Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden did what they do best – dominate – as the Celtics season came to an end in the Barclays Center on Tuesday night. Brooklyn closed out the series with a 123-109 win on their home court, winning the first round series in five.
Boston was facing elimination after a 141-126 loss on their home floor two days before. In the first two games in Brooklyn, the Celtics lost by a combined 33 points.
In Boston’s two home games, Jayson Tatum scored 90 points, including 50 in game three. In Game 4, the eruptive trio of Irving, Durant and Harden scored 104 points combined. In Game 5, that trio was what moved the needle.
Kemba Walker (bone bruise) and Robert Williams III (left ankle sprain) were both inactive for the second consecutive game. After playing 25 minutes in Game 4, Romeo Langford started again in Game 5. In his second straight start, Langford scored a career-high 17 points.
Celtics starters for Game 5:
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) June 1, 2021
The Celtics got off to a quick 8-2 lead, but Harden was keeping Brooklyn in the game single-handedly. Harden had the first six points for Brooklyn, getting to the rim with ease. Each Celtic in the starting lineup took their turn scoring. Up 11-8, each starter had a basket.
In what was, for this series, a slow first quarter, Tatum led the Celtics in scoring with seven points. Right behind the usual top-scorer was Langford with five. Brooklyn led 31-24 at the end of the first, with Durant (4), Irving (9) and Harden (11) combining for as many points as the entire Celtics team.
Brooklyn was able to score with ease due to an immense amount of transition opportunities. Whether it was turnovers or missed shots, Brooklyn was running with purpose. In the first quarter, the Nets had a 6-0 advantage in fast-break points, thanks to their three prolific transition weapons.
Both the Nets and Celtics struggled from deep in their return to Brooklyn. Boston shot an anemic 3-for-17 from three, while Brooklyn was at just 3-for-10. Payton Pritchard and Jabari Parker made back-to-back threes to bring that percentage up in the second quarter. The threes from Parker and Pritchard cut an eight-point Brooklyn lead to two.
Despite an undermanned roster, Boston kept up with Brooklyn in the first half. With Tatum sitting for a few minutes with some soreness, young and new players like Parker, Langford and Pritchard were playing decisively.
The bench unit kept the game close to kick off the second period, and the Nets couldn’t stretch their lead to double digits. Parker stepped up offensively, scoring 11 points in the second quarter on six attempts.
Harden, as he did in the first quarter, was cutting through the Boston defense like scissors on wrapping paper. His slashing abilities were on full display against the undermanned Celtics, which mainly put Langford on him.
After a tomahawk dunk to take a nine-point lead, Harden had 18 points, eight assists, six rebounds and was 7-of-7 from the free throw line. That stat line was with 4:22 remaining in the second quarter. Boston had no answer for the 2018 MVP all night. Harden finished with a triple-double in the close-out game.
Once Harden was done scoring, Irving was right behind him, ready to catch fire. Irving scored six points in 90 seconds to give Brooklyn an eight-point lead with a minute remaining. Brooklyn kept that lead, ahead 59-51 after the first half. Harden had 18 and Irving had 15 for the Nets, while Parker and Tatum both had 11 to lead the Celtics.
Langford kicked off the second half with some fire, hitting a three and blocking Harden consecutively. The defensive effort from Langford was noticeable, especially considering he drew consistent tough matchups between Brooklyn’s Big Three. His offense, typically his weak spot, was better. The second-year wing hit three 3-pointers in the elimination game.
A quick 11-4 run from Brooklyn erased the positive effort Boston displayed to start the third. Brooklyn was able to reach a double-digit lead for the first time in the third after Durant scored five and Blake Griffin got four quick points.
Boston fell behind to start the quarter simply due to missing shots. Brooklyn made them, Boston couldn’t. After taking body blows from Brooklyn, Brad Stevens called a timeout down 14.
A 7-0 run from Boston brought the game back within a respectable margin as Brooklyn got sloppy with the ball. Three straight Nets turnovers gave Boston the chance to chip away at the largest deficit they’d seen in game five. A Tatum three forced a Brooklyn timeout with 5:21 remaining and the score sitting at 75-68.
Despite the quick run, Brooklyn kept Boston hanging back by about 7-9 points. The third quarter ended with a Tatum midrange jumper to cut the lead to seven once again. After three, Tatum had 20, a slow three quarters by his standards. Langford and Parker had 13, with Smart (12) the only other Celtic scoring in double figures.
Brooklyn simply shot better than Boston in Game 5. Through three, Brooklyn consistently had the lead because of their shooting, and the fact their Big Three is a force which Boston can’t realistically slow down.
Nets lead 86-79 after three
Tatum – 20 points
Langford – 13 points
Parker – 13 points
Celtics – 40% FGs
Celtics – 9-34 3PAs
Celtics – 8 turnovers
Harden – 21/9/9
Irving – 20 points
Durant – 16 points
Nets – 46.8% FGs
Nets – 8-22 3PAs
Nets – 7 turnovers
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) June 2, 2021
Boston quickly fell behind to start the fourth quarter. Nicholas Claxton was making his presence felt on the low block, and Brooklyn was pulling away with his extra effort. A Tatum three brought Boston back within 10, then a floater from Tatum and a 3-point play from Fournier brought the deficit down to eight.
However, quickly after scrapping back into the game, Boston was reminded of their opponent. Back-to-back Durant and Irving threes erased all progress Boston just made. With seven minutes left, Boston stared down a 14-point gap against three Hall-of-Famers in their primes.
The Brooklyn firepower was too much for the Celtics to overcome, as the Nets ran up and down the floor with ease, finding the open man and hitting nearly every shot. Boston continually fought back into the game, but their matchup was consistently multiple steps ahead of them.