3:49 PM EDT on April 21, 2022
The Brooklyn Nets dropped both Game 1 and Game 2 to the Celtics in Boston, despite performing reasonably well and being in good position to win both games late in the fourth quarter. They're facing many woes, though they get to go back to Brooklyn, where Kyrie Irving can now play, to attempt to turn things around. And they might have a new, all-NBA player to help them. Ben Simmons will play his first NBA game in almost a calendar year next week.
It's impossible to predict the degree to which Simmons can meaningfully contribute in his first game action after a long trade holdout that was followed by a back injury, especially since he'll be tossed straight into the fire. Making one's return at home is ideal, though doing so against a group of locked-in wing destroyers like Boston has, who have been ruthlessly hunting any and all mismatches, is much harder. Simmons fills a theoretical need for the Nets, whose defense against Boston was fantastic for three quarters on Wednesday and could definitely use a big athletic wing to throw at Jayson Tatum, but, again, he has not played in 10 months and has never played with his new teammates.
Weirdly enough, the Nets' biggest problems are not on defense, but on offense. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are two of the most skilled offensive players in the league, and if a pair of players could make an AAU-style, your-turn-my-turn-ass offense work at the highest level, it might be them. But it is not really working. Irving went off in Game 1, though he was invisible last night, scoring just 10 points. Durant logged 27 points, though 18 came at the free-throw line; he shot just 4-for-17. The two superstars shot a combined 1-for-17 in the second half, and the Nets needed big performances from Bruce Brown, Seth Curry, and Goran Dragic to keep them afloat. Is Ben Simmons solving any of those problems? Maybe, as he's a great passer, though the Nets aren't so into passing as a tactic. At the very least, he can maybe grab some offensive boards, but that relies on physicality, which is something Simmons may be lacking after so much time off.
For all this pessimism, the Nets are not dead. They haven't looked great, yet they still almost won both games. Here is where I also remind you of the old adage that a series doesn't start until someone loses at home. This series has been too fun for a sweep or a five-gamer to feel like anything but a disappointment, and all I hope is that Ben Simmons's return gives us some entertainment.