5 takeaways from the Celtics sweep over the Star Nets

Jayson Tatum outplayed Kevin Durant in the playoffs, and it’s impossible to ignore him, writes John Schuhmann.

BROOKYLN — When asked to pick the 2022 NBA champions in October, 83% of league general managers picked the Brooklyn Nets. And now the Nets are the first team to be swept out of the first round of the playoffs.

It was a wild 6 1/2 months, culminating with a flawed, shorthanded team that was exposed in the playoffs. The Nets had chances in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Boston Celtics on Monday, but just couldn’t get the saves they needed down the stretch. They were down two when Marcus Smart offered them a missed lay-up with 15 seconds remaining, but Al Horford tipped the miss, Kyrie Irving failing to box it and Kevin Durant failing to box it. managed to turn back after flying.

Here are some notes, numbers and footage from the Celtics’ 116-112 victory that put them in the conference semifinals for the fifth time in the past six years.

1. The best team in the league, with room to grow?

Running this story with the Nets may be burying your head, because this series was more about the Celtics’ strengths than the Nets’ weaknesses and, quite simply, Boston has been the best team in the league for three months now. After finishing the regular season with 26 wins in their last 32 games (ranked first in offensive and defensive efficiency over that stretch), the Celtics are now the only team to have swept the first round. And they swept a team with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Durant struggled, shooting just 37% in all four games. His effective field goal percentage of 42.8% was his third-worst mark in 30 career playoffs, and he was certainly in his own head in Game 3. But the main reason for his struggles was the Celtics’ defense . Led by Jayson Tatum, Boston left Durant no space, making one of the greatest scorers in NBA history look deadly.

Boston only ranks eighth defensively in this playoff (115.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) as the other Nets have shot well. But the main task was to slow Durant down, and Boston did it as well as anyone could have predicted.

With the way the Celtics have played since late January, it wouldn’t be crazy to call them a serious title contender. But there have been teams in the past that have looked this good through a series or two and then failed.

“One game at a time,” Jaylen Brown said. “You can’t get ahead of yourself. We have a lot of guys who have had playoff points, so we know how things can change, things can change. Our state of mind is essential, come and be ready to play every game.

Marcus Smart is ready to raise his head and see what happens in the league, but not necessarily with premature thoughts of lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“I definitely see the other shows,” he said. “And for me, I think we are do not the best team. We still have a long way to go. We still have work. We don’t want to go too high on the highs, or too low on the lows. So when I watch games, I watch them for, ‘We’re not the best team.’ And we have to play like that. We have to have the mentality that we’re not the best team, because once you have that mentality that you’re the best team, you start getting complacent and bad habits start setting in.

Full Focus: Celtics close without Tatum

2. A hotly contested sweep

It was an odd streak in that the Celtics were clearly the better team, but won all four games by just 18 points, the third-smallest margin of victory for a four-game sweep in franchise history. the NBA.

For Brooklyn, the narrow margins can produce guesswork. What if Durant stayed with Tatum in the final game of Game 1? What if they hadn’t lost a 17-point lead in Game 2? What if they didn’t commit 13 live turnovers in Game 3? What if Nic Claxton hadn’t shot 1 for 11 from the free throw line in Game 4?

Despite Durant’s individual struggles, Brooklyn has shot better than 50 percent in three of four games. The Nets’ effective field goal percentage of 57.7% ranks second most in this playoffs and was the highest of any team in a series in which it has won less than three games in history. of the NBA.

For the Celtics, the narrow margin is a testament to their growth. In the regular season, they had the league’s second-worst record (13-22) in games within five points in the final five minutes. When they improved in the second half of the season, they just started blowing teams up, with only four of their 26 wins in those last 32 games having come within five in the last five.

But (although Games 2 and 3 barely made it through “clutch” time), the Celtics are now 4-0 in games that were under five in the last five playoff games. . They scored 25 points on 21 offensive clutch possessions and allowed just 10 on 17 defensive clutch possessions.

Celtics coach Ime Udoka is focused on offense when it comes to improving his team late in the game.

“I think a lot of it is us as coaches fine-tuning some things offensively,” he said. “We sometimes stagnated a bit late in games. The defense has always been solid.

“We’ve really found what we like to do endgame-wise.”

Against this opponent and his less than stellar defenders, they had myriad options. The defending champion Bucks (up 3-1 over Chicago in their own series) are likely next, and that will be a bigger challenge. But the Celtics were tested and they passed with flying colors.

“It was four very trying games,” Tatum said. “He took everything from both ends of the floor.”

3. Tatum takes another step

There are no chewing words here: 24-year-old Jayson Tatum has edged Kevin ****ing Durant in all four of those games. At one end of the field, he was Durant’s main defender. On the other end, Tatum averaged 29.5 points and 7.3 assists, capping the series with 29 effective points (on 9-for-16 from the field and 7-for-8 from the line) in Game 4 on Monday. . He shot any defender not named Durant or Claxton as if no one was there:

Jayson Tatum 3 point

And he made some high-level passes after shooting assist from the dribble:

Assisted by Jayson Tatum

Getting ahead of Durant in a series sweep is a nice little stepping stone for the budding Celtics superstar.

“It’s a good barometer, obviously,” Udoka said. “We talked to him about being the guy every night he enters the field. And you could tell he was extremely motivated for this series and this game.

“I told him to go see some guys and not respect anyone too much, and savor those moments.”

“He brought out the best in me,” Tatum said of Durant. “I knew I had to be on top of my game in this series. In the same breath, I wasn’t surprised at the way I played. I feel like one of the best players. That’s how I approach the game when I step on the floor, no matter who’s on the other team.

4. What’s next for Brooklyn?

The Nets obviously have a lot of questions for this summer. Even if they were to have Durant, Irving, a healthy Joe Harris and a healthy Ben Simmons next season, this streak should make it clear they need more size on the wing and more players. double meaning.

They won’t have any capping flexibility, yet they only have six players who are permanently under contract next season: two starters (Durant and Seth Curry), two rookies who haven’t played in this series (Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe) and two guys who have been out all or most of the season (Simmons and Harris). Irving, who has a player option for next season, has made it clear he plans to return, saying he and Durant will “manage this franchise together, alongside [owner] Joe [Tsai] and [general manager] Sean [Marks].”

What can Brooklyn do this offseason to pick up the pieces?

It shouldn’t be considered a wasted season, as every game was a data point to learn from.

“No regrets,” Durant said. “**** is coming. No crying over spilled milk. It’s about how we can grow and improve from here. We see we’ve been through a lot this year. Everyone in the organization knows what we’ve been through. So no time to regret or get too upset. It’s about finding solutions to improve, proactively, as an organization to improve.

“Even the big teams, they don’t dwell on what they’re doing, they just try to keep improving. So for us, we know what our mistakes were, just try to turn them into strengths. But we can’t have any regrets about what we did.**** just played the way he played.

Given the profile of their three stars, the spotlight will remain on the Nets. Stay tuned…

5. Free time… and then the champions?

The sweep gives the Celtics a few extra days off, important for Robert Williams III, who has played the last two games after returning from a four-week absence. Their opponent in the conference semifinals (where the Cs will once again have home-court advantage) will likely be defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, who could close their own first-round streak against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

The Celtics were 2-2 against the champions in the regular season, with the home side winning all four games. The only meeting that came after their Christmas meeting (and after the Celtics began their ascent) was a 127-121 win at Milwaukee that Tatum, Williams and Al Horford all missed.

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John Schuhmann is a senior statistics analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.

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