Steve Nash turns into Nets’ brightest star

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For those who wish his team ill, this was a love letter from the fringes of basketball purgatory. The Nets couldn’t buy a shot, especially from 3. They looked sluggish. There were stretches when they looked like perfect strangers. The Celtics, already playing with house money, jumped out to an early lead. They dropped 32 on the Nets in the second quarter — call the defense police!

Yep. It was all set up nicely for those members of NetsBash Nation on Saturday night, Game 1 at Barclays Center, best-of-seven against the Celtics, who were feeling their oats and ….

And the Nets won by 11 points.

So much for purgatory.

“We didn’t play well,” Steve Nash would say later, and while he didn’t shrug his shoulders when he said it, he could have. It was a shoulder-shrug moment. It was his first real test as a basketball coach and it is difficult to do anything but grade him with high honors. Coaching was one of the great unknowns of this Nets postseason, mostly because Nash is still learning on the job.

Consider the first lessons learned. Consider the first exam aced.

One down. Fifteen to go.

“There was a lot of newness,” Nash would say, “in many ways.”

There was, and there was some rust, and maybe there was some nerves. There were also a bunch of people in the building, a fair chunk of them not wearing the black-and-white vestments of the home team, and Celtics fans who travel in the playoffs generally do so with amplifiers attached to their vocal cords.

And the Nets won by 11 points.

“Lots of energy in this building,” Nash said. “It was a lot of fun.”

It was later on, after the Nets caught the Celtics and then passed them, after they shook off one last Boston push in the fourth quarter and finished things off. Look, beating the Celtics is no grand feat for this team. The Nets may be a new team, but they are not a young one. If you thought they would be stricken by panic when the C’s hopped out on them.

They are all known entities.

It is the coach that is the unknown.

And so it is the coach about whom you must feel the best in the aftermath of Game 1. Nash did a terrific job all year. He had more toys than anyone, but they weren’t always available to him. He managed. He adjusted. Whatever version of his basketball team reported for work all season, he made the most of it. He played through it. He figured it out.

And that had to have helped in Game 1. Nash’s default position is chill, anyway, so it wasn’t like he was going to lose his mind when the Celtics jumped out to a 32-20 lead. It wasn’t like be was going to melt down when the Celtics got back to within 82-79, with the ball, in the fourth.

That calmness carried the day all year.

It carried the day on Saturday.

And in an interesting upset, he was better than his team.

“There’s still plenty of things to clean up and look at,” Nash said when his maiden playoff voyage, a 104-93 victory, was over. “We recognized we could stay close by playing well defensively. I’m proud of that.”

He can be proud of what he saw looking back at him in the mirror, too. So far, so good. One down, 15 to go. He is still the wild card in all of this. One terrific night on the bench doesn’t change that. But the Nets had just about everything go wrong that could go wrong on them Saturday night, had more than their quota of banana peels litter the floor.

And still won by 11 points. Next!

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