Brad Stevens understands the method of the underdog coach. Once upon a time, he satisfied the Butler Bulldogs they might win a nationwide title of their hometown, Indianapolis, six miles from the Butler fieldhouse that hosted the 1954 state remaining that impressed the movie “Hoosiers.”
Stevens got here inside an inch or two — on Gordon Hayward’s Hail Mary shot in opposition to Duke in 2010 — of authoring essentially the most unbelievable story in faculty basketball historical past. When he took the Celtics head teaching job in 2013, no one thought eight years later he could be teaching the fabled franchise as the NBA equal of a mid-major. Yet that’s precisely the stance he took when he known as his first-round opponent, the Nets, “probably the most talented team that’s been assembled since I’ve been in the NBA,” and when he stated that if he have been an NBA fan, “I’d have hard time seeing them lose.”
Stevens is aware of what everybody within the league is aware of: The Nets are confronting more pressure than the opposite 15 groups within the playoffs, together with the defending champion Lakers. LeBron James has received 4 rings with three franchises. He has already confirmed he can win with totally different supporting forged members, from Dwyane Wade to Kyrie Irving to Anthony Davis. James would certainly like to two-peat and tie Lakers legends Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson with 5 total rings, one shy of the person LeBron is chasing on the GOAT scoreboard, Michael Jordan. But he doesn’t really want to do it.
The Nets must do it. The Nets are built to win now, as in proper now, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Irving. Though they performed a mere eight video games collectively in the course of the common season, the three stars are comparatively wholesome coming into the playoffs. Is anybody assured that would be the case this time subsequent 12 months, or the 12 months after that? Anyone?
So if you’re Stevens, why not add a few extra pounds to the burden the Nets are carrying into this match? Why not label them unbeatable, and God’s newest reward to mankind, whereas the betting favorites are nonetheless attempting to determine precisely easy methods to play with each other?
Of course, the sensible manner for the Nets to have a look at that is easy: Extreme stress is usually tethered to unprecedented alternative. Even when Jason Kidd was main the New Jersey arm of the franchise to back-to-back Finals, the Nets have been by no means The Team on this market. They have been within the league’s backside third in attendance in each of their Finals seasons.
This time round, within the middle of a Knicks revival, in the course of a baseball summer time, the Nets’ staggering star energy offers them an opportunity to take over the town. It will likely be short-term, however that elusive status is lastly there available. As lengthy as the Nets win the entire thing.
Make no mistake: The Nets try to do one thing right here that’s awfully tough to do. They beat the Knicks to 2 franchise-altering stars, Durant and Irving, in the summertime of 2019, earlier than watching as the 2 performed in 20 of 82 video games (Irving’s 20) whereas getting a coach fired. And then with Durant and Irving within the early levels of a brand new on-court period in 2020-21, paired with a novice coach (Steve Nash), the Nets traded a ton of property for a 3rd franchise-altering star, Harden, and charged the gamers and Nash to determine all of it out.
Over the course of the season, Durant performed in fewer than half of the Nets’ video games, Irving took a number of sabbaticals and Harden was successfully out for the ultimate six weeks. On a sure degree, with all that occurring, it’s outstanding the Nets nonetheless landed the No. 2 seed within the East.
But no one needs to listen to any extra in regards to the journey. Starting with Saturday evening’s Game 1 at Barclays Center, it’s all in regards to the vacation spot. Nets-Celtics was given the prime-time slot for a motive, and it has little to do with the visiting franchise with 17 NBA championships to its title.
New York cares extra in regards to the Knicks than the Nets, however America cares extra in regards to the Nets than the Knicks. The Big 3, facing playoff consequences, are as near must-see TV as the primary spherical goes to get.
Stevens is sensible sufficient to attempt to use that to his benefit. It is smart to speak up the Nets as an indomitable power, particularly if you’re attempting to beat them with out Jaylen Brown. Might as nicely attempt to elevate expectations and kill them with kindness.
In the top, the Nets are below extra stress than they’ve ever been below earlier than. The excellent news?
The acquire of conquering that stress will likely be very a lot definitely worth the ache.