Celtics vs Nets: 8 things to watch in the first-round game
Dodge the nets? Worried about nets? Are you afraid of the nets?
Not at all. Bring the fillets. And send them back, methodically and relentlessly, in an early start to their offseason.
Go on. Didn’t you pay attention to what became of the Celtics? They don’t back down from a challenge. They are the challenge.
I know, I understand that it’s still hard to fathom how well things have gone over the past three months, when every break over the past few seasons has felt like a repeated kick to the shin.
That success — 28 wins in their last 35 games, blowout after blowout in the streak, a final tally of 51 wins and the second seed in the Eastern Conference — always feels sudden, a bit like a daydream.
But it’s real. Even after losing human pogo stick Robert Williams III to a knee injury, they maintained their dominance. It’s who they are. It’s good to believe in them. They came out and earned it.
Oh no, the change didn’t come easily. A sluggish 2020-21 season led to a seismic upheaval in the organization – Danny Ainge in “retirement” then Utah, Brad Stevens from the bench in the front office, and Ime Udoka from outside as a brutal new coach, conscience , and voice.
The Celtics exasperated in the first half. Ugly old habits persisted. Every lead in the fourth quarter proved tenuous. The movement of the ball was sporadic. Even with a new coach, it felt familiar in every way. They have lost 21 of their first 39 games.
But Udoka, an image of stoicism to us but clearly someone who needs to reveal more behind the scenes given how players respect him but also feel comfortable nudging him, never shied away in his message. Share the ball. Play defense with such ferocity that the opponent’s mind breaks. Never let go.
Just when we were wondering if it was reaching them, the truth was revealed: players weren’t just listening, they were implementing.
Jayson Tatum has unlocked something within himself, finding a way to improve his teammates while elevating his offensive game to All-NBA level. Marcus Smart has proven himself to be a leader. Stevens, who made Auerbachian deals in his first year in the front office (we can’t talk enough about the absolute heist of getting Al Horford back for Kemba Walker’s brutal contract), streamlined the roster and found a perfect intangible fit in guard Derrick White.
The Celtics eventually became the fun, relentless, shrewd team we hoped to see, but were never quite sure we would. It’s incredibly satisfying, and the players’ resilience and determination to turn this situation around is cause for faith right now.
Of course, Udoka could have rested his starters in the regular season finale against the Grizzlies, perhaps allowing his team to finish with a lower seed and come back in a presumably easier first-round game than Brooklyn. . But that would have been contrary to the new identity of this team. The Celtics aren’t backing down on the field. Why should they concede anything?
Additionally, playing the Nets allows for the symmetry of a potential revenge tour; the Celtics could face teams that finished their seasons in 2019 (Bucks), 2020 (Heat) and 2021 (Nets).
Don’t get me wrong: the Nets deserve some respect. If Kevin Durant had shorter feet, they might have won the NBA title last year. Kyrie Irving remains as electrifying on the pitch as he is boring off it. (The Celtics need their own Incense Guy to counter Irving when he lights up his little lavender treats at the Garden. I name Malik Fitts. Or maybe Luke Kornet could just walk around spraying a can of Off!)
But respect and fear are not synonymous. The Nets have useful role players (Bruce Brown would be a beloved Celtic), but they’re atrocious defensively (20th in the league), and if the Celtics play confidently, they won’t struggle to score.
It should also be noted that while we identify Udoka with Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, he was alongside Steve Nash on the Nets bench. Last year; he has a deep institutional understanding of what they want to do and what motivates them.
Oh, and the idea that Ben Simmons – who reportedly has a bad back and hasn’t played since his “Here you take it, Thybulle” meltdown in the playoffs last season – is going to come back and be a Tatum Stopper is absurd. Simmons is the last player in the league who should be thrown in a situation like this.
The Celtics have been the best team in basketball since succeeding in February. Brown was right Tuesday night in noting that the Celtics’ defense isn’t the same without Williams, but it’s still very good, and there’s endless buzz that Williams will be back sooner rather than later. The degree of difficulty is higher when he is away, but it shouldn’t be that difficult.
The Nets have an excellent tandem.
The Celtics have a great team.
Trust them. They won so much. And they are about to earn a lot more.
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