Nets Big 3 learned it will take all them to beat Celtics

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What the Celtics learned on Friday night, what we all learned, is that the Brooklyn Nets bleed, you can punch the bully in the mouth and not run away scared, you do not have to faint at the mere sight of the Big 3 when they strut into your arena.

OK, so maybe it took a 50-point explosion from Jayson Tatum to beat them, and lightning never strikes twice, but James Harden did score 41 points and Kevin Durant did score 39 more and it still wasn’t enough.

So this is the first real pothole the Big 3 has hit on the Yellow Brick Road to the NBA Championship, and they were trying to convince us and perhaps themselves that a little adversity never hurt anybody. Not even them.

And they could be right, as long as their Game 3 loss serves as a wake-up call that reminds them that for all the raging hype and all the hyperventilating that has followed them from the moment KD and Kyrie Irving joined up together even before Harden came along for the ride, the final and only destination of which must be the Canyon of Heroes, they have yet to win a single playoff series together.

At the very least, the Celtics have gotten their attention, and with COVID-19 restrictions in Massachusetts lifted just in time for Game 4 on Sunday night, a capacity crowd will be there to attempt to will the Celtics to a 2-2 series deadlock, and spew venom while they’re at it at Irving, their villainous traitor who broke his pledge to stay a Celtic forever and maybe one day join Russell and Satch and Cousy and K.C. and Bird in the rafters and allow old Red Auerbach to puff on his cigar somewhere up there in hoop heaven.

The moral of the Game 3 story: There can indeed be nights when the mighty Nets do not put their shorts on two legs at a time if the Big 3 is merely the Big 2.

There indeed will be nights when coach Steve Nash will be forced to confront and address the dangers of complacency seeping in on the kind of night when Irving is 6-for-17 from the floor and 2-for-6 from 3-point range for 16 points, with two assists, across 41 minutes.

If Kyrie Irving had played the way Kyrie Irving had been expected to play on Friday night, then Nash wouldn’t be gnashing his teeth over a troubling lack of effort and physicality and discipline against an underdog Celtics team playing with its hair on fire. A Celtics team that wanted Game 3 more, and will want Game 4 every bit as much, and believe impossible is nothing now.

Irving’s task will be to answer the question of whether the city of Boston is in his head, because he sure didn’t answer it in Game 3.

“I don’t want to necessarily make any conclusions that it was because of all the other chatter and the fans and all that,” Nash said, “that’s a question for Ky. We know how good he is, we know that he can handle that environment, and we know that he can play much better in Game 4.”

Because of his perceived betrayal and his otherworldly gifts, Irving undoubtedly would have been vilified even if he hadn’t invoked the “subtle racism” card for which he had braced himself from TD Garden fans.

Irving brushed it off following Game 3 as just another hostile environment he has encountered across his 11-year career, but he did implore the boobirds to bring it on with a wave of his hands when he first came out for battle.

“I’m not against it if that’s what gets him going,” Nash said.

It is somewhat amusing that after the Nets lost for the first time in these playoffs, the narrative changed from the beauty and luxury of having three star playmakers who can create on their own and kill you with iso to maybe more ball movement would be preferable when the Big 3 is the Big 2.

“Getting into some of our sets and just getting movement and getting some shots that way, sorta keeps them guessing,” Blake Griffin said. “When you have a heavy dose of iso, I think it’s a little bit easier for defenses to sorta get used to it and scheme around.”

The Nets aren’t built to be Red Holzman’s hit-the-open-man Knicks. One playoff loss and Nash suddenly finds himself scrambling to rid the offense of predictability.

“They’re so good in isolation that sometimes they’re having success in isolation,” Nash said, “but maybe it’s hard to see how it’s limiting the overall picture. So, we have to find that balance.”

The Nets aren’t built to be Pat Riley’s Knicks either. One playoff loss and Nash suddenly finds himself scrambling to address the lackadaisical pick-and-roll defense the Nets displayed against Tatum.

“He was able to get his catches in his spots too easy,” Nash said.

There was also the matter of offering little resistance to Tristan Thompson (13 rebounds) on the offensive glass, with Glue Guy Jeff Green sidelined. And shame on the Nets for letting shooting guard Romeo Langford grab six rebounds off the bench in 27 minutes.

These are secondary or tertiary issues or concerns when the Big 3 is a Big 3. Big Game 4 now. Big crowd. Big 2 waiting on Kyrie.

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