By LENN ROBBINS
The Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series was on the verge of becoming the worst thing to happen to the NBA since the love affair with the 3-point shot.
This was a playoff series in name only. It seemed clear after the Nets demolished the injury-riddled Celtics in Game 2 that there was no question about the outcome of this series unless Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving were all felled by injury.
So the Nets, clearly the most talented team when healthy, were getting exactly what they needed – more time for the Big Three to get big minutes in games that count. The injury woes of those three have been well-documented. They spent less time on the court in the regular season than some families do on their annual vacation.
Now they get to gain a little more familiarity, polish off whatever tarnish might have formed on their sparkling games and not worry about extending minutes. And Saturday night they got one more benefit – a jarring wakeup call.
After bolting to a 19-4 lead the Nets were reminded of one truth: Every playoff game must be contested with desperation or all bets are off.
The Nets stopped playing with desperation. The Celtics didn’t.
Led by Jayson Tatum, the desperate Celtics beat the Nets, 125-119. Tatum was sensational going for 50, six rebounds and seven assists, and Tristan Thompson turned in a 19-point, 13-rebound effort as Boston got back into the series at 2-1. Game 4 is Sunday in what will be a packed TD Garden as COVID-19 restrictions are to be lessened in Massachusetts. The last thing Team Mercenary needs is to get into a first-round battle.
The other thing the Nets can’t afford is to have one third of its Big Three not show up in full. Irving, who voiced concerns about the reception he might get in Boston, was booed from the instant he took the floor. He was not, thankfully, subjected to any racist comments but Irving was not zeroed in for the first three quarters.
Harden almost outdueled Tatum, scoring 41 points, with 10 assists and seven rebounds. Durant added 39 points and nine boards. But Irving went 6-of-17 from the floor to finish with 16.
After blasting the Celtics 130-108 and leading by 15 early, the Nets seemed to have a stranglehold on the series. Not now. Now we see if the Nets can respond to playoff adversity.
Meanwhile, the Bucks, who would be the Nets next opponent if both advance, have arguably been the most impressive team in the postseason. They hold a 3-0 lead over Miami and are making the once fearsome Heat defenders look like airline gate attendants welcoming you aboard your flight.
The Nets had a chance to take that 3-0 and they didn’t take advantage of it. Because the team that believes it’s destined for a title forget that every playoff game must be played with desperation.