It will be a matchup of the NBA’s leading defense against two of the league’s most gifted scorers, in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, when the Nets tip off Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series in Boston on Sunday.
Forget all the Twitterverse noise of Irving going back to TD Garden and his drama with the Celtics fans. The way the Nets attack Boston’s switch-happy defense is going to be fascinating to watch for hoops junkies and basketball purists.
“You accept the challenge,” Irving said. “You watch film, and you see where you can really find weaknesses in that switching. … There are going to be times where it’s going to look really good, and sometimes it’s going to look like they’re doing amazing on the defensive end.”
The Nets will need to find those weaknesses against the Celtics, who finished the season on a 34-12 run. There’s no hotter team in the league, and with all due respect to Boston superstar Jayson Tatum, it’s because of the Celtics’ defense.
“They really do a good job of communicating and funneling you into those guys that have longer frames. They want you to play 1-on-1 and stay on the perimeter,” Irving said. “But for us, we’re just going to make adjustments.
“Game 1 is a feel-out game, and we want to see what they do starting off on the tip to the fourth quarter. Then we just use our talent, our IQ to make changes on the fly. That’s part of being in the playoffs. That’s the beauty of it. It just gets you really anxious to be able to go out and be special in those possessions where their defense is geared toward stopping you.”
Switching often lures teams out of their offensive execution, and into bad 1-on-1 habits. The Nets are going to have to strike the right balance, and rely on Irving and Durant — who has leveled up his playmaking of late — to do that.
“Those guys have seen every type of defense throughout their career, so I’m sure they’re going to make the right decisions majority of the time,” Seth Curry said. “When they do load up on them, they’ve been making the right passes, getting guys open shots.
“Me and the other guards, we’ve got to be aggressive as well and when we get opportunities, be able to make plays. Not just shots, but put the ball on the floor, be aggressive, make plays and attack them in all different areas.”
The Nets have the highest frequency of isolations in the NBA, and their dozen points off isos are by far tops in the league, with nobody else in double figures. Meanwhile, nobody switches more than Boston, going one-through-five.
“Yeah, definitely when they switch aggressively, they kill the trigger. Then you don’t have a pocket pass, you don’t have the advantage. They make you play 1-on-1, one against two, it’s iso ball,” Goran Dragic said. “But it all depends what kind of players you have — we have the two best iso players in the league, so we’ll see.
“They’re doing an amazing job, especially the guy who is coming to screen, they push him up and then they switch. They kill that trigger. And most teams, they’re not getting that trigger and they get flat on offense. So it’s going to be important to run with pace, set good screens, roll, collapse the defense and try to play a team ball. But we’ve got weapons, too. Kyrie and KD are such great 1-on-1 players, they can break defenses down. So that’s something that is nice to have.”
Some coaches believe in ignoring the switch, playing through it and continuing to run the play. Others will stress slipping through screens, using ghost screens to try and confuse the defenses. Which side does Nets coach Steve Nash fall on?
“All of it,” Nash said. “Lots of strategies to play against reds. Easier said than done, but there’s plenty of ways to attack it. It takes some thought, but it also takes force and ability to just play through it and not overthink, but at the same time have an eye on the strategies that are involved to play against a switching defense.”