Boston Celtics

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics blocks a shot from Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets during the fourth quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Nets 114-107. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

It felt like an old-school pickup game, and we all know the rules of the playground: no blood, no foul. Toughest team wins.

So here we are now, two games into this zero-to-90 Eastern playoff series, and there’s really no other way to say this: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving look soft. The greatest player in the world, Durant, looks like he wants no part of a Celtics defense that is swarming like a pack of wolves. Meanwhile, Irving appears as he did in his final series for the Celtics three years ago – like a hotel guest on his way to the airport.

Checked out.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Irving told reporters after the Celtics overcame a 17-point deficit to claim a 114-107 win and a commanding 2-0 series lead last night at the TD Garden. “I just think the timing is right. Their window is now for these young guys on this team that have matured. They’ve been through series together, been through seasons together, they’ve been through battles together.”

Irving should know, of course.

After all, they spent much of their earlier years battling him.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 20: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets dive for a loose ball during the fourth quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Nets 114-107. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 20: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets dive for a loose ball during the fourth quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Nets 114-107. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Before anyone makes predictions for what happens going forward, let’s just say this: it isn’t over yet. At least not mathematically. But if the Nets are going to make a series of this best-of-7 affair – let alone win it – they must find a way to fight through a relentless Celtics defense that last night turned Durant and Irving into Charmin. Combined, Brooklyn’s megastar nucleus went 8-for-30 overall last night and an unfathomable 1-for-17 in the second half – including 1-for-9 in the fourth quarter – which simply cannot help but make one wonder if … well … they just can’t hack it.

    “They’re playing two or three guys on me sometimes when I’m off the ball, mucking up actions when I run off stuff,” Durant remarked. “I see [Al] Horford leaving his man and coming over to hit me sometimes. There’s two or three guys hitting me wherever I go, and that’s just the nature of the beast in the playoffs.”

    Maybe this explains why Durant has never won a championship other than when he was part of a Golden State juggernaut. Or why Irving has never won one without Lebron James.

    I mean, let’s be honest. Durant has never exactly played to contact and never will. He doesn’t like it. It takes him out of his game. He’s built like a mantis, not a megalodon.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 20: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during a timeout during the first quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 20: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during a timeout during the first quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    And Kyrie? Oh, he was his defiant self in Game 1, often downright vulgar, loathsome but lethal. He scored 39 points. He owned the fourth quarter. Then the NBA fined him and probably warned him of a suspension, and he turned as invisible as he did during the 2019 playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks, his final, inglorious days with the Celtics.

    Lest anyone forget, those Celtics lost four straight to end their season, imploding around the San Andreas-like fault that was Irving’s attitude. He went 25-for-83 in those four games, a dreadful 30.1 percent. He was a mere 5-for-27 from 3-point distance, a paltry 18.5 percent. The Celtics lost those four games by a combined 65 points, an average margin of more than 16, after which Irving and Durant both ran off to Brooklyn together in search of validation.

    To date, of course, Irving and Durant still appear to be searching. James Harden came and went. Ben Simmons stands by. The Nets keep failing.

    And as for the Celtics and their own search for glory?

    They’re doing it the only way anyone can.

    They’re earning it.

  • Cry-rie?

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 20: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the second quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 20: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the second quarter of Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 20, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

  • Looking lost

    Apr 20, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash looks on with forward Kevin Durant (7) during the second quarter of game two of the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Apr 20, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash looks on with forward Kevin Durant (7) during the second quarter of game two of the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports