.
“Just kinda depends on the game, right? We’re trying to manage (Thompson’s) minutes appropriately so if he gets those fouls on Durant at the start of the game it’s not as big of a deal as if some of those wings that you would probably prefer to have guarding Durant,” said the Celtics coach. “I thought Durant really battled and Tristan did a good job. We have to get better in other areas. The isolation defense on Kevin Durant is an issue for every person in the world. That’s how good Kevin Durant is. All you can do is battle. We gotta just be better at taking everything else away and I think there’s certain things that we can do a lot better than we did today for sure.”

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