by Tara Hebbar
The NBA playoffs. Weeks of excitement and entertainment, injuries and successes, celebrations and disappointments. In a time where the entirety of the world was in desperate need of hope, the playoffs laid it at our doorsteps. The cogs and workings of an NBA playoffs are simple. There are two conferences, the Eastern and Western, each comprising 15 teams. Out of these, 8 teams qualify for the playoffs, by winning more games than those below them. The team on top plays the team in the bottom, second plays seventh, third plays sixth and fourth and fifth battle it out. In order to “win” their series in each round, the team must win four out of 7 possible games.
One of the 4 eastern conference matchups was the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn nets, by virtue of them being 7th and 2nd on the points table respectively. The Celtics had recently secured this position as they beat the Washington wizards in the Play ins. A more contemporary NBA concept, which provides teams in the 9th and 10th place a chance into the playoffs. For those unaware of its functioning, 7th and 8th play for the 7th place. The loser plays the winner of the 9th and 10th, with the winner of that securing themselves the 8th and last playoff position. The Celtics, being 7th, cemented their place by taming Russel Westbrook and beating the Wizards, 118 – 110 as Jason Tatum dropped 50 points.
As the first game (Celtics vs Nets), played on the 22nd of May, approached, the Cetlics were the clear underdogs. Analysts, players and commentators among others, wrote them off before the series even began, with many even going far enough to assure them being swept (losing in 4 games; 4 – 0). This first game was to be played at Barclays Centre, home court of the Nets. Some things to note-
- This was one of the first games where the big 3 were playing together for the Nets. Them being, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden. Therefore, the big question was regarding their ability to work together.
- Jaylen Brown, Celtics All Star, was out for the rest of the season, with a wrist injury, a huge loss for the Celtics.
As the jump ball marked the beginning of the game, it was clear that the Celtics were in it to win it. They controlled much of the first half, and managed to control the big 3 with their quick paced offense and efficient defense, things were looking positive for the Celtics. Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, Kemba Walker and Jason Tatum were all looking ready to score some big points for the team. The second half, however, saw the mojo of the Nets return, as they stole the momentum from the Celtics who always have struggled in clutch. Durant and Irving played several shots from downtown, the paint and finished the game on top, winning 104 – 93. KD (Kevin Durant) scored 32 and had 12 rebounds by the end of the game, and James Harden’s role became clear. He was going to score, but was going to be more of a playmaker. His assists were a big part of the game and allowed KD and Irving to work their magic. “I think once your energy is focused on the defensive side of the ball, it will start to turn for you,” Durant said. ”So you saw that for us in the second half.” On the other side of the court, Jason Tatum finished the night with 22 points, and Robert Williams with 9 blocks and rebounds. However, they were unable to match the basketball put up by the Nets in the second half. The Celtics just managed to score 40 points in the second half, with a meger 37% scoring percentage. There were also some records set in the game, Brooklyn had it’s 39th different starting line up, a franchise record. KD also moved into 9th place with playoff points (4, 075), moving above Tony Parker (4, 045). It was 1 – 0 to the Nets after Game 1.
The second game began with as much aplomb, this time from the Nets. This game took place at the Barclays centre as well. This game, in addition to the Big 3, Joe Harris showed he belonged, with 7 three pointers and 25 points, tying the franchise record and giving him a playoff career high. Although the Celtics tried to keep the Big 3 under check, they had no answer for the most accurate 3 point shooter in the league. This time, the Celtics barely stood a chance, they were routed through and through. It showed, as their star player, Jason Tatum left the game 21 minutes in, with a poked eye, with only 9 points, and a 3 for 12 shooting. The most points was scored by Marcus Smart (19) for the Celtics, followed by Walker’s 17. For the Nets, Durant had 26 points and Irving 15. Regarding the game, Celtics coach, Brad Stevens, had this to say, “”We’ve got to be way better, they exposed that because they were really good, but I was disappointed in how we played versus the other night.” As of game 2, it was 2 -0 to the Nets, and things were beginning to look dim for the Boston Celtics.
Game 2 must have served as a wake up call for the Celtics, as both their level of basketball and attitude took a turn in Game 3. This was the first game at TD Garden, home court of the Celtics and the tension between Irving (ex Cetlic) and Boston Fans was almost tangible, with fans booing at him and chanting his name when he made mistakes. In this game, the Nets looked to charge ahead, while the Celtics looked to eat into the lead of the Nets and trim the deficit. This game there was one star that shone brighter than the others. Jason Tatum used the home game to show off his array of skills, drives, jumpers, 3’s and step backs and finish by dropping a 50 bomb on the Big 3 and the Nets. By the time he had finished, the Celtics were 125 to the Nets 119, with him having one of the best playoff games in franchise history and the Nets sweeping dreams tossed out the window. He joined several Celtics legends in the playoff 50’s club, some being Ray Allen, Isaiah Thomas and Bob Cousy. James Harden also had a good game, with 41 points, however, it wasn’t enough to contain Tatum and the Celtics that night. Compared to their 39.7% shooting in the past two games, this game’s 50.6% was the answer to their victory. Smart contributed 23, with Tristan Thompson also uplifting the team with his 19 points and 13 rebounds. Kemba Walker was one of few Celtics to have a rough time that night. Thus, after Game 3, it was 2 – 1, leaving the Celtics with a ray of hope.
Game 4 was also at TD Garden, and expectations were high on the Celtics, who had come off a spectacular game a couple nights previously. Things didn’t look good for the Cetlics before the game began, with both Robert Williams and Kemba Walker out for health concerns. This just mirrored the Celtics luck for the rest of that game. The Big 3 went off, and Jason Tatums 40 points wasn’t enough to put a lid on it, losing the Celtics the game, 141 – 126. Kyries 39 and Durants 42 wasn’t the biggest news in that game, however. The animosity between Celtics Fans and Irving was on display in this game. Apart from the swears and jeers, Irving was almost hit by a bottle thrown by a fan on his way out of the arena. The man (wearing a Kevin Garnett jersey) was immediately taken out of the arena in handcuffs by the police. Kevin Durant had something to say about this, “’Fans have got to grow up at some point,’ I know that being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic has got a lot of people on edge, has got a lot of people stressed out. But when you come to these games you’ve got to realize: These men are human. We’re not animals. We’re not in the circus. Marcus Smart also made a comment, “One bad seed doesn’t mean that the whole fruit is poisoned, our fans have been great. We just had a knucklehead do something knucklehead-ish and it got taken care of, so we’re happy for that.” Game 4 left the Nets racing ahead, 3 -1. Going back to Brooklyn, things looked grim for Boston.
Game 5, a do or die game for the Boston Celtics and a chance to clinch the series for the Nets. Each game, someone new stepped up. This time, it was James Harden for the Nets. He had 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, a triple double, leading the Nets into the victory for the series, winning the game 123 – 109. Although the game and lead was largely the Nets, the Celtics hung on, however, they were never able to pull themselves up. Although Fournier and Tatum tried to pull it together for the Celtics, the absence of Walker and Wlliams and the Big 3 proved to be too big of a hurdle for them to overcome. Nets 51% FG% (Field Goal Percentage) vs the Cetlcis mere 43% was one of many reasons that led to the domination of the Nets and the downfall of the Cetlcis through the series. This 5th and last game of the series for the Nets and last of the season for Cetlcis was over at 4 – 1.
No-one can deny the fact that the Celtics fought hard for their place in the playoffs and series, and had their fair share of bad luck and injuries, however, the Nets were too strong for the Celtics this time. The question is, what’s next for both teams? The Nets will move onto the second round to play the Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the Miami Heat to make it there. This series will be an intriguing one, with the match up of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant. ”We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Durant said. ”I mean, he’s a two-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.” For the Celitcs, there have been some big changes. President of Basketball Operations, Danny Ainge has retired, and Brad Stevens is now the new president. This means, the Celtics are in the market for a new head coach. In addition to this, the Celtics will need to make some trade decisions in order to better suit their bench to compliment stars Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who will make a comeback next season. With a young team and eager bench, all Celtics need is a couple of smart trades, to make them a championship team. Meanwhile, all Celtics players will be watching to see where their defeated the Nets make it this postseason.