The Boston Celtics will enter Game 2 of their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night as significant underdogs. But veteran center Tristan Thompson said that despite Brooklyn’s obvious star power, the Celtics remain confident in their ability to go toe-to-toe with their opponents.
“I mean, listen, if you have a team with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, you better step on the court feeling good about yourself,” Thompson said after Boston practiced Monday. “But we don’t give a s— about that. At the end of the day, they put their socks on and their shoes on just like us. So, we’re not intimidated or anything like that.”
The Celtics held their own for the first three quarters of Game 1, before the Nets — who went 1-for-13 from 3-point range in the first half Saturday night — finally got going from deep and eventually created enough separation to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
But for Boston to do more than just hang around in Game 2 — particularly with All-Star Jaylen Brown sidelined for the rest of the season after undergoing wrist surgery — they’re going to have to be more effective offensively, something both Thompson and coach Brad Stevens highlighted as a critical component to the team’s chances of evening the series at a game apiece.
“I think that, obviously, I thought we played good defense,” Stevens said. “But I think we have to score more than 110 to beat these guys on a normal night. That’s where, again, we have to be way better offensively, and we have to bring that same energy level and competitiveness to be alert to different things that they do, different spacing they do, different screening angles they do, and they’re really good at that.”
Thompson talked specifically about the Celtics needing to avoid being lulled into the trap of trying to hunt for mismatches against Brooklyn’s switching defense — something that can tend to lead to teams holding the ball and allowing the defense to set itself up, rather than continuing to move it and forcing the opposition to have to scramble to keep up.
“When teams are switching, sometimes you like to exploit those matchups, but you can do that at any point in the game,” Thompson said. “Especially early in the game, you want to, when teams are switching, there’s someone out there you can take advantage of, but instead of just isolating them and having the defense set at the boxes and elbows, try to get them in second actions where they’re going to have multiple efforts. I think that’s the best way to try to attack the switch. Of course there’s going to be times in the game where Kemba [Walker] or [Jayson Tatum] or Evan [Fournie] have a matchup that they like that they want to go isolation, but that can’t be our main offense, because we did that in the second half and it didn’t work for us.
“In the first half, we got away with it because we made shots. In the second half, those shots weren’t dropping, and we can’t keep doing the same thing. We have to keep moving the ball, keep sharing the rock, and we can take advantage of those matchups we are looking for.”
The other reason the Celtics were able to stay in Saturday’s game was the play of Robert Williams, the team’s third-year big man, who had nine blocked shots off the bench and impacted several other shots in the paint. Williams has been one of Boston’s few bright spots this season. He has dealt with turf toe in recent weeks, an injury that caused him to miss several games and forced him to leave Boston’s victory over Washington in the play-in tournament last Tuesday early in the second half.
He showed no signs of issues with it Saturday, however, and Stevens said Williams should be ready to go for Game 2.
“Rob’s doing pretty well,” Stevens said. “We’re trying to keep him off his feet as much as possible on these days away from the game. But he was dressed and went through more of the walk-through portion of practice. Should be ready to go tomorrow.”