NBA Playoffs: One Simple Directive Will Mean Nets Can’t Beat the Celtics

Jayson Tatum, Celtics.

Getty Jayson Tatum, Celtics.

There was a fair measure of debate among Greenhearts as the Celtic plinko chip banked through the last few rungs of the NBA regular season on the way to its final playoff seeding.

Would it be nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of second place in the East and take arms against the sea of troubles in an almost certain first-round matchup with Brooklyn?

Or should the Celtics try to game the system and finagle their way to third place and a series against the fading Bulls?

By nightfall last Sunday, the No. 3 seed wasn’t really on the table. The Bucks threw the end of their roster onto the floor in an afternoon loss at Cleveland, and with the Sixers all but certain to hand Detroit its 59th loss (they did), the Celts would be second with a win in Memphis and fourth with a loss. The latter would mean a series against Toronto, a sneaky good opponent in a place that does not allow unvaccinated players to participate — and there were ongoing questions about the status of some Celtics. It’s not an issue for them now, but it is for Philly, which won’t have Matisse Thybulle for the games in Canada.

The Nets Cannot Win. Unless …

The clear and present danger for the Celts is Brooklyn, with an opening-round series that starts Sunday afternoon in Boston. In Kevin Durant, out with an MCL sprain for part of January and all of February, and Kyrie Irving, out most of the season with his own vaccination situation, the Nets have as purely talented a duo as exists in The Association.

But in handicapping Boston’s best path to the conference finals and beyond, holding homecourt advantage in a potential second round series against Milwaukee is likely more valuable than avoiding Brooklyn.

Because the Nets cannot beat the Celtics.

Which is not to say the Celtics can’t lose this series.

But if that were to happen, it would require a great deal of cooperation from the C’s. The Nets can’t do it on their own. If they play the same Celtics who discovered the joys of ball movement and cutting on a consistent basis and parlayed that with a more physical and aggressive defense to win 33 of their last 43 games, the lads of Flatbush (and every other neighborhood in the borough) won’t be long for the postseason.

Boston’s fluid offense and switching defense has lifted it from mediocrity to the second-best net rating in the league — at plus-7.4 just a tick behind Phoenix’ 7.5 and well ahead of Utah’s 6.2 and Golden State’s 5.5 in third and fourth.

Against the Nets’ shaky defense, the Celtics should have little problem if they continue to heed the wishes of coach Ime Udoka and share the rock. Jayson Tatum’s star grew far greater in magnitude when he embraced this concept … and benefited from the better looks he got against defenses that couldn’t keep up with the Boston passing. He went from shooting 41.8% (33.3 % on treys) with 3.9 assists in the club’s 18-21 start to 48.5% from the floor (37% on 3s) with 4.8 assists over the aforementioned 33-10 run.

Jaylen Brown also flourished, as did Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Rob Williams. Trades that netted Derrick White and Daniel Theis and more playing time for Payton Pritchard solidified the makeover.

Celtics Should Control This Series

Even without Williams for at least the first part of the series as he recovers from meniscus surgery, those Celtics playing that way should be able to deal well with Durant, Irving, Seth Curry, Bruce Brown and Andre Drummond. Ben Simmons will help the defense if he makes it back, but he won’t play much if he does. All together, the Nets don’t have enough on their own.

However, if the Celtics get caught trying to fight duels against KD and Kyrie instead of taking the group approach to problem solving — if the ball begins sticking rather than moving, if they try to make heroic plays instead of trusting the offense, if they get on their heels defensively after being burned a few times — then the days of blown leads and horrid crunch-time execution could return. (Remember the fourth quarter against Miami on March 30?)

But in this series, the Celtics’ fate is not out of their control. And, really, at this time of the year, you can’t ask for more than that.


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Jim Metz
Jim Metz
2 months ago

“However, if the Celtics get caught trying to fight duels against KD and Kyrie instead of taking the group approach to problem solving… ”

As well said as it can be….


“… in this series, the Celtics’ fate is not out of their control. ”

Remember this if/when Marcus Smart picks up 2 (or 3) early fouls…..
We’ve argued the motive for this many times in the past, but who would deny that the Zebras and the way they call games do not have an impact?


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