Nets in disarray face first-round exit in NBA playoffs

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics and Jaylen Brown defend a shot from Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets during the fourth quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (AFP)

Brooklyn's NBA championship aspirations are on life support as the Nets head into Monday's Eastern Conference first-round clash with Boston trying to avert a sweep.

The Celtics have effectively shut down Brooklyn star Kevin Durant, a two-time NBA champion, four-time scoring champion, an MVP and two-time Finals MVP as well as fellow superstar Kyrie Irving.

Both scored just 16 points apiece in a game-three loss to the Celtics on Saturday in which Durant attempted just 11 shots.

The star, who was expected to be a pillar of a Brooklyn "Big Three" with Irving and the now-traded James Harden, was left second-guessing himself.

"The first two games I was trying to be too aggressive. And watching film, a lot of my teammates were open," Durant said. "My approach to this game was to play off everyone. Get into the flow of the offense and let the ball find me.

"I've just been thinking too much this whole series, to be honest.

"Maybe that was the wrong decision," Durant said. "Maybe I should've been more aggressive to score."

The Nets, helmed by head coach Steve Nash, are floundering in general after being widely expected to contend.

No NBA team has rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.

Harden, the 2018 NBA MVP, was traded from Houston to the Nets in January 2021.

But he, Durant and Irving never really had much chance to jell this season as Harden battled injury and Irving, unvaccinated for Covid-19, was banned from home games for most of the season under New York City virus safety regulations.

Australian Ben Simmons, acquired in the trade that sent Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers, has yet to play for the Nets.

The Australian -- who hasn't played a game in more than 10 months -- appeared set to make his Nets debut in game four after rehabbing a lower back injury.

But the team's injury report on Sunday listed him as "out" for the must-win contest.

Nash said the Nets' inability to find a way past Boston's smothering defense owed something to fatigue.

'Deal in reality'

Durant and Irving have played heavy minutes in the final push to make the playoffs, and Irving is fasting for Ramadan.

"Kevin had to play 40-plus minutes for five, six weeks after missing six, seven weeks," he said of his star who missed 21 games with a sprained knee. "We need him to play 40 minutes or we wouldn't be in the playoffs. I'm sure that's taken a big toll on Kevin, he's carried a huge burden for us for weeks on end.

"Kyrie as well, since he's been playing at home and on the road. And fasting, it can't be easy. I feel for those guys."

And Nash refused to be drawn on whether he thought things might have been different had Irving been vaccinated against Covid.

The team declined to play him part-time until January, when he began to play in away games. New York relaxed vaccine mandate rules in March allowing him to play at home as well.

"I don't think about it," Nash told reporters, according to ESPN. "We deal with what's in front of us. We deal in reality."