NEW YORK (AP) — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are struggling against Boston, and Ben Simmons won't be available to help them Monday night with the Brooklyn Nets' season on the brink.
His former teammate plans to play on, though. Joel Embiid is determined to stay in Philadelphia's lineup, no matter how much pain he has in his right thumb.
Now 2 1/2 months after their blockbuster trade, the Nets and 76ers are in decidedly different places. The 76ers can move into the second round with a victory in Game 5 against Toronto, while the Nets will be trying to avoid a sweep when they host the Celtics.
The idea of four straight losses in the first round seemed unimaginable before the season, when the Nets were an NBA Finals favorite with Durant, Irving and James Harden. But Irving didn't play at all to begin the season and then only on the road for most of it because he is not vaccinated against the coronavirus, making him ineligible in New York City. Then Harden was dealt to Philadelphia in a swap for Simmons at the trade deadline and Brooklyn never met those expectations.
Now even Durant doesn't look as expected. Boston had him second-guessing himself after he took only 11 shots Saturday in a 109-103 loss. Irving was 6 for 17, missing all seven 3-pointers, and the only people who don't seem surprised are the Celtics.
“It’s going exactly how we expected for the most part, just because we believe in ourselves more than anything,” Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart said. “We knew the task coming in was high against a really good team with two of the best players to ever do this. So for us, we also knew that our defense had the potential to do our best on those guys because of our length, our size and the way we play defense together.”
Simmons hasn't played at all this season, sidelined by a herniated disk in his back after coming to Brooklyn, and was ruled out of Game 4 after hoping to play during the series. Unable to play their best players on the floor often enough, the Nets don't have the chemistry of a Celtics team that started slowly but has kept getting better as the season went on.
“We’re all just trying to jell,” Irving said, “and usually you’re jelling around the right time and that team in the other locker room is jelling at the right time. They’ve been jelling since Christmas.
"So for us, we’re just in a new experience as a group and we’ve just got to respect that and just bring everything we can to this next game and just do one possession at a time. I don’t want to be too cliché, but I don’t have a lot of answers for how you make up time from October until now when usually teams would be jelling and things would be feeling good.”
Embiid's thumb isn't feeling good after he hurt it in Game 3. He acknowledged being in pain when the 76ers dropped Game 4 on Saturday but will try to ignore it.
“Like I always say, when I go out there I’m not really worried about whatever that can happen,” Embiid said. “I just want to focus on whatever I can focus.”
CELTICS AT NETS
Boston leads 3-0. Game 3, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT
—NEED TO KNOW: Durant had five more turnovers in Game 3 and has committed 17 thus far in the series.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: Jaylen Brown. He was 6 for 9 in the second half Saturday and the Nets don't have a good matchup for the guard if he comes out aggressively.
—INJURY WATCH: Celtics center Robert Williams came through well after returning from a nearly month-long absence with torn cartilage in his left knee Saturday. He played about 16 minutes and coach Ime Udoka said he probably could have gone more. He was no longer listed on the injury report for Game 4.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Durant and Irving, just as it's been the entire series. If they struggle the way they have in the last 1 1/2 games, the offseason probably begins Tuesday in Brooklyn.
76ERS AT RAPTORS
Philadelphia leads 3-1. Game 5, 8 p.m. EDT, NBA TV
—NEED TO KNOW: The 76ers won their two home games easily to begin the series, with a 131-111 victory in Game 1 followed by a 112-97 rout in Game 2.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: Embiid. The NBA's leading scorer was only 7 for 16 in Game 4 and shooting could be a struggle if he is limited much by the thumb.
—INJURY WATCH: Toronto All-Star guard Fred VanVleet was limited to just 15 minutes in Game 4 because of a strained left hip and is listed as questionable. But Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes had six points and 11 rebounds off the bench after missing two games with a sprained ankle.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Harden. Knowing Embiid is battling an injury, the 76ers could be in trouble if Harden can't do much better than the 5 for 17 he shot Saturday.
JAZZ AT MAVERICKS
Series tied 2-2. Game 5, 9:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
—NEED TO KNOW: The Jazz evened things up with a 100-99 victory on Saturday after the Mavericks had won the previous two games.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: Rudy Gobert. His go-ahead dunk on a lob from Donovan Mitchell with 11 seconds left in Game 4 capped a game in which the Jazz center was more involved in the offense that he had been previously in the series. Gobert took a series-high eight shots, finishing with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
—INJURY WATCH: Luka Doncic seemed fine in Game 4 after missing the first three games with a strained left calf. The All-Star guard had 30 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Spencer Dinwiddie. After averaging 19.7 points as a starter the first three games, the Mavericks guard managed just five off the bench Saturday after Doncic returned. He needs to impact the game more, especially since the Jazz know they can count on Jordan Clarkson to come off their bench and do so.