After a long and tumultuous season, the Brooklyn Nets are officially in the NBA playoffs.
They dispatched of the Cleveland Cavaliers, 115-108, in the opening game of the play-in tournament.
Final: Nets beat the Cavaliers 115-108 behind Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Brooklyn’s defense was good, but KD and Kyrie each logged 40 minutes. Something to watch. Everyone get home safely. Nets-Celtics Game 1 is Sunday at TD Garden. See you soon, Beantown.
— Alex Schiffer (@Alex__Schiffer) April 13, 2022
A 40-20 score at the end of the first quarter made it seem like the Nets were finally rounding into preseason form.
But the result ended up being much closer with Cleveland slowly chipping away throughout the game.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were both sensational, combining for 59 points on 21-31 from the field and 4-8 from deep.
They also chipped in 23 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks.
Next up is a first-round matchup with the Boston Celtics.
And according to the latest report by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Ben Simmons may return as early as Game 4 of the series.
As great of a player Simmons is, Brooklyn does not need him to compete for the NBA Finals.
Nets Already Have Two Superstars
There are two main reasons the Nets don’t necessarily need Simmons to make a run at the NBA Finals: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Durant is arguably the greatest player in the league when healthy at this stage in his career.
And Irving, vaccine drama aside, is arguably the most unstoppable offensive player in the league.
Both players demonstrated their greatness against the Cavaliers.
Irving made the first 12 shots he took including three threes.
Durant, who drew countless double teams, constantly made the right read and dissected the defense without going nuclear scoring the ball.
Even still, he finished with 25 points on an efficient 9-16 shooting.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined for 32 Points, and only 1 missed shot in the 1st Half. 👀🍿 pic.twitter.com/2axXf1HZXo
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) April 13, 2022
Basketball is of course a team game and requires more than two players to win.
But these two players make the game easier for teammates in their respective roles.
Either Durant or Irving can win a playoff basketball game singe-handedly.
It will be tough against the NBA’s top-rated defense this year, but these two are more than capable of stepping up.
They are also proven come playoff time.
With or without Simmons, Brooklyn is a dangerous team with Durant and Irving.
Defense Needs to Step Up
A serious concern for Brooklyn is their defense.
They had a middling defense all year, allowing the 18th-most points per game to opponents.
While they held Cleveland to 108 points, Darius Garland had a monster game – 34 points on 13-24 shooting to go along with 5 assists.
Luckily for the Nets, the Cavs do not have an elite second scoring option and were missing their All-Star center in Jarrett Allen.
This will not be the case against Boston.
Robert Williams is seemingly out for the series (although not definitively out), but they will still need to deal with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Having Simmons available would be a huge bonus defensively against the Celtics.
However, the Nets are not doomed without him.
As good as Durant is on offense, he has become a solid perimeter defender throughout his career.
He may not be of the same quality as the Kawhi Leonards and Paul Georges, but he can hold his own.
And he will not need to lock down Tatum, just make him work for his points.
The same can be said for later possible opponents.
Without Simmons on the floor, Durant will need to take on an additional defensive load.
Brooklyn will need all their players to step up defensively, which they can do.
Simmons is an elite defender at the NBA level.
But Brooklyn can still elevate their game if they make a concerted team effort on the less glamorous end.