NEW YORK (AP) – Maybe it was Boston’s defense. It could even have been Brooklyn fans themselves.
Whatever the reason, something caused the Nets’ big three to have no rhythm to start the first game of the playoffs.
Once the second half rolled around, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden went from one end to the other.
Durant had 32 points and 12 rebounds, Irving scored 29 points and the Nets recovered from their superstars’ icy start to beat the Celtics 104-93 on Saturday night.
“I think once your energy is on the defensive side of the ball, it will start spinning for you,” said Durant. “So you saw that for us in the second half.”
Harden finished with 21 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists in just the ninth game of the season for the trio. The three combined to go 0 for 11 from a 3-point range in the first half, then stormed out of the dressing room with an 18-4 run to open the third and swing the lead in the Nets’ direction for good.
The Nets announced a sold-out venue of 14,391 visitors after playing in fully or mostly empty arenas for most of the season. Harden said the loud crowd was an adjustment.
“It just threw me off a bit, but in the second half we got more comfortable and the shots started to fall,” he said.
Durant, Irving and Harden scored 28 of the Nets’ 31 points in the period, with Joe Harris – who made Brooklyn’s only 3-pointer of the first half – another for the other runs.
Harris had 10 points for the Nets, which will host Game 2 on Tuesday-evening.
“I felt like we were putting on a good show,” said Irving. “We only have to do it three more times.”
Jayson Tatum scored 22 runs, but shot only 6 for 20 and couldn’t make it to his 50-run try in the play-in tournament, when Boston defeated Washington to earn the No. 7 seed.
The Celtics only got 40 points in the second half and shot 37% for the game.
“You can guard these guys very well and you will still have to score,” said Boston coach Brad Stevens.
To show how little time the Nets stars spent together, Brooklyn Harris and Blake Griffin started the Big Three. It was the first time those five had started the entire season together and may have contributed to an ugly opening for the playoffs.
Durant, Harden, and Irving were a combined 5 for 20 in the first quarter, and the Nets missed all nine three-point tries in the period. Boston opened a 32-20 lead early in the second.
Harris eventually skipped a 3 with 2:18 and Boston put a 53-47 lead in the half.
After the break, things changed quickly. Harden made a 3 after four straight runs by Durant from the locker room. After two Boston baskets it went: Irving 3, Durant 3, Durant jumper, Harden 3. That covered the 18-4 stretch and made it 65-57.
Irving and Durant combined for the final flick in the fourth, a 12-2 run that extended a three-point lead to 94-81 on Irving’s next shot.
Celtics: Robert Williams III had 11 points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots. He fought against peat and wasn’t sure he would play until after he warmed up. … Marcus Smart scored 17 points.
Nets: Irving, who spent two seasons with the Celtics, wore green sneakers. … Brooklyn’s starting line-up was the 39th other of the season, setting a franchise record during the regular season. … Durant moved past former San Antonio guard Tony Parker (4,045 points) to ninth place on the scoring list of the playoff career. Durant has 4,075.
Stevens and Steve Nash of the Nets both trained without masks, now allowed for coaches who are fully vaccinated. Stevens said it helped players to see his mouth again, as with the larger audience now in arenas it would be more difficult to hear his instructions.
But it had an advantage to cover his mouth.
“As I always say, with an 11- and 15-year-old at home, it’s been a lot easier not to say the wrong thing with the mask on and not get caught on the Internet than before,” he said.
The Nets have won eight consecutive playoff games against the Celtics and are 9-2, with a six-game win in the 2002 Eastern Conference final and a sweep in the 2003 semi-final east. It is the Nets’ highest win rate and Celtics lowest win rate against an opponent in the postseason.