A preview of the Celtics-Nets playoff

Following the Brooklyn Nets play-in victory, a look at how the Celtics matchup against Kevin Durant’s Nets.

Following the Brooklyn Nets’ 115-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, the Celtics are officially locked into a first round matchup with Brooklyn. Prior to forward Kevin Durant’s injury in early January, most fans would have assumed the only way these two teams would match up in the first round would be if the Nets were the second seed and the Celtics were the seventh seed. Obviously, the winter months brought far more than seasonal change for Boston and Brooklyn. Both teams saw their seasons go in completely different directions, but none of that matters now. The playoffs are here and this first round matchup could prove to be among the most entertaining.

Why the Nets can win

The reason that the Nets have a chance to win the series is the same reason they even made the playoffs to begin with – Kevin Durant. Durant, arguably the best player on the planet, would have a great case for MVP had he never gotten injured in January. He is putting up ridiculous averages of 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists while shooting over 50% from the field and close to 40% from three. The Nets will go as far as Durant takes them but, unlike last year’s playoff run, he will not have to do everything by himself.

Durant’s sidekick, point guard Kyrie Irving, will also be called upon frequently in these playoffs. Per usual, it has been a season filled with off the court narratives surrounding Irving. His refusal to get vaccinated was a topic discussed on every major sports show across the country, constantly labeled as selfish and problematic. The good news for Irving is that he can put all of those talks to rest if he puts together a playoff run similar to his 2016 run. 

The biggest question mark surrounding Brooklyn is on the defensive end, but they may be getting some help in that particular category. Guard Ben Simmons is reportedly making his long awaited return to the NBA, after a year long layoff that included plenty of storylines as well. Say what you want about Simmons’ lack of shooting, he can do pretty much everything else at an all-star level and would certainly help some of the Nets’ defensive woes. He can guard all five positions seamlessly and would certainly be able to defend Celtics stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum at a higher level than most. With that being said, Brooklyn will go as far as their offense can take them.

With two offensive dynamos in Durant and Irving, the Nets’ offense was bound to be prolific. Adding shooters Seth Curry and Patty Mills certainly helps, and the big combination of centers Nicolas Claxton and Andre Drummond has been formidable as well. The offense that Brooklyn boasts can easily score 120 points a game and therefore outscore any opponent that stands in front of them. In the playoffs, the more talented team typically tends to prevail because defenses are locked into their assignments and teams can gameplan for opposing players. Brooklyn has two players that can get a bucket in their sleep, something few other teams can boast.

Why the Celtics can win

The Celtics are one of the few. Boston has two players in Brown and Tatum that can not only match the offensive outputs of Durant and Irving, but potentially outscore Brooklyn’s dynamic duo. Tatum has reached new heights in his fifth season in the league, increasing his per-game averages in points, rebounds and assists. His improved playmaking is one of the biggest reasons for the Celtics’ incredible mid-season turnaround. Unlike last year’s first round, Tatum will not be the only player that Brooklyn has to worry about.

The biggest difference between this year’s Celtics team and the disappointing teams of the past is the cast surrounding Boston’s two star wings. Although the names are familiar, players such as point guard Marcus Smart, forward Grant Williams and forward Al Horford have had incredible regular seasons. All three of those guys, along with point guard Payton Pritchard, have been able to space the floor to allow Tatum and Brown to have more room to operate offensively. No longer do Tatum and Brown simply revert to the “your-turn-my-turn” style of play that plagued former coach Brad Stevens’ teams in years past. They finally bought into current coach Ime Udoka’s ball movement philosophies and learned to trust the guys around them. This change in playstyle around the midway point of the season eventually made the Celtics into the dangerous team they are today.

The aspect of the game where the two teams truly differ is on the defensive side of the ball. The Celtics possess the best defensive rating in the entire league for a plethora of reasons, with the biggest being the team’s unique ability to switch at every position. It also helps having DPOY candidates Smart and Robert Williams III. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely that Williams will play in the first round, but the team still has enough versatility to make the Nets’ offense come harder than it typically does. 

Over the past 35 games, the Celtics went 28-7, with the best offensive, defensive and net rating over that span. They outscored opponents by over 500 total points, and displayed the type of team chemistry that has been nonexistent in recent years. Under normal circumstances, this team would have no problem wiping a seven seed and advancing to face the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks. These are not normal circumstances. The Nets are the most talented seven seed in the history of the NBA, and will be a tough out for the Celtics, or any other teams they may come across. The task will not be easy. 

 With that being said, if you think for a second that this team does not have what it takes to pull off the upset, you have not been watching the Boston Celtics recently. This is a special group of players, with a special coach at the helm of it all. This team’s championship window is not closing, if anything it is only beginning to open. This is the first time, since the legendary Paul Pierce days, that this team has a legit shot at winning it all. With a little luck of the Irish, banner 18 will be dropped from the rafters in October. The journey begins this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at TD Garden.

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