Celtics fans got under Kyrie Irving’s skin in the opening game of their first-round matchup with the Nets.
It was Boston’s defense that kept him – and Kevin Durant – off balance in Game 2.
Jaylen Brown scored 22 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics rallied from 17 points down to beat Brooklyn 114-107 on Wednesday night and take a 2-0 lead in their first-round series.
Jayson Tatum added 19 points for Boston, which held Durant without a basket in the second half. Al Horford had 16 points, Daniel Theis scored 15 and Payton Pritchard had eight of his 10 in the final period.
“This was like an old-fashioned. old-school playoff game,” Tatum said. “You just have to grind it out. That’s what we did... we just just stuck with it. Proud of the guys and how we kept responding all game.”
Durant finished with 27 points but struggled from the field for the second straight game, shooting 4 of 17. Irving had just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting a day after being fined $50,000 for directing obscene gestures and profane language at Celtics fans during Game 1.
The series shifts to Brooklyn for Game 3 on Saturday night.
“They’re doing a good job trying to cut off my scoring, limit my shot making,” Durant said. “It’s on me to figure it out.”
Durant and Irving were limited to a combined 1 for 17 in the second half. Bruce Brown finished with 23 points and Seth Curry added 16.
“They took the lead and they never looked back in that fourth quarter,” Irving said. “We don’t really have time to be disappointed, to hold our heads. This is part of playoff basketball.”
Coach Ime Udoka said the approach to Durant has been to get into his air space as much as possible.
“I think we did that,” Udoka said. “We want to make him work defensively and offensively have bodies on him the whole time and try to wear him down.”
The TD Garden faithful peppered Irving with boos throughout, beginning with the pregame introductions. The volume ratcheted up after tipoff with the addition of “Kyrie sucks! Kyrie sucks!” chants on each of Brooklyn’s first two possessions. The boos returned whenever he got his hands on the ball.
Boston trailed the entire first half but finally caught up to tie it at 79 on a short jumper by Theis. The Nets were able to settle in and took a 90-85 edge to the final period.
The Celtics tied it up again at 92 early in the fourth on a leaner by Jaylen Brown and took their first lead of the game with 7:48 left on a jumper by Pritchard.
It was part of 23-4 run that grew the Celtics’ lead to 108-96. The Nets went almost three minutes without a basket during the stretch.
“I think our intensity dropped a little bit in the second half. We also didn’t convert,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We had opportunities, we didn’t convert.”
Bruce Brown said the Celtics overwhelmed them defensively.
“We just weren’t scoring at the other end,” he said. “I just think our physicality took a step down in the second half.”
The barrage of boos fans aimed at Irving did little to rattle Brooklyn early. The Nets jumped out to a 9-0 lead, which led to a quick Boston timeout. Bruce Brown had all nine points, part of a 12-point quarter that helped put Brooklyn in front 33-24.
The lead increased to 45-31 in the second, prompting another Celtics timeout. During the break, Marcus Smart, who injured his left thumb minutes earlier while diving on the floor after a loose ball, could be seen grimacing as trainers attended to him on the bench.
He got the thumb taped and remained in the game, scoring six straight points.
Brooklyn settled in and got its lead as high as 15 before a late flurry by Boston helped it trim the deficit to 65-55 at half.
Nets: Irving, who is observing Ramadan, came out of the game with 3:23 left in the first quarter. He went to locker room and returned with food, the sun having just set in Boston. … Curry was called for a flagrant foul in the first after he grabbed Tatum’s arm and knocked him to the ground while breaking up a sure fast-break basket.
Celtics: Had nine turnovers in the first half.
Former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski sat courtside to watch a matchup that featured several of his former players. Irving, Tatum and Seth Curry are all former Blue Devils. He also coached Durant and Irving in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.
“That’s the first game he’s seen my play in person since he left Duke,” Tatum said. “Obviously, he’s got a lot of time on his hands.”
Nets: Ben Simmons went through some contact work with teammates on Wednesday, which Nash called “another step” in the point guard’s rehab efforts on his injured back. But Nash said an ESPN report that Simmons could return to action as early as Game 4 was news to him.
Celtics center Robert Williams III has started participating in 3-on-3 play, Udoka said.
Though Udoka cautioned the team still isn’t anticipating him recovering from his recent knee surgery to return in time for this series. (AP)
(Photo credits to: AP)