Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
The Celtics’ perimeter defense — a weakness this season — will be tested just about every minute against the Nets. Their switching scheme will also put pressure on the whole roster as Smart and Jayson Tatum can only do so much by themselves on defense.
If the Nets get a mismatch on any of their stars, they can stick to a simple isolation play to get some points. Brooklyn ran isos at one of the highest clips in the nation — and it got those points efficiently.
“Especially in the playoffs, defense becomes a huge factor,” Smart said. “You’ve got to be able to play, you’ve got to be able to stick to your game plan, you’ve got to be able to adjust on the fly, especially against a team like this. … It’s going to take all five guys that’s on the court and whoever comes in. We all have to be locked together.”
That quote in the headline is from Marcus Smart, and it’s what he needed to say. Can’t be raising the white flag before the opening tip. Unfortunately, it’s not really true. In a seven-game NBA playoff series, underdogs prevail about as often as a politician admits to lying.
In the most extreme mismatches, 1 vs. 8, upsets have happened only three times. The first was in 2007 when the no. 8 Warriors took down the top-seeded Mavericks and MVP Dirk Nowitzki in six games. And there have been some close calls, as we all remember from 2008 when the Hawks extended the 66-win Celtics to Game 7. But the last time an 8-seed succeeded was nine years ago, when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in Game 1 and the Sixers stunned the Bulls in six.
Brooklyn was the last team I wanted Boston to face in these playoffs, because 1) the networks are going to endlessly rehash the Pierce/Garnett-for-draft-picks trade, as well as all the Kyrie drama from two years ago; and 2) even before Jaylen Brown needed wrist surgery, the Nets handled the Celtics easily in every meeting this season. Of course, in this Murphy’s Law season, it was a lock that if Brooklyn was no. 2, Boston would be no. 7.
Most people expect the Nets to win easily, so the main pressure on the Cs is to avoid a sweep. Brooklyn’s only weakness seems to be that their Big 3 have played together just seven games, mainly due to injuries. But Boston could and should win at least one or two – maybe even threaten to take the series – if Kemba Walker continues his recent strong play and if Jayson Tatum stays unguardable.
Tatum continues to put himself in great scoring positions, and he’s doing a great job of getting to the free-throw line a ton. Most nights, I’m not sure he even sees the defenders in front of him. He’s hunting out switches and punishing them almost every time. Tatum is on a crazy run right now, and he’s had a great individual season. The Celtics can count on him to bring it. Can they count on anybody to help him? […]
General outlook and expectations: Boston doesn’t really have any expectations heading into this matchup with Brooklyn, and that’s probably a good thing. The Celtics can play looser than we saw a year ago. They can play looser than we saw a month ago, even. Everybody is expecting the Celtics to get worked, so they can approach this with very little pressure and just try to execute and match the energy of the Nets. Maybe even catch the sleeping a time or two to make it interesting.
For some encouragement, perhaps we can look back in Celtics history to the 1976-77 squad, which has some parallels to today’s Celtics. After winning the title in 1976, their next regular season was bizarre. It began with Red Auerbach trading away Paul Silas (6th-man on two title winners) over contract issues. In his place, the Celts acquired two talented forwards (Curtis Rowe and Sidney Wicks) who turned out to be much less effective than expected.
Early in the season, all-star center Dave Cowens – known for his intensity – stepped away from the team, stating he had lost his enthusiasm and needed a break. He missed 30 games. Just when Cowens returned, starting guard Charlie Scott fractured his arm and missed about half the season.
The team finished 44-38, which was 10 games worse than the previous year, and tied for 4th in the East. They won a first-round miniseries, 2-0, over the Spurs (for some reason, an Eastern team back then) before meeting top-seed Philadelphia. At that point, we didn’t know what to expect from these underachievers.
And then they stunned the Sixers in Game 1.
Those ’77 Celts ended up losing that series in seven games, and Philly went on to the NBA Finals (they lost to Portland). But in that Jo Jo jump shot moment, we had hope. And the Celtics competed right down to the final moments of the series.
Back to the present, in this season of chaos, isn’t that all we really want right now? It may not be possible for the Celtics to win this series, but it’s extremely possible to make the Nets work for everything they get. That’s what’s necessary now to restore some faith among the Celtics’ faithful.
And this just in: the Garden’s playoff atmosphere will be back.
When Kyrie Irving and the Nets come to Boston next weekend, there will be a lot more fans in the stands: pic.twitter.com/N9KgeVbXJm
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 22, 2021
Related – MassLive: Celtics’ Evan Fournier gets increased role vs. Nets in NBA Playoffs with Jaylen Brown out, aiming for upset magic | Kevin Durant on Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and what has impressed the Nets star ahead of NBA Playoffs: ‘He has some blinders on’
On Page 2: Timelord’s toe
#NEBHInjuryReport update: Robert Williams (turf toe) did not practice today, per Coach Stevens. His status remains up in the air for Game 1.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 21, 2021
"Sources tell me Robert Williams is expected to play in Game 1."
— Stadium (@Stadium) May 21, 2021
Does Shams know something the Celtics don’t? Or are the Celtics just not telling us until necessary?
Williams looked like he was in pain when he suffered his injury late in the second quarter Tuesday. While the Celtics looked like they avoided disaster when Williams was back playing in the third, he quickly left the game as the pain was too much to overcome.
That means the Celtics will likely have to rely on Luke Kornet and Grant Williams at center more, with Tristan Thompson expected to start. One of the few Brooklyn weaknesses lies in its center spot, where production has been inconsistent compared to their star players. Without Williams and his ability to impact the game, a Celtics upset series win seems much more unlikely.
The Celts are overly cautious about injuries. They also normally don’t have any media leaks, but this might be the exception. If Rob isn’t ready, he shouldn’t play, simple as that.
And, finally… Kevin Bleeping Durant
As the Cs prepare to face Durant in the playoffs for the first time, we recall an amusing moment in Celtics history. Durant scored 37 to lead the OKC Thunder to a win at Boston. He made 15 of 15 free throws, while the Cs were 13 of 17. KG didn’t like it.
“I thought we were playing Michael (expletive) Jordan tonight the way he was getting the whistle,” Garnett said. “Durant damn near shot more free throws than our whole team.”
That ended up costing Kevin a $25,000 fine, but we enjoyed another moment in the KG legacy.