The Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics square off in a first-round battle full of star power. The Nets have been the de facto favorite in the East since trading for James Harden. The Celtics bounced back from a poor end of the regular season to earn the seventh seed in the Play-In tournament. The Celtics come into this series as a major underdog. Will they be able to pull off the upset?
NBA Playoffs Preview: Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics
The Nets frontcourt is led by superstar sniper Kevin Durant. Durant is one of the best shooters in the league and can impact the game in a major way with very few dribbles. The incredibly efficient scorer will likely be flanked by Blake Griffin and Joe Harris. There is a possibility that we see DeAndre Jordan as the starting center at some point in the playoffs, but Griffin has been getting the nod for the last month so this is likely to continue. Harris has been a solid contributor this season and is a knockdown shooter in his own right. Griffin has not returned to his former All-Star form, but he has shown that he still has plenty to offer. His passing skills and ability to hit open threes make him dangerous should the Celtics over commit to the big three defensively.
The Celtics will go as far as Jayson Tatum can take them. The two-time All-Star erupted for 50 points in Boston’s clutch win over the Washington Wizards earlier this week. He will certainly miss running mate Jaylen Brown in this series. Tatum will rely on Evan Fournier in that role and hope that Fournier can recapture some of the magic that he had earlier this season in Orlando. Fournier is a solid playmaker and good ball-handler, but he has struggled to score consistently since making the move up north. Tristan Thompson will likely start game one at center, but Robert Williams is expected to play this series and could take the starting role back if his foot injury has healed completely. Thompson had a double-double in the Play-In game and brings a ton of playoff experience to this team. He may have issues guarding Griffin on the perimeter but should clean up the glass whenever he’s in the game.
Advantage: Brooklyn Nets
The Nets may have the best starting backcourt in the league. Harden has emerged as the true facilitator, running point for the squad. This allows Kyrie Irving to play the best version of his game, dribbling his way to the rim or crossing up defenders en route to a step-back jumper. This duo is deadly and they can take over any game in this series. Of course, both players are a bit of a liability on defense. Harden has improved in this regard and at the very least has shown a knack for playing the passing lanes. This team is all about outscoring their opponents and this combo can certainly help them do that.
The Celtics backcourt has plenty of talent as well. Boston has to be happy to see Kemba Walker back at full strength. Walker had 29 points in the Play-In game, an effort he will need to duplicate on a nightly basis if the Celtics are going to have a chance. He tends to be a defensive liability in his own right. The Celtics will try to hide him as best as they can on defense, likely matching him up with Bruce Brown when he is in the game. Boston’s other starting guard is the veteran Marcus Smart, a much better defender than Walker. He struggled in the regular season against the Nets, allowing Irving to go off in each contest. Smart will have to kick it into gear offensively to keep up with Brooklyn.
Advantage: Brooklyn Nets
The Nets come into this series healthy. They’ll be without Spencer Dinwiddie, but the rest of the team is ready to go. Although depth was an issue early in the season, Brooklyn made some key additions to bolster their roster after the All-Star break. This unit gets a little deeper if Jordan and Brown start. If Harris comes off the bench, he will provide a scoring threat while the big three catch their breath. The same goes for Griffin. Playing it as it lies, the Nets can expect a solid effort from Jeff Green in this series. He has been their best frontcourt bench player for most of the season. This group surely wishes they had LaMarcus Aldridge for this run, but they still have some solid contributors on the bench.
Unfortunately for Boston, two of their best reserves have been thrust into the starting lineup due to injury. If Williams has to come off of the bench for the first few games of the series, his minutes may be limited due to the foot injury. If he is good to go, then the Celtics will be a bigger challenge up front. Thompson can then slide back to his bench role and contribute on the offensive glass. With Fournier starting for Brown, the Celtics are low on bench playmakers. They went with an eight-man rotation in their last game. Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford were the only other Celtics to get meaningful minutes in that game. Boston will need a breakout performance from one of their younger bench players if they are going to have the advantage here.
Advantage: Brooklyn Nets
Coaching and Intangibles
Steve Nash has done a respectable job as a rookie coach. Of course, he has been blessed with three All-NBA talents, but he also has to deal with those egos and faces the pressure of championship expectations. He has failed in this position as a player and certainly looks to make up for that as a coach. Nash has surrounded himself with former players as assistants and has former head coach Mike D’Antoni to lean on as well. With Jacque Vaughn, Ime Udoka, and Amar’e Stoudemire on the sidelines with Nash, this team has no shortage of playoff experience to help them through the odyssey of the postseason.
Though the Celtics lack the name recognition of their opponents’ staff, they make up for it with playoff experience. Head Coach Brad Stevens has led this team to the postseason in six of his eight seasons. They have won ten or more games in two of those runs. While his playoff winning percentage is only .507, he has helped some undermanned teams overperform during his tenure. Going back to his college career at Butler, it is no secret that Stevens is used to being the underdog. He has an incredible basketball IQ and will have this team well prepared and ready to shock the world.
Advantage: Boston Celtics
Final Prediction: Brooklyn Nets in Six
The Celtics will make life difficult for the Nets in this series. Tatum will have at least one game with over 40 points and Boston should be able to win one of their home games. The Nets will need to adjust to the style of postseason basketball. The pace of play tends to slow down in the playoffs and Boston will try to slow it down even more to contain Brooklyn’s explosive offense. At the end of the day, this Nets team is just too talented to fall in this series.
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