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It’s no secret that Nets point guard Kyrie Irving was unstoppable on Sunday. The good thing is, that doesn’t mean he was able to stop Celtics forward Jayson Tatum from scoring the game-winner in front of an electric TD Garden. Irving can continue to villainize and scrutinize the Boston crowd all he wants as long as the Celtics keep coming up with ways to win. On Sunday, one of those ways involved a heavy attack on Nets forward Kevin Durant.
From the jump, it was clear that the Celtics’ goal was to terrorize Durant at every opportunity they had. In this play, Tatum uses his length to help double team Durant down the sideline alongside forward Al Horford. It’s clear both players were targeting the ball rather than worrying about trying to stop Durant from getting to the basket. This would go on to be one of Durant’s six turnovers on the night in his substandard performance.
As Durant tries to run a pick-and-roll with Nets center Andre Drummond later that quarter, the ball-targeting continues to be apparent. Tatum goes for the behind-the-back block on a shot that isn’t even there yet, and Celtics forward Daniel Theis doesn’t even bother contesting the shot instead opting to swipe for the ball on Durant’s side-hop.
The main benefit of a strategy like this is that it helps prevent the wasted efforts of contesting a Durant jump shot. Durant stands at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, making him virtually unstoppable when he rises up to shoot. Focusing their efforts on poking the ball out clearly disrupted him in a much different way. It begs the question of whether Celtics coach Ime Udoka learned some of the forward’s tendencies during his time on Brooklyn’s staff before being signed by Boston.
The Celtics also had to make sure to prevent Durant from getting easy post-ups on smaller players. In this play, Celtics forward Grant Williams makes sure to fight hard to front Durant on the post-up and prevent the entry pass while also keeping him uncomfortable and off his spot. Williams ensures the play is finished by once again getting another strip, forcing an unofficial Durant turnover.
Another similar situation as earlier with Durant having the ball in his hands needing to score. Williams once again stays low and goes for a strip while Celtics guard Jaylen Brown pursues from behind in an attempt to block him from behind. The Celtics were willing to give him open shots as long as he could maneuver around the contests.
The Celtics continued to make it hard for Durant throughout the entirety of the game forcing him into a dismal 37.5% from the field, 20% from the 3-point line and -13 plus/minus. If the Celtics can continue to find creative ways to make things difficult for Brooklyn’s stars, the rest of the series bodes well for them.