The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets are set to battle it out in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Last season the Nets beat the Celtics 4-1 in the first round, with the Celtics playing without Jaylen Brown and the Nets still playing with James Harden, who’s now in Philadelphia.
Both teams enter the postseason with championship aspirations. The Celtics took 3 of 4 games from the Nets in the regular season. Both teams are currently playing a much higher level of basketball than they were when they previously faced one another.
The 7th seed Nets are fresh off a victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in tournament. That game that reinforced their teams’ strengths but also the cracks in their armor. The fact that the Nets needed a play-in game to secure a playoff spot says a lot about the ups and downs of their season. The Nets may have found a backdoor to the postseason, but nobody is sleeping on their potential with superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the charge.
The 2nd seed Celtics, on the other hand, have ridden a mid-season turnaround to the tune of being arguably the best team in the NBA since January 1st. Jayson Tatum is a star in his own right and is having a career year. With a league-leading defense, a balanced roster, and home-court advantage, the Celtics are well-positioned to avenge last seasons’ first-round exit.
Let’s take a look at how this series might play out.
Boston Celtics vs Brooklyn Nets Playoff Preview
Keys to a Celtics Victory
There’s a lot to like about the Celtics’ chances against the Nets in this series.
Boston has home-court advantage and the right to host a potential game-7. Defending their home floor will be key to them advancing. The playoff atmosphere in Boston is far more daunting than in Brooklyn. Last year’s playoff exit at the hands of the Nets – and the return of former-Celtic Kyrie to Boston – will undoubtedly fuel an electric atmosphere at TD Garden.
Tatum, who turned 24 in March, took another step this season while averaging 27 points on 46% shooting. He’s a legitimate star and is no stranger to the playoff stage. Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals during Tatum’s rookie season. They’ve made the playoffs every year since. Along with Marcus Smart and Al Horford, the Celtics have a core of guys who’ve been here before and won’t be rattled on the playoff stage. Mid-season addition Derrick White has added depth and defensive length to the Celtics backcourt and is a great weapon to have against this Nets squad.
The Celtics boast a league-leading defense with a switch-everything scheme that has stymied opponents all season long. Robert Williams, their defensive anchor, remains questionable to play in this series as he recovers from meniscus surgery last month. If Williams can return to play in this series he could have a huge impact, but even without him, the Celtics have still found ways to clamp down on opponents defensively. The Celtics will need their best defensive effort to slow down Durant and the Nets.
Keys to a Nets Victory
If KD and Kyrie continue to dominate as they have over the last 3 weeks, the Nets will be tough to stop. They’re averaging 60 points on 68% shooting during that stretch and appear to be virtually un-guardable.
Even so, the Nets will need a few other guys to step up in big ways to take the pressure off Durant and Irving. Seth Curry used the play-in game to shake off some rust after recovering from an ankle injury, and his presence on the perimeter will be key. Bruce Brown has been a revelation on both sides of the ball and the rest of the team feeds off of his intensity. Veterans Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond played a big role down the stretch against Cleveland and will be leaned on against Boston to stabilize the Nets’ second unit. Drummond and Nic Claxton could play a big role on the glass with Robert Williams sidelined.
Ben Simmons might be the biggest question mark of all. Simmons hasn’t played in an NBA game since June of last year. His contributions on the defensive side of the ball would give the Nets a big boost in this series. Reports suggest he hasn’t even begun playing 5 on 5 or practicing with the team. For now, Durant and the Nets are preparing for their series against Boston under the assumption that Simmons won’t be available.
Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets Prediction
Talent usually wins in the playoffs and the Nets have the edge with Durant and Kyrie. But don’t be fooled. The Celtics have been the better team in almost every conceivable way all season long and they have home-court advantage.
Celtics win in 7.
Embed from Getty Images