The Brooklyn Nets are gearing up for a matchup against the Boston Celtics in their first playoff series with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden all on the floor at the same time. This combination has given the Nets one of the most dynamic and unstoppable offenses the game has ever seen.
The defense has been a hot-button topic for seemingly the entire season, though, as Brooklyn has seen several dominant performances turn into Ls at the last moment thanks to their interior defense failing to stop a nosebleed.
The Nets will be the truest test to date of the old basketball axiom that states defense wins championships. While Brooklyn winning a title might not be stunning considering the talent they have on display, it would be a sharp reversal of the trend that normally helps predict NBA champions.
Since the 2011 season, only the 2018 Golden State Warriors, who had the benefit of Durant, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson on offense, have won a championship while finishing outside of the Top 10 in defensive rating at No. 11. The Nets are…23rd in this category.
The Brooklyn Nets defensive rating is reason to worry about the NBA Finals.
Part of the problem for the Nets was their season-long reliance on DeAndre Jordan in the paint. A shell of his former self due to his age, Jordan was roasted by opposing bigs frequently this season, which is already an issue considering how small the Nets are as a roster.
Their saving grace could be second-round pick Nicolas Claxton, who proved that All-Star caliber bigs like Nikola Vucevic will be in for a very tough afternoon when he matches up with them. However, the wiry Claxton will go up against a murderer’s row of elite big men in the postseason that he might not be able to shut down.
In addition to the fact that Claxton will assuredly have to guard Jayson Tatum at some point in their first-round series, the likes of Bam Adebayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Julius Randle, and Joel Embiid are potentially coming down the line, which could stretch Claxton and the rest of this defense to the point where he bursts.
The likes of Bruce Brown, and even Harden himself considering how well he defended against players like Kawhi Leonard and Devin Booker, will have to step up for the Nets if they want to pull out some series wins here and there.
This team can win a 3-point shooting contest with anyone, but a defense that was for a period of time dead last in the league right after the Harden trade has some issues. It takes some truly awful defense to neutralize three of the 10 best offensive players in the game today, but this unit has managed to accomplish that
If there is any hope that the Nets can turn this around, their defensive numbers since a late-game choke job against the Washington Wizards in February helped put their campaign back on track. This team can lock down when they need to. They just have to do it more frequently.
There is no way around the fact that the Nets will need to improve their defense, especially at a point in the postseason where referees tend to swallow their whistles a bit. Even with all of the star power these recent champions have had, coming out on top via shootout isn’t necessarily a winning formula.