It’s not terribly surprising to see the Boston Celtics eliminate the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Few among us, however, saw the Green sweeping the series. Surely, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant would will Brooklyn into making it a series.
Alas, the Nets went quietly, never really putting a scare in the Celtics. So, how did we get here? And where do things go now? Here are a few parting shots for the latest Brooklyn-Boston battle.
— Most anyone within the Celtics orbit would have argued as much before the series began, but it’s abundantly clear Jayson Tatum is an NBA superstar. We can debate whether he’s taken the next step, but he’s certainly taken a step forward into the league’s pantheon of elite. And we can have this conversation while also tabling any conversation about a torch pass between Durant and Tatum — it might be a little too soon for that.
But it’s the relative efficiency with which Tatum played that really stood out. He scored at least 29 in three of four games, highlighted by a 39-point masterpiece in Game 3. But even when he was limited to just 19 points on 5-of-16 shooting in Game 2, he still added six rebounds and came one assist shy of tying his playoff career-high of 11 helpers. And then there’s the defense. It’s a team effort to “limit” Durant the way Boston did, but Tatum deserves a whole lot of credit for setting the tone with ultimate buy-in on that end, commitment reinforced by undeniable results.
— The decision to play through game No. 82 has been fully justified. The Celtics didn’t fear Brooklyn and played to win in the regular-season finale. In doing so, Boston finished ahead of the Bucks despite having the same record and will have home-court advantage in the second round if and when Milwaukee finishes off Chicago.
— Ime Udoka pantsed Steve Nash. We only needed two games to start showering Udoka with the praise, as the Celtics coach took full advantage of his institutional Nets knowledge to scheme up a game plan that kept Brooklyn’s stars in check. Durant and to a lesser extent, Irving, got theirs, but it was far from efficient and it was not easy whatsoever. On the other side, what sort of adjustment did the Nets ever make?
Nash seemingly is being skipped in the dessert line when it comes to slicing up the blame pie, but it was an unimpressive showing from him. The best thing about coaching a team like the Nets or the Lakers might not be the fact you get to lead a team with bona fide superstars. Unless you’re the clear-cut, No. 1 reason the team lost, you’re almost never going to get the amount of blame you deserve (at least from anyone outside your locker room). Sure, you’ll be sent packing in a potentially quick and unjust manner (see: Vogel, Frank), but you’ll at least get sympathy. You’ll find no such sympathy here for Nash, though, despite the shortcomings of Irving and the absence of Ben Simmons. Udoka put Nash in a blender. Makes you wonder why anyone who made $150 million playing basketball would want to come back and deal with this.
— The Scott Foster thing was totally overblown, and it probably says a lot about our society that we get so hung up on something like that. If the Celtics did their job Monday night, they were going to win the game. Brooklyn took 29 free throws compared to Boston’s 22, which felt like it was right in line with how the game was played. The Tatum foul-out call was truly horrendous, but that happens. You’ve gotta think, however, the Celtics didn’t pay much attention if any at all to who was blowing the whistle ahead of Game 4. That’s wasted brainpower, and it removes focus from the important things like gameplan assignments. That hasn’t always been the case with these Celtics, so that’s even more credit to Udoka, whose resolve does seem rather impenetrable.
— Marcus Smart continues to Marcus Smart. The Celtics guard continues to creep up the all-time league leader list for “No, no, no ? great play!” moments. His fourth-quarter performance Monday night was one of his best. He scored 10 points, relishing the fact he needed to step up with Tatum in foul trouble and eventually fouled out. Smart also ended up having one of the sneaky-big plays of the game when he decided to hound Durant near midcourt in the final minute, eventually fouling the Nets superstar. The play ended up looking quite smart with Durant missing one of two free throws, and it also spoke to a relentless effort to bother the future Hall of Famer. You might as well put “relentless bother” on Smart’s basketball tombstone.
— The Celtics might not win the NBA title. They might not even win their second-round series against Milwaukee. What seems fairly evident based not only on these four games but the two or three months that preceded them is Boston is unlikely to get beat because a) they’re playing dumb and b) they’re not buying in. That intangible thing that has dogged them for literal years and even reared its head in the first half of the season appears to be gone. Maybe it comes back, but it would be truly surprising and disheartening for the Celtics to lose a series moving forward for any reason other than they were simply outplayed.