The Boston Celtics might have survived the NBA’s play-in tournament, but things aren’t about to get any easier as they battle the Eastern Conference’s second seed, the talent-laden Brooklyn Nets. The Nets might have made back-to-back playoff appearances in the last two seasons, but the addition of James Harden this season has turned them into a genuine force, leaving them just one game behind the Philadelphia 76ers, who topped the east.
Injury worries for Harden coming into the playoffs will concern Brooklyn. However, they have spent time without all three of their stars – Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – at points this year and still finished with a 48-24 record, so they’ll be confident in the depth of their roster. Boston, on the other hand, suffered quite the dramatic fall through the last portion of the regular season. Instead of challenging for home-court advantage, their record fell to 36-36 with ten losses in their last 15 games. Injuries, like the one that ended Jaylen Brown’s season, haven’t been kind to the Celtics either. They may wonder what might have been having they been at full strength. Still, their abysmal form didn’t hamper them mid-week. They beat the Washington Wizards in the play-in match by 18 on the back of 50 points from Jayson Tatum to book the seventh seed.
The Celtics will need everything to go right against Brooklyn though if they are to be competitive, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. The Nets are the league’s second-best attacking outfit, averaging 118.6 points, with Durant and Irving both in the top ten for scorers, both putting up 26.9 per game. That sort of attacking output is hard to match, but it may only increase against the Boston defence. They may be middle of the road defensively, but they have leaked 115.1 points per game across their last ten. With the offence hardly firing during their run of losses, a major turnaround in fortunes will be needed to be competitive against the might of Brooklyn, even if Harden doesn’t pass fit.
Making the battle for the Celtics even tougher is the efficiency with which Brooklyn play. They are the NBA’s leading shooters when it comes to percentage, hitting 49.4% of shots throughout the season, and making the most of their possessions has helped them at times dominate the opposition, particularly when playing teams like Boston. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and important role player Joe Harris are all shooting north of 50%. The Nets also have the ability to light it up from outside, which is a danger against the Celtics’ poor defence. They have shot the seventh-most threes, but pick their spots well, holding the second-best perimeter shooting percentage in the league.
For Boston to overcome the challenge posed by Brooklyn, they will need to play lockdown defence, and boasting the fifth-most blocks in the league will help. Offensively, they will need Tatum to lead the way, with the star averaging 26.4 points per game throughout the regular season. Even then, they only hold an attacking record middle of the pack, averaging 112.6 points per game, while they turn the ball over 13.4 times every 48 minutes, and giving the offensively talented Nets extra possessions will be a certain ticket to elimination.
Prediction: Boston have earned their right to feature in the playoffs, but a gallant effort won’t be enough here. They don’t have the attacking firepower to match it with Brooklyn, who should sweep this series if they don’t have an off night.
Brooklyn in 4 games. $1.30 at PlayUp