Celtics v. Nets: A Review of the Regular Season Matchup Before NBA Playoffs

4 min read

Blythe Hastings ’23

Sports Editor

The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets will meet in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs in an Eastern Conference series. This is a rematch of last year’s first round series, but the Celtics are coming in far more prepared this time around. There’s not a ton to be drawn from the regular season series, unfortunately. In the first game, Brooklyn got a good performance from James Harden, but neither Al Horford nor Kyrie Irving played. Harden is now gone, and Horford and Irving will be major players.  

The second game featured a healthy Celtics against a decidedly not-healthy Nets. If you can believe it, this game wasn’t even as close as the final 35-point margin indicates. The third game played out similarly to the second game. Boston was again healthy, while Brooklyn was not. Similarly, the result was a blowout. The fourth matchup looks the most similar to what we might see in the playoffs. In that game, Jayson Tatum outdueled Kevin Durant by scoring 54 points to Durant’s 37. Beyond the two stars, Boston got good performances from everyone else. Kyrie Irving and Bruce Brown did their thing for Brooklyn, while the Nets also got 14 points off the bench from LaMarcus Aldridge. The Celtics enter this series without Robert Williams. 

 Boston has expressed optimism on Williams’ recovery from meniscus surgery. There’s even been reporting that the Celtics believe they’ll have Williams at some point during this series. Obviously, if Williams can both play and be himself, Boston will relish it. Williams significantly raises the Celtics’ ceiling considerably. On the Nets side, their only real question is if Ben Simmons will play. While there has been reporting that Simmons is optimistic that he’ll make his Brooklyn debut during the first round, the team has publicly shot that down. Simmons only recently started ramping up his on-court work. He hasn’t done any full scrimmaging yet, which Steve Nash has said is a must before Simmons plays. Overall, it’s hard to imagine Simmons, after being out for the entire season, being thrown into the middle of a playoff series. The only other player officially out is the Nets Joe Harris, who is out for the season following ankle surgery.  

Daniel Theis is back with Boston, while Andre Drummond has been terrific for Brooklyn since he was acquired at the trade deadline. Neither of these players were a part of last season’s series, nor were their backups nearly as involved. Theis just needs to be a credible replacement for Rob Williams. Boston’s offense changes some with Theis in place of Williams. Theis is a threat around the rim, but not the overall threat that Williams is.  

Defensively, Theis is solid, but he’s not Williams. Williams is a game-changing defensive force. Theis is more ruggedly dependable. But that’s all the Celtics need him to be for now. For all their offensive brilliance, the Nets don’t put a ton of pressure on the rim. Drummond, Bruce Brown and backup center Nic Claxton are the only players who take a lot of shots at the basket. That should allow Theis to roam and help a bit, without having the pressure to protect the basket too. 

 Drummond has played great for the Nets, but his defensive effort comes and goes. Offensively, he’s a catch and finish guy. He remains a good rebounder, but he’s not getting ones that don’t fall right to him. Al Horford’s main goal needs to be to keep Drummond off the offensive glass, which will allow Theis to do his thing as a helper. The Celtics reserves bring a lot to the table while taking nothing off of it. The Nets reserves are capable of big offensive games, but Mills and Dragic are major targets on defense.  

In addition, any of the Boston backups can play with any of the starters. The Nets can’t run lineups with Dragic and Mills joining Kyrie Irving or Seth Curry and hope to be successful against the Celtics. Those groupings are simply too small. As long as shots are falling, Boston’s reserves will play a lot more defense and that gives them a fairly sizable advantage. Boston fans wait in agony to see how the team holds up in the early rounds during the most important month of the year for the NBA. 

This article was written before the start of the NBA Playoffs. The Boston Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets (115-114) in the first game of the series on Sunday, Apr. 17.

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