Nets know they need to play freer to come back in series

Going into Game 3 trailing the first-round series 2-0 to the Celtics, the Nets have been shaken up by Boston’s physicality. They have faced driving lanes so clogged they likened it to playing bumper cars, and it caused paralysis by analysis.

The Nets know when they take the court Saturday night at Barclays Center — essentially a must-win playoff game at home — they can’t just stand around and watch Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving struggle as they get swarmed.

They have to play faster and freer. Or, as Andre Drummond said, F-it.

“We have a new team here. We have guys that have been a part of teams where they’ve been really, really successful who’re still trying to figure each other out with little time,” Drummond said. “There’s a lot of hesitation when it comes to making certain plays, like, ‘Should I make this play, or shouldn’t I make this play?’

“We need to have an F-it mentality and just play. Just play regardless of the physicality. Just play our game and don’t overthink it and just play to the best of our ability. We have a very special team here, and we could do something special.”

Andre Drummond dunks during the Nets’ Game 2 loss to the Celtics.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

But knowing no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a series, doing anything special this season almost certainly requires victory Saturday.

That likely means not letting Boston hit them first, literally and figuratively.

Not only did the Celtics rough the Nets up and blow up their actions before they even got a chance to run them, but also they discombobulated them in the third quarters of both Games 1 and 2.

“For us, just coming out with the energy, get the hit first. We allowed them to hit first in those third quarters,” Drummond said. “We have to sustain the energy, withstand the runs… and come out with a win. It’s as simple as that.”

If the Nets were surprised by Boston’s physicality, the Celtics say that was the plan.

“I hope so. That’s what the playoffs are about, being physical,” Marcus Smart said.

Durant’s consecutive games shooting below 40 percent with six-plus turnovers were the first of his career. And it’s largely because the Celtics have usually kept him from getting to the basket or in the paint, and made him work when he did get there.

After Durant took 36.5 percent of his shots in the paint this season, just 12 percent of his shots came there through the first two games of this season, according to league stats.

Going into Saturday, the supporting cast have to lift Durant and Irving, the stars who had previously carried them.

Kevin Durant dribbles during the Nets' Game 2 loss to the Celtics.
Kevin Durant dribbles during the Nets’ Game 2 loss to the Celtics.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“We need to help them as much as possible. It’s not only on those two guys, it’s a team sport, so everybody has to contribute,” Goran Dragic said. “Most of the times those two guys are going to have the ball, and our job is open the floor for them, set good screens and get those guys space so they can operate it. Our offense is a little [stagnant] at times. When we play fast and with a motor, it’s much better.”

Boston’s switching and the Nets’ poor ball movement forced Durant to isolate and pound the ball. He took more than two dribbles on just 40.7 percent of his attempts this season, shooting 50 percent when taking three to six dribbles and 45.7 percent when taking seven-plus.

But in this series? He has been forced to take more than two dribbles on 53.7 percent of his attempts, hitting just 27.3 percent after three to six dribbles and 18.2 percent after seven-plus.

“When we’re facing the halfcourt defense, yeah, we have to move. It’s like bumping cars. We cannot give the ball to KD and Ky, and all four guys stand there,” Dragic said. “They can clog the paint, help each other, put two or three guys, and it’s not easy to operate.

“We have to be on the same page, move a lot. When you run to the screen, run with pace, set a screen and then it’s not over. Then you have to roll to the basket, collapse the defense, force the rotation. And from there hopefully it opens up, and we know what those two guys can do when they have space.”

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