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Celtics Were Simply No Match for James Harden and Brooklyn's Big Three

With Harden rounding into form, the Nets' trio of stars set Brooklyn on a collision course with Milwaukee in the second round.

Three thoughts on Brooklyn’s series-clinching 123-109 win over Boston on Tuesday …

In the end, the Celtics were outgunned

Credit Boston—down three starters, with Kemba Walker and Robert Williams joining Jaylen Brown on the sidelines for the last two games, the Celtics were scrappy, clawing their way back when Brooklyn built leads, drawing within seven points midway through the third quarter. But the Nets firepower is just overwhelming. After combining for 104 points in Game 4, James Harden (34 points), Kyrie Irving (25) and Kevin Durant (24) racked up 83 in Game 5. With the Celtics closing in the fourth, each knocked down a three-pointer, expanding the lead back into double digits and effectively putting the game out of reach. Overall, Brooklyn connected on 51.2% of its shots and 46.9% of its threes, a sterling example of the Nets' offensive efficiency.

James Harden is a beast

Durant was on an MVP trajectory before injuries derailed his season and Irving had one of the finest statistical seasons of his career. But Harden may be Brooklyn’s most important player. He averaged 27.8 points in this series, collecting 10.6 assists and 7.2 rebounds with it. He averaged nearly nine free throw attempts per game (making eight of them) and knocked down 46.1% of his threes.


What’s crazy—he could have scored so much more. Since coming to Brooklyn, Harden has clearly embraced his role as facilitator. He still gets his points but gone are the peak Houston days where Harden would regularly attempt 20-plus shots. Harden attempted just 14.4 shots in this Celtics series, down from the 16.6 he attempted during the regular season.

There’s a lot that goes into the chemistry among the big three in Brooklyn. But Harden’s selfless play is among the most important.

Bucks-Nets will be must-see TV

The Nets came into this series with questions. Its big three of Durant, Harden and Irving played just eight games together during the regular season—on the court for just 5.8% of Brooklyn’s total minutes. The defense, ranked in the bottom third of the NBA during the regular season, was suspect.

Did they answer the questions? Sort of …

Brooklyn did what it had to do against a battered Boston team. And the more minutes Durant, Harden and Irving play together, the better they will be. But Milwaukee, who the Nets will face in the next round, is a different opponent altogether. The Bucks are a deep, cohesive, battle-tested team that, even with the season-ending injury to Donte DiVincenzo, is strong at every position. The Nets’ star trio will be able to score—it will be interesting to see how Mike Budenholzer deploys Jrue Holiday, a defensive workhorse, in this series—but the supporting cast will be tested. Blake Griffin had his moments against Boston, but he shot sub-40% and will be tested by big, physical matchups with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. The Bucks can be explosive from the three-point line—a 22-for-53 performance from three in Game 2 of its first round series against Miami is evidence of that—which means Bruce Brown, Joe Harris and others will have to be sharp on the perimeter.

Will Brooklyn’s defense hold up against a better opponent?

Will the big three be as efficient against Milwaukee’s defense as they were against Boston’s?

A heavyweight slugfest is next.  

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