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I hinted at this article after game 1 of the Celtics-Nets series, where the Brooklyn Nets played probably the worst first-half of basketball they could feasibly have played and still managed to handle the Celtics by 11. After last night’s game against the Celtics (as well as watching the other teams in the NBA), I’m finally ready to say it: The Brooklyn Nets will win the 2020-2021 NBA Championship.
The Nets have 3 of the 10 most lethal scorers of all time, and they all do it in slightly different ways, making them impossible to defend. Harden is in a league of his own in terms of both his shot creation and his ability to get his step back three off with consistency. If you don’t put your best defender on Harden, he’s going to carve that guy up (unless you have 2-3 elite perimeter defenders, which virtually no team has) by getting to the foul line and hitting his step back threes, not to mention his ability to get his teammates involved. Then there’s KD, probably the most unstoppable scorer ever. There is legitimately nothing you can do about KD picking a spot on the floor, making a move towards that spot, elevating, and shooting right over you. Sure, maybe there are a couple guys in the entire NBA that can LIMIT him (Giannis, Bam), but nobody can stop him, and that’s just a fact. Time and time again KD hits contested, fadeaway shots in which the defender literally could not play it any better. Again, like Harden, if you don’t put your best defender on him (and even if you do), he’s going to eat you like bbq chicken. Then there’s Kyrie, the most skilled basketball player of all time. I’m not going to defend that statement now, but perhaps I will in a future article. Kyrie has no offensive weakness, and thus he can destroy you from anywhere on the court. Put someone smaller/less athletic on him and he’ll take it strong to the hoop while finishing with contact, but put someone bigger/more athletic on him, and he’ll carve them up with his dribble moves and will get to his mid-range pull up with ease. And again, just like with the other 2 stars, if he doesn’t have the best perimeter defender on the opposing team guarding him, it’s going to be a LONGGGG night. Having these three guys on the same team is a HUGE advantage, but it still won’t be enough to win a championship, which brings me to my next point.
Do Your Job
Bill Belichick, the best football coach of all time, has a famous line: ‘Do Your Job’. What he means by this is that everyone has to be a star in THEIR OWN role, and they need to play to their own advantages. In other words, it’s pivotal for every player on a team, especially the role players on a team like the Nets, to not try and do too much and to simply play within themselves. From what I’ve seen out of these first 2 playoff games, the Nets periphery players do an EXCELLENT job of playing off their stars. First of all, they have shooters for days; Harris, TLC, Shamet, Blake, and Jeff Green can all shoot it with consistency from deep, making it really tough for opposing teams to send help. You would almost rather the Nets take a pull up KD/Kyrie 2 as opposed to an open Joe Harris three, but those are virtually the only two options in certain scenarios. In addition to the shooting that these role players provide, they also have started to really move well without the ball. Since there is so much attention on all 3 of these stars (mainly the one that has the ball and is isolating), there are a lot of backdoor cuts to be made, and guys like Harris, Bruce Brown, and Griffin are really excelling in that aspect. They’ve been able to find gaps in the defense and I only expect them to further develop this skill as the playoffs continue.
“They Can’t Play Defense”
I’m gonna call BS on this one. First of all, the Nets haven’t looked that bad defensively against the Celtics in this first round. They’re putting in a decent amount of effort and their off-ball rotations are definitely more timely and focused than they were during the regular season. Even if they weren't playing well defensively, though, it wouldn’t scare me too much. Defense is largely about effort, and I have no reservations about saying that the Nets will pick up the defensive intensity as the playoffs wear on. Maybe they’ll have to lose a game to wake them up a bit, but I have the utmost confidence that they will turn it on at some point. And once they do so, they have the talent to be a good defensive team. KD is an elite, versatile defender, and both Kyrie and Harden are blasphemously underrated on that end. Harden is an ELITE post defender, and Kyrie can definitely hold his own against most NBA guards. It’s important to note, too, that these guys are probably putting in less effort on the offensive end than ever before (due to the number of offensive weapons that BKN has), so they’re most certainly going to have more energy saved up for the defensive side of the ball. This should convert to KD, Kyrie, and Harden playing some of the best defense of their careers. Now, the Nets are a little slim in the front court, but that doesn’t scare me too much. Teams tend to play small ball as we get later into the playoffs, and I think the Nets have the pieces to do so. Blake Griffin leads the league in charges, Jeff Green can hold his own down low, and Deandre Jordan and Nicolas Claxton (who I love) are both always available in case they have a matchup with the Sixers, or another team with a dominant big.
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