Nets’ amazing offense masking playoff concern on defense

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It’s a testament to the Nets’ high-powered offense that it may make people start to reassess what constitutes playoff defense.

Even against a shorthanded Boston team sans three regulars, the Nets weren’t great defensively in Sunday’s Game 4. Yet they still managed to lead by as much as 27 and cruised to a 15-point rout. If they’re that ruthlessly efficient on the attacking end of the court, even middling defense may suffice. At least against the Celtics.

There will be tougher tasks down the road should they close Boston out in Tuesday’s Game 5. The Bucks pose a more daunting matchup if Blake Griffin — who has struggled defensively — has to deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Defensively: That’s going to be our key every single game,” James Harden said. “Offensively, that should be the last thing we’re worried about, because we have so many weapons, so many guys that can get it going. Defensively, we have to be engaged, to be locked in possession-by-possession.”

The Nets were better on that end in Game 4 than they’d been in a Game 3 loss. They held the Celtics to 43.5 percent shooting — 34.1 from deep.

James Harden
James Harden battles Aaron Nesmith for the ball.
EPA

“I think we were locked-in on the defensive side of the ball the whole game which kept us in the game on the offensive end,” Kevin Durant said. “We didn’t force anything, we played within the offense and James was incredible at controlling the ball. Kyrie [Irving] scored efficiently. I got some efficient shots. Down the line, we just played a nice, efficient game.”

The Big 3 combined for 104 points on just 56 shots. But scoring has never been an issue. The focus will be on the other end.

The Celtics were playing without Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker and Robert Williams, but they still managed a rate of 129.9 points per 100 possessions. That’s the second-most efficient game for a losing team in the last 25 postseasons.


Nic Claxton did step up, his plus-10.4 by far the best of either team. He blocked four shots in under eight minutes, and could’ve been in line for more playing time if the Celtics hadn’t gone small. That dynamic could be one to watch in Game 5, or even going forward versus the Greek Freak.

“I think we’d love to play Nic more. They went really small a lot, so we just went small with Bruce [Brown],” Steve Nash said. “So it was just a matter of when they were small we took advantage of going really small ourselves.”


Jeff Green (left plantar fascia strain), Alize Johnson (left ankle sprain) and Spencer Dinwiddie (partially torn ACL, right knee) are out.


Brown is out for the Celtics, while Walker (left knee) and Williams (left ankle) are doubtful.


The Nets will have a limited number of unvaccinated sections at Barclays Center.

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