BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics didn't try to dodge the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. They could have manipulated the standings on the final day of the regular season, like the Milwaukee Bucks did, in order to avoid a massive test early in the postseason.
But where is the fun in that? The Celtics have been the NBA's best team since early January, and as head coach Ime Udoka has said time and time again, they are not running from anyone.
Udoka was echoing that sentiment once again Monday night after Boston completed its first-round sweep of Brooklyn.
"We said it quite openly that we weren't running from anybody. We wanted to play our best basketball going into [the playoffs]," the first-year head coach said Monday night. "Some teams did what they did on the last day, but we had to win. We aren't scared of anybody and we aren't going to run from anybody. If you want to win you have to go through everybody, so I think it was good to get a good test in the first round."
Jaylen Brown said that Udoka included Boston players in the decision-making to close the season. Nobody wanted to back down from earning the two-seed, and the likely first-round matchup with the Nets that went with it.
"We all came to the conclusion that like, look man, if we want to do something special, ain't no shortcuts, it ain't no trying to manipulate or ducking," said Brown, who scored 22 in the sweep-sealing win on Monday night. "Sometimes, you gotta take the hard way -- or what perceives to be that way -- and let the chips fall where they may. So Ime definitely led us in that direction, and we all agreed and followed suit."
While the Celtics never blew the Nets out in any of the four games, with their average margin of victory just 4.5 points, Boston thoroughly dominated the four-game set. That is the third-smallest margin of victory in a four-game sweep in NBA playoff history, behind only the 1975 Warriors and 2017 Cavaliers, both of whom had an average margin of victory of just four points in their respective sweeps.
"The closest sweep you'll ever see," Udoka said after Game 4.
It goes to show just how ridiculous the Boston defense was throughout the series, keeping Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving from ever getting into a groove at the same time. They both enjoyed big games at one point, but a much deeper Celtics team got the best of them.
The Boston defense absolutely hounded Durant all four games, with Jayson Tatum wrapping up the all-time great. He had help from Al Horford and Grant Williams, and after Tatum fouled out in Game 4, the Celtics didn't really miss a beat defensively.
Durant, a career 50 percent shooter, hit just 32 of his 83 shots in the series. He had 21 turnovers to 25 assists. Durant looked defeated over the first three games before breaking out for 39 points in Game 4 -- but he needed 31 shots to reach that mark.
Kyrie Irving was likewise rendered mostly useless for Brooklyn, scoring just 36 points in Games 2-4 after his 39-point explosion in Game 1. You can thank Brown and Marcus Smart for that defensive wizardry.
The Nets were looking for answers throughout the series, and now have a whole summer to ponder what just happened. They were the favorite by many entering the series, with some sports books putting them as the favorites to make the NBA Finals. The Celtics, however, never buckled in the biggest moments of the series.
The sweep was not an easy one for Boston by any stretch. They needed a Tatum buzzer-beater to steal back Game 1 and then had to come back from down 17 in Game 2. Both Games 3 and 4 in Brooklyn remained close into the final minutes, with the Celtics coming through with clutch play after clutch play on both ends of the floor.
Taking all four games by such a slim margin highlights the incredible growth by this Celtics team since the start of the season. They were known for folding when a game was tight, going 11-18 during the regular season in games decided by seven or fewer points. So far in the postseason, Boston is 4-0 in the face of such adversity.
Doing it all against the Nets, the team that sent them home in the first round last postseason, makes it all the more sweeter. Boston's commitment to earning the two-seed paid off, as they'll now have homecourt against either the Bucks or the Bulls in the second round.
"So many people thought that we should have tried to play somebody else in the first round, but our mindset was to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish, we were probably going to have to play them eventually. I'm assuming the road to a championship is not easy," said Tatum, who averaged 29.5 points per game for the series. "So we took on that challenge. We knew it was going to be tough but I think that was good for us. Knowing who they have on their team and what they're capable of had us locked in from that first day."
"It's important just to maintain who you are," said Brown. "We aren't worried about anyone else; it's all about us trying to be the best team we can possibly be. If we come out ready to play and compete, we're the best team in basketball. We feel confident and strong against anybody and we're going to come to play against anybody."
That is all a product of Ime Udoka and Celtics players believing in his system.
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