The Boston Celtics have concluded their first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, and I have to say, I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Some people predicted that the Celtics would win the series (such as myself), but I thought it would be a long, hard-fought grueling series that ended with a dramatic Game Seven. It was still a hard-fought and grueling series, but the Celtics managed to sweep Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, no small feat. How did they do this?
The key reason the Celtics defeated the Nets was the astounding defense they played on Durant. On the surface, it appears as though Durant only had a slight dip in production; his playoff averages in those four games were 26.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. Durant played a playoff high 44 minutes per game; but the Celtics held him to 38.6% shooting from the field and 33.3% from three, which is horrendous for one of the best scorers ever. However, the most important thing the Celtics did to hurt Durant was turnovers. Durant averaged 5.3 turnovers per game, thanks to ruthless defense from Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Grant Williams.
The scores of each game were as follows:
Game 1: 115-114
Game 2: 114-107
Game 3: 109-103
Game 4: 116-112
There was not a single double-digit loss in this series, and most of these losses came down to the wire. If we lower Durant’s turnovers per game to 3.2 (his average in the playoffs), then we eliminate 1.1 turnovers per game, which could result in anywhere from 0-3 points back to the Nets. Plus, let’s pretend KD got through the Celtics’ defense and continued to score. His average field goal percentage in the playoffs is 47.8%; let’s say that he shot 45% from the field in this series. That means he makes 9.3 field goals while shooting around 21 per game. KD made about 8 field goals per game this series while shooting 21 shots per game; that increase of a bucket or two every game could have swung at least two of these games in the Nets favor. All KD had to do was be marginally better; but the Celtics defense was simply too good.
It also helped that Robert Williams came back from injury in Game Three. Ben Simmons of the Nets did not come back in Game Four; and thank god he didn’t. You can’t throw a guy who hasn’t played NBA basketball in a year into an elimination playoff game and assume he’ll perform at an All-NBA level.
So, what happens next for the Nets and Celtics? Let’s look at the Celtics first.
Now that they’ve beaten the Nets, it’s no stretch to say that the Celtics are legitimate finals contenders. Their second round matchup will likely be against the championship-proven Milwaukee Bucks (Milwaukee currently leads 3-1 against the Chicago Bulls; if they choke, then that’s a different problem). Boston has shown they can defend elite offensive players like Durant; can they do that to Giannis Antetokounmpo? Durant’s style is more finesse, and settling for outside shots, while Antetokounmpo barrels his way to the rim. He’s going to be a lot more difficult to stop, and the Celtics better hope they play better than they did in 2019. It’ll be a tough series; but then again, that’s what we thought against Brooklyn. I’m confident that the Celtics can come up with a game plan to stop the Greek Freak.
If the Celtics do get past the Bucks, then they’ll likely face the 76ers or Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. At this point in time, I’m going to say it’ll be the Heat; but you never know. The Heat have a talented and deep squad, with All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry, former All-Star Victor Oladipo, 6th Man of the Year Tyler Herro, lockdown defender P.J. Tucker, and sharpshooter Duncan Robinson. That’ll be a tough team for Boston to beat, but again, like Kevin Garnett said in 2008; ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! If they can beat the Bucks though, then I’m confident they can beat the Heat, and be named as 2022 Eastern Conference Champions.
If the Celtics were to make it to the Finals though, I’m worried about their chances against the Phoenix Suns or Golden State Warriors. Right now Golden State is looking especially scary with their death lineup, and Phoenix still has their core that went to the NBA Finals last year. I originally thought we’d have a Celtics-Warriors Finals matchup in 2018; it’s looks like we might be getting it 4 years later. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Celtics would win this matchup. But maybe, just maybe, they could prove us all wrong again and be named the NBA champions in the NBA’s 75th season. The most storied franchise in NBA history winning an NBA championship in the most historic season; what a storybook ending that would be.
Or the Celtics could lose sometime in the next two rounds and prepare for a run next year. Either way, the hiring of Ime Udoka was a great move by Brad Stevens. So was bringing back Al Horford. The Celtics shouldn’t mess with this roster; they should run it back next year.
The same can’t be said for the Nets. Something stinks in Brooklyn, and it isn’t the pizza. There were many clues that this season wouldn’t end in champagne as so many originally thought. Irving’s vaccination status, the declining play of the veterans, Durant’s injury, and Harden’s drama caused so much of this team’s downfall.
I think the biggest problem with the Nets was that they thought they could have a bumpy regular season, but just make it all work when it came playoff time. This was certainly not the case. You can’t expect a team that hasn’t been together for the majority of a season to suddenly find its way against the best defense in the NBA in the first round.
However, I don’t think the Nets are in as bad of a position as people are making them out to be. What the Nets need is to have a good, healthy offseason in which Simmons recovers and returns to an All-NBA level. Durant and Irving need to work on their games a little bit, and most importantly, Sean Marks has to run this team, not Durant. We’ve seen how well teams come together when a superstar designs the roster; look at LeBron James choosing Russell Westbrook in the Western Conference. The Lakers didn’t even make the playoffs this year, and with Durant having an input in everything, the Nets are a first round exit.
The Nets need to have a front office in which the superstars don’t help make the decisions. Take a look at the Golden State Warriors or Miami Heat. They have great front offices that make smart decisions, and even when superstars want certain moves done, they have the security to say no. Examples of this include when Lebron James asked Pat Riley to coach instead of Erik Spolestra in Miami, or when Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green wanted Avery Bradley to have the last roster spot instead of Gary Payton II. These are great examples, and both of these rejected moves ended up being great decisions. The Nets need to have a backbone, and be ok with saying no.
What do you think about the trajectory of both of these teams? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!