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NBA Playoffs Preview Guide: Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage! The NBA playoffs are here and get to watch the best, most anticipated matchup of the first round.

On one side, the Boston Celtics. Led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the C’s stormed to the top the Eastern Conference once the calendar turned to 2022. Since January 1, Boston had the best record in the East as their 34-12 record helped them win their 23rd Atlantic Division title.

Waiting for them will be our Brooklyn Nets. It’s been another weird, chaotic year for Steve Nash and friends, but they’re back in the playoffs and hoping to make their way to the NBA Finals. They secured the seventh seed after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first play-in game at Barclays on Tuesday night.

The schedule

Celtics play-by-play announcer, Sean Grande, made a great point on Twitter when he observed that the schedule has the Celtics playing only two games in 15 days. Whenever there’s a long layoff, you always have to be mindful of rust in your first game back and that’s something Ime Udoka and the C’s staff will need to be mindful of.

The Nets will have four days off before Game One, which should help as their best players have all been playing heavy minutes coming down the stretch. The first three games of the series will be every two days and then move to every other day starting with Game Four.

History

New Jersey Nets celebration Photo By Nathaniel S. Butler NBAE/ Getty Images.

The Nets and Celtics have met three times in the postseason. Brooklyn won their first matchup in the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, a rematch in the 2003 Eastern Conference Semifinals, and last year in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

This year, the Celtics won the regular season series 3-1, but both teams are radically different than what they were in each matchup throughout the season.

Players to watch: Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant

In playoff time, you go as far as your superstar takes you. They’re the ones that run the show, the ones you turn to when you need a huge play, and the ones who set the tempo for the team from the opening tip. Superstars win titles, and the winner of this series will likely be awaiting another superstar, Giannis Antetokuonmpo. For both stars and Team USA teammates in this matchup, they’ll look to set the tone as they battle it out.

It’s been a steady ascension for Tatum ever since he entered the NBA in 2017. As his responsibilities on offense have grown over the years, so has his effectiveness and stature as one of the league’s brightest stars. He was named to his third straight All Star Game and finished seventh in the NBA in scoring, averaging 26.9 points a night on a .453/.353/.853 shooting split. The numbers tell a story, but there was a lot more to JT this year. Over at Celtics Blog, Will Bjarnar wrote about Tatum and said:

Tatum, for a long time, was at the top of that list: “What is going on inside his head when he had the ball?” was my question. I wondered whether or not he was fully confident in his abilities as a playmaker and scorer. He sometimes launched shots as though they were his last, and didn’t always exude a resounding conviction in himself as a shooter. He’d hesitate, or pass out of open shots, despite the fact that he was a former third-overall pick and was being paid handsomely to find his own shot, first and foremost.

This season, unlike any of his four previous ones, Tatum has answered that question resoundingly. He has found a home in the grey area between selfishness and aplomb, no longer forcing bad shots but instead being so good that no such thing exists. He could launch whenever he wants, but he’s selective now. He knows that whatever shot he wants to take is, more than likely, going in. The confidence is a vital intangible; the numbers — tangible — back up the observation.

With Tatum being the top dog, he’ll look to avenge last year’s playoff loss. He put 50 on the Nets the last time he saw them in the regular season, and put 50 on them in Game Three of the playoffs last year.

You know who he is. Since his return from the MCL injury that cost him six weeks and led to all sorts of things for the Nets, Kevin Durant has played at an incredibly high level. KD averaged 31.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists on a silky smooth .516/.400/.935 shooting split in 38 minutes a night. We know the offense he brings, but Durant’s defense has been the tie that binds the Nets. . He’s a great rim protector, can guard small guards, and is sharp with his rotations. Steve Nash and the Brooklyn coaching staff has been deploying KD at center and it’s been pretty damn effective. Durant can and does literally everything you want on the court at all times. He’s one of the greatest players the game of basketball has ever seen and getting to see him against an elite team like the Celtics will be a pleasure.

Series X-Factors: Bruce Brown and Marcus Smart

The folks in Boston are big mad at the hometown kid after he said the Nets fan attack Daniel Theis and Al Horford now that Robert Williams is out with a knee injury. Durant threw some water on BB’s comments in his own postgame interview, but you gotta love the energy Brown has. Ever since the trade deadline, Brown has been reinvigorated and has been integral in pushing the pace, providing energy, and has become a really solid three point shooter in the corners. As we saw in the play-in game, teams will sell out to get the ball out of Durant and Irving’s hands, and with Brown being able to finish well at the rim and make the right decisions in the short roll, it gives the Nets an added dimension on offense.

Smart isn’t a particularly great three point shooter (32 percent shooter from deep in his career), but he always manages to shoot like Reggie Miller when he sees the Nets. Smart is most effective on defense where he can blow up pick and rolls, can guard the opposing team’s best player, and is the glue that helps keep everything together.

The big questions

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
  • Will we see Ben Simmons make his Nets debut?

It looks like he’s getting closer by the day, but nothing has been set in stone. The Nets are doing their usual cloak and dagger routine when it comes to injuries, but everything is moving in the right direction. If Simmons does make his Nets/2021-2022 season debut, he’ll immediately slide into the rotation and give the Nets another ace playmaker on the court at all times. They won’t play him for 40 minutes, but he can certainly help and give the Nets another option to throw at Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Having Simmons would unlock another level of the Nets attack and make them even more potent.

  • Will Robert Williams return from injury in this series?

Time Lord has been out since March 27th after undergoing surgery on his left knee. However, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on April 13 that there’s optimism he may be back as soon as Game Six of this series. He’s been excellent all season and wreaked havoc on the Nets last year in the playoffs before injury knocked him out of that series. With Williams guarding the paint, he can be a deterrent for the Nets at the rim, in particular Irving. If he isn’t back, the big man duties will fall on the shoulders of Horford and Theis. For Brooklyn, Andre Drummond and Nic Claxton have been wonderful manning the middle for the Nets

  • Can the Celtics slow down Kyrie Irving?

Get ready for all the tweets and thinkpieces about Irving’s time as a Celtic, Lucky the mascot, and damn near everything else. Forget the noise and always remember that Irving is an absolutely magnificent basketball player that is one of the most gifted and exciting we’ve ever gotten to watch. His teammates love him, the fans love him, and when he’s on the court, he always gives you the best show in town.

Towards the end of the season, we made note that Irving wasn’t getting to the rim as much as he usually does, and that bared itself out in the numbers. Per Basketball Reference, this season Kyrie took the fewest amount of shots inside of three feet in his career. He’s been getting to the cup more in recent games and made six shots close to the rim against the Cavs. Without Time Lord manning the middle, Irving will have less resistance when he makes it to the cup, so it’ll be up to Derrick White and Marcus Smart to keep him from getting there. Smart is one of the best defenders in the NBA and White has been great since he was acquired from the San Antonio Spurs at the deadline. They’ll try to slow Irving down and force guys like Seth Curry, Patty Mills, etc. to beat them. We’ll see how this plays out.

Series Prediction: Nets in six

This series is going to be incredibly close and competitive. Boston has been excellent for the past four months and are peaking at the right time. Their defense is excellent, they’re well coached, and will put up a fight every step of the way. However, when it’s the playoffs, best player usually wins and the Nets have the best player. Durant will lead the charge and help Brooklyn do enough to outlast Boston and set themselves up with another rematch, this time with the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

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