BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics are flying high after their epic Game 1 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. They need to carry that momentum into Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Boston is still buzzing from Jayson Tatum's layup and the lockdown defense by Marcus Smart on Brooklyn's last possession. Follow that up with Smart's Defensive Player of the Year win on Monday night, and the Celtics have a lot to feel good about at the moment. They quelled concerns about their ability to win tight games in the final minutes on Sunday, which was one of the biggest questions heading into the series.
But all of that excitement from the closing moments of Sunday's win sort of dull the fact that the Celtics nearly blew it. They let a big second-half lead slip away, and while they contained Kevin Durant, they let Kyrie Irving go nuts in the fourth quarter. Had the Celtics not played a perfect 40 seconds of basketball to close the game, a joyous Easter Sunday would have been ruined by public enemy No. 1 in Boston. They needed a buzzer-beater to win a game in which Durant struggled.
Take all the feel-good juju and mix it with what could have been on Sunday, and Wednesday night seems primed for a letdown game from the Celtics. They cannot let that happen.
Here are a few ways to make sure there is no Celtics letdown as they look to take a 2-0 lead over the Nets before the series heads to Brooklyn.
A Much Better Start
Maybe it was the week-long layoff. Maybe it was just a little too much juice heading into their first playoff game. But the Celtics need to be much better in the opening frame Wednesday night.
The Boston defense was swarming to start Sunday's tilt, which ultimately threw Durant off his game. Their aggressiveness forced seven Nets turnovers, and a whole lot of whistleblowing by the refs, but the Celtics didn't do much with those free possessions. The Celtics scored just four points off those gifts from Brooklyn.
While the Boston defense was clicking, the Boston offense was not. The Celtics missed four layups, two of which were blocked, and three free throws in the first quarter. That loomed large as they held just a one-point lead at the end of the frame.
Jayson Tatum missed his only shot attempt and got all four of his points at the free throw line (he also missed two freebies), while Jaylen Brown started 1-for-5 from the field. Al Horford played nearly the whole quarter and saved the Celtics while the young stars struggled, scoring 10 points, while Grant Williams was 3-for-5 for seven points.
The Celtics still scored 29 points in the quarter, and it was their 19-point fourth that nearly did them in on Sunday, but getting off to a much better start would give them even more wiggle room in the second half on Wednesday.
Brace Yourself For A Huge Durant Game
Kevin Durant does not have bad games often. Sunday's 23-point showing was his lowest postseason output in a Nets uniform, and his .375 shooting percentage was the second-worst of his Brooklyn tenure. He also had six turnovers in his 41 minutes, and for whatever reason, he was glued to the floor on Boston's game-winning possession at the end of the game. It was not a great look for Durant.
Chances are he will not be putting up such lackluster numbers in Game 2. The Celtics need to be prepared for him to drop 40 with ease, as he tends to do more often than not.
But that shouldn't deter the Celtics from making life as uncomfortable as possible on the Durantula. He was bumped and shoved every trip down the floor, with a number of defenders getting looks on him. Tatum was the primary defender on Durant, and was a big part of why he hit just nine of his 24 shots, and Tatum was constantly swiping at the ball when it was in Durant's hands. So too was Horford, Williams and Daniel Theis. That was part of why the C's racked up so many fouls in the first quarter, but also led to a bunch of those turnovers.
It worked, throwing Durant off his game early, and he never really recovered. Keeping a superstar life Durant in check for two straight games is nearly impossible, but the Celtics shouldn't shy away from that game plan; it will still lead to a good amount of turnovers. Just don't be discouraged if Durant makes a lot of the shots that he missed his next time out.
Keep It Moving
We all saw what Boston's exquisite ball movement led to in the final seconds. It was beautiful and the final play was everything Ime Udoka has wanted from the Boston offense this season. It shows the incredible growth of the team throughout the season, and now they know that if they keep the ball moving, good things will happen.
But that's not the only way the Celtics need to keep that orange sphere moving. Boston pushed the tempo in a big way throughout Sunday's win, rarely letting the Nets' suspect defense get set. The Celtics racked up 50 points in transition and 21 fast break points. They need to keep that breakneck pace going for as long as they can.
Get Brown Going Early
Jaylen Brown didn't really get into an offensive groove until the fourth quarter, but he was really cooking in that final frame. He scored nine of his 23 points in the fourth, including five in the clutch moments of the game. It was Brown who never let the Nets pull completely away, canning a three with 4:05 left to pull Boston within two points. And even after he had to get stuffed with cotton following an inadvertent blow from Irving, Brown still made smart play after smart play. His driving layup with 38.9 seconds remaining cut Brooklyn's lead to 114-113 and kept a two-for-one opportunity alive for the Celtics. After Smart and Horford shut down Irving and Tatum forced Durant to heave a three on Brooklyn's final possession, Brown raced down the floor to get the Celtics in position for a game-winning bucket. When he was cut off by a pair of Nets, he didn't force a look and instead found Smart on the wing. The rest is history, and Brown had his fingerprints all over it.
Brown was still a defensive force as he struggled offensively, but life would be much, much easier for the Celtics if they can get him going early Wednesday night.
Bonus: Use The Bonus
The Celtics hit the charity stripe 24 times on Sunday, but they could have had even more free throws in the win. They were in the bonus every quarter, but didn't take advantage of it nearly enough. Against a Nets team that can score a flurry of points in a hurry, the Celtics need to take advantage of all the free points they can get.
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