The Nets are the NBA’s ultimate Rorschach test

On the one hand: a furious inferno. A power trip of two men capable of pulverizing opponents with pitch-perfect offensive play, hitting the hardest shots imaginable, serving teammates to score chances on a silver platter and resembling the kind of insoluble fireball that can produce a championship.

On the other hand: a recoil engine. A team that stagnates when its celestial bodies do not throw lightning, who make sloppy turnovers and make careless mistakes, and who can swing from dominating to giving up 65 points in the half.

Two sides, but the same coin. Ladies and gentlemen, your Brooklyn Nets: the freshly beaten No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the NBA’s premiere Rorschach test.

The Nets did what everyone expected on Tuesday, beating the injured Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center, 115-108, in the first game of the NBA’s 2022 play-in tournament. They did what everyone expected because of their offense, shooting 53.6 percent from the floor as a team, making 33 assists on 45 field goals and burning the Cavs with 119.8 points per game. 100 balls – head and shoulders above the mark that led the NBA in the regular season.

Kyrie Irving did not miss her first shot until there were just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter; by that time he had already reached 12. With Irving surrounded by flames, Kevin Durant ended peace by doing everything else – attracting defensive attention and moving the ball to set up wide-open shots, clear the glass, protect the rim – and show it all-round play , he has developed on the way to becoming without a doubt the best basketball player alive.

When the Cavs caught Irving in the pick-and-roll, Andre Drummond slipped into space, receiving pocket passes and throwing dunks down. When they tried to force the ball out of Durant’s hands near the halfway line, he kicked it forward to Bruce Brown, who rolled short to the free throw line, attacked four-on-three and made minced meat out of Cleveland’s back line. And when JB Bickerstaff’s team sold out to shut down both the initial action and the counter, Durant was there, waiting to remind them of his inevitability.

Watch the machine work like this and you start to wonder how any opponent who stands in its way can thrive. But then you look down on the result and you realize that KD going iso-killer is all that kept Cleveland from turning it into a two-possession game with barely four minutes left. And you wonder why a team with two future Hall of Famers playing from their minds had such a hard time rejecting an opponent who ended the season losing eight out of 11, with the NBA’s No. 20 attack in over the last month, and without All-Star center Jarrett Allen, who has been put on the sidelines for the last five weeks by a broken finger.

The Cavs gave up 40 points on 23 holdings in the first quarter. They had no answer for Irving, who finished with 34 points on 12-for-15 shooting with 12 assists, or Durant, who added 25 points and 11 assists with five rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Through three quarters, they had a total of 16 points on 25 shots from Caris LeVert, Lauri Markkanen, Isaac Okoro and Cedi Osman – also called their entire wing rotation.

And yet, thanks to some uninspired Brooklyn play in the second and third quarters, and by the grace of the basketball gods – primarily a youngster named Darius Garland who picked the Cavs off the mat by scoring 24 of his team-high 34 points after the break – Cleveland still had a handful of chances to cut what had once been a Brooklyn lead of 22 points, to within five in the fourth quarter.

However, they never could; each time they tried, the Nets got a stop or a bucket, keeping the Cavs at arm’s length long enough to reach the final buzzer, sending Cleveland into an elimination game on Friday against the loser of Wednesday’s 9-vs.-10 matchup between the Hawks and the Hornets.

Brooklyn does not have to apologize for that; “Survive and Move On” is the name of the game at this time of year, and so did Steve Nash’s crew. Still: The Nets gave 60 points in the paint to a Cavs team without their All-Star center. They needed 42 minutes of phenomenal play from their two superstars on Tuesday, plus a 40-minute near-triple-double from Brown, and centers Drummond and Nic Claxton combined for 29 points and 17 rebounds, just to fend off an injured team. who fights at halfway and runs on steam. Durant sat for just six minutes and 21 seconds against the Cavs; Nets were surpassed with nine points. Sounds like a championship challenger to you?

Either way, that is a playoff team – one that has now earned itself a date in the first round with the second-seeded Celtics. It’s an upheaval of inverted roles from last season’s series in the opening round; back then, Nets was no. 2 seeds. Much has changed.

James Harden, who on average was just under 28 and 11 in that series, is in Philadelphia now. His apparent replacement, Ben Simmons, spent Tuesday in streetwear envy color, and has not played an NBA game in almost 10 months. Joe Harris, who played 35 minutes a night and shot 51.5 percent from 3 in that series, is out this year. His apparent replacement, Seth Curry, went goalless in 33 minutes on Tuesday and looked out way less than 100 percent play on a crooked left ankle, which he says has bothered him for several months.

Perhaps most importantly: the Celtics no longer start Romeo Langford and Tristan Thompson, or rely on 15-minute Jabari Parks. They do not spit into the playoffs; they rise and go into the off-season as owners of not only the NBA’s No. 1 defense, but also the East’s best record and the league’s best net rating since January 1st.

However, the Celtics will not go into Round 1 in full force: Center Robert Williams III, one of the cornerstones of the shift-all scheme, which they have used to stifle opposing offenses, continues to retrain after missing the last seven matches. season with a torn meniscus in the left knee. Bruce Brown highlighted the importance of Williams’ injury after Tuesday’s victory and told reporters that with Williams out, the Celtics would “has less presence in the paint,” and that Brooklyn “can attack Al Horford and [Daniel] Theis, “ Williams replaces on 5.

If that sounded to you like a surprisingly factual supply of bulletin board material to an opponent who has been one of the NBA’s top three teams for the past three months, you’re not alone. After Brown left the podium, Durant arrived and asked reporters, “What did Bruce Brown say? Someone told me he said something I do not like. “After hearing the quote, KD shook his head, rejected Brown’s assessment as “caffeine pride to speak of,” and offered his own view of Theis and Horford: “The two guys… they can do the same [as Williams]. It’s not going to be that easy, I have to tell you. ”

“The same things” are not quite right; Durant knows that neither Theis nor Horford are anywhere near the kind of spring-heeled shot-blocking threat that Williams can be. But it sounds like he also knows that even without Time Lord, the Cs have been knocked down by a top-five rate with the quartet of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Horford on the floor – and maybe that with Theis in Time Lords place, Boston has shot opponents with more than 33 points per. 100. A Nets team that has to rely on a hampered Curry, a straight-back-from-COVID protocols Goran Dragic, and rookie Kessler Edwards to survive non-KD minutes may face tough sledding against an opponent of Boston caliber. Come Sunday afternoon, the fans who ended Tuesday chanting about wants the Celtics could wish they had been more careful about what they wanted.

Unless, of course, KD and Kyrie just want to keep combining for nearly 60 points on 68 percent shooting over the next few months. That we can not completely write it off as an option is the reason why so many have such a hard time leaving the Nets; that it is basically a requirement for this team to win is the reason why so many have such a hard time believing in them. Whether you think the inferno or setback means more, they are both there; it really is all there. Competitor or pretender, finalist or fraud: a universe of potential results and interpretations, all there, in black and white.

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