BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics and the Nets have a nice little rivalry going, and for the second time in as many years, they're matching up in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The Nets got the better of the Celtics last year, though Boston was without Jaylen Brown. That left all the heavy lifting to Jayson Tatum, who was only able to lead the undermanned Celtics to one victory in the series.
This time around, the Celtics will look to exact some revenge with nearly a full complement of players. The loss of Robert Williams will certainly make things tough for Boston, but they made it a point during the second half of the season to rely on everyone in the rotation. Tatum and Brown are still the top dogs, and will do battle with Brooklyn's top dogs -- Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving -- but a Celtics series win will come down to everyone Ime Udoka sends out there playing their part.
The Nets may have the better overall talent at the top of their roster, but the Celtics have the better depth. At least that's how we feel in Boston, and most folks would agree. So how about we bring in a Brooklyn perspective to even things out?
Ahead of the series, CBS Boston's Matt Geagan and Joe Weil (a New Jersey native and Nets supporter that we allow to cover news -- and occasionally sports) break down the matchups and storylines that will be a major part of the postseason battle between the Celtics and the Nets.
Matt Geagan: Thanks for doing this Joe, especially in written form. This could have easily been a video or a podcast, but I have a face for radio and a voice for writing, so here we are.
As a green-teamer, I obviously feel fairly confident that the Celtics and their all-around approach will get the better of the Nets. I just think their defense, even sans Rob Williams, will be able to make Brooklyn's stars uncomfortable enough to win the series. It won't be easy by any stretch, but I think the Celtics will get it done.
Joe Weil: You mean you're not worried about the Bruce Brown vs. Daniel Theis/Al Horford matchup? In all seriousness, my mind and heart are telling me two different things. My brain, an important organ I admit, says this is a Celtics in 6 series. The Nets have won five in a row (including the play-in), but you could argue the Celtics have been the best team in the NBA since the turn of the new year. And they know they can beat the Nets, which is why they didn't duck them. If I allow my heart to speak, there is a part of me that believes Kevin Durant (who, after three years, I still can't believe plays for my basketball team) will go into superhero mode and carry them to a series win in seven games. It's hard to remember now, but before he got injured, the Nets were the one seed. The team, despite their flaws, is also 37-19 when he plays this season. We'll need a lot out of Kyrie too, and the role players to play to their potential (Bruce Brown and his "caffeine pride," Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, Nic Claxton, and Patty Mills). It's an uphill battle I admit, but what makes this series so fun is that both sides know there is a possibility this could happen.
MG: I am right there with you with picking the Celtics in 6 and I also agree that this series is going to be a fun -- albeit heartburn inducing -- showdown. I'll even admit that I'm still a bit jealous that Durant is in a Nets uniform. (Just a little bit.) The Celtics missing out on him twice, first because of ping pong balls and then because they included Kelly Olynyk in their Hamptons visit, echoes loudly whenever he does his thing against the Celtics.
But that is obviously alleviated by watching Tatum and Brown, which we in Boston cannot thank Billy King for enough. That duo needs to win this series to show the world that they can indeed handle the biggest moments. Durant and Irving have both proven they can do just that, so now it's Tatum and Brown's turn.
OK, enough pleasantries and niceties. Let's get this breakdown going!
Tatum vs. Durant On Offense
MG: This one obviously goes to Durant. He makes everything look so frustratingly easy and he'll probably effortlessly drop 30 every night in this set. Tatum will have his explosive nights, but he's really going to have to shine as a facilitator when he gets hit with those double and triple teams. I don't think he will, but he can't fall in love with matching what Durant does offensively. He has the capability to do so, but that cannot be his focus in this series.
JW: It goes to show how incredible Durant is that you conceded this matchup to him despite Tatum hanging up 50-plus in two separate games against the Nets within the last year and likely being a top-five MVP candidate. But Durant is a top-15 player ever (could argue top 10), one of the most dynamic scorers of all-time, and a two-time Finals MVP. You can thank Billy King for Tatum, but the Nets have the best offensive player in the series.
MG: Zero argument on that last point. Just enjoy it while it lasts, because Tatum is coming for the king.
Brown vs. Durant On Defense
MG: I wanted that to be the only concession I would make, yet here I am again, giving the advantage to Durant. But I think Brown can make him uncomfortable enough to make his really earn a lot of his points. At least that is my hope. And if Durant is really going off, my hope is it will take the rest of the team out of it and the Celtics can once again win a close one while Durant does his thing.
JW: In the words of the Slim Reaper, "I'm Kevin Durant. You know who I am." It's not an insult to Brown, Tatum, Smart, whomever, but KD's going to get his against whomever is guarding him. The question for the Nets is everything else. Can Kyrie score efficiently or is he going to go 8-for-18 again against the C's? Will Curry be healthy enough to give them much needed scoring on the perimeter? Most importantly, will we be able defend at a reasonable enough rate?
I'll admit now that I'm embarrassed that I didn't even mention Ben Simmons in my opening salvo about the series, but it speaks to my lack of belief that he will play.
Marcus Smart vs. Kryie Irving
MG: This one is just sexy. As a lifelong Smart supporter who does not tolerate any Marcus slander, this is where he brings home the bacon. Kyrie is the best dribbler I've ever seen with a downright lethal bag of tricks. It's an absolute joy to watch that man go to work. But if anyone can throw him off his game, it's Marcus. I have total faith that with Smart on him, Irving won't be going 12-for-12 at any point this series like he did against the Cavs.
At the end of the day he will get his points, but Irving is not going to have a good time with Smart and Derrick White hounding him over the next two weeks.
JW: If I've learned anything about watching Kyrie, it's that anything is on the table. A perfect first half from the field? A 6-for-19 performance from the floor? A holdout over a vaccine mandate that will hamper your team's title chances? Make one of the top five players in the league fall in love with your game to the point that he wants to play with you for the forseeable future? All options are possible.
But the Marcus factor definitely scares me. The Defensive Player Of The Year chatter is well deserved, and if he throws Kyrie off, the Nets are in huge trouble. To win in this series, the offense will have to carry them. They're not going to win defensive battles. Matt, any chance we can ratchet up those Marcus Smart trade talks I heard on the radio earlier this year or is it too late?
MG: What's that? I couldn't hear you. Let's just move on, shall we?
Battle Of The Big Men
MG: I'm going on the assumption that Rob Williams is not returning for this series. Hopefully there is no need to rush him back, either. Al Horford remains the glue that holds the Celtics together. Daniel Theis is no Williams, and I trust him with to finish lobs about the same as Tatum trusts Grant Williams, but he can hold his own and just needs to be a serviceable replacement. He is a tough defender, and I don't see the Nets as a team that attacks the hoop a lot. And while he's not the rim presence that Williams is, Theis needs to be respected as a three-point shooter.
Drummond can get a ton of rebounds if they come right to him, and I think between Theis and Horford, the Celtics can keep him off the offensive glass. I'm much more worried about Nic Claxton doing damage down low.
JW: I made a joke about this at the top, but I'm glad KD made clear he didn't like Bruce Brown's comments about Theis/Horford. The Celtics rebounded nicely in the couple games after losing Williams, and at this point, their season track record on defense merits respect. Theis knows who he is, and he's familiar with this team and his role. Chalk that up as a win for GM Brad Stevens. As for Drummond, he's been a nice addition for the Nets. He's not much in the way of a defender, but he's an incredible rebounder on a team that needed another big body like him. For Brooklyn, the hope is that his pluses outweigh his minuses. In the end, I think you'll see Claxton at the 5 at the end of games.
MG: I'm worried about Claxton at the end of games, and disappointed because I would have loved to have seen some hack-a-Drummond. That man's free-throw form is never not entertaining.
Boston Bench vs. Nets Bench
MG: I'm leaning Celtics, yet again. White has started to shoot a lot better, and he's another pest on the defensive end. Grant Williams is just a solid bench guy who can now hit threes, something I never thought would happen. And I'm pumped that Payton Pritchard is a factor again, though he won't be one if the Nets target him defensively a lot when he's out there. White and Williams are the biggest factors off the bench for Boston; I could see White getting some closing time minutes as a defender, and Williams is ultra-important when it comes to giving Horford a breather.
As I said before, I really like Claxton, which you and I have talked about a lot throughout the season. He's a menace in the paint and will give Boston trouble, especially without Rob Williams. Patty Mills is a deadly shooter, but both he and Goran Dragic struggled to hit shots late in the season. Mills looks tired after that heavy workload he had to take on early in the season.
JW: I give the Celtics a slight edge because of their continuity. The bench pieces - Williams/White/Prichard -- on the team have just fit, while the Nets have had to figure things out on the fly because of injuries/trades/etc. You mention Patty Mills, who played so well at the beginning of the season that I was planning on naming my first-born son Patrick Mills Weil. He then struggled for several months, but has picked it up at least a little as of late. So hopefully that trend continues. He's also an NBA champion. Clax is great and likely our crunch time 5. But how much Dragic can truly provide remains to be seen, especially with his defensive limitations. Cam Thomas, a rookie I love, won't play much. Kessler Edwards, another young piece, probably won't get much run too. Now if Ben Simmons plays...
MG: Hey, my first born's middle name is Walker after Kemba (for his UConn days -- he was born before the Celtics era began), so no criticism from me on what you choose to name your kid.
As for Simmons, if he plays I'm changing my pick to Celtics in 5. I don't care if it's 2-2 and he comes back for Game 5, that pick will stand.
Ime Udoka vs. Steve Nash
MG: I don't think either head coach has a huge advantage over the other, though Udoka's familiarity with Brooklyn could be the biggest tipping point. But Nash has some postseason experience under his belt, which Udoka does not.
But after the midseason turnaround, I'm in full "In Ime We Trust" mode with the first-year head coach.
JW: Just want to throw this clip out there when it was all just fun and games in the Olympics. (Beware of some salty language from Tatum.)
To me, the coaching is a wash, but it seems as if Udoka was a great hire for the Celtics. As for Nash, I get some of the criticism that comes his way, but his job hasn't been easy. Last year, Kyrie-KD-Harden couldn't stay on the floor but they still earned the two seed. This year, the list goes on and on. And again, before KD was hurt, they still were at the top of the conference, despite a hobbled James Harden and no Kyrie.
MG: How Steve Nash escaped the Harden era without going completely gray is a miracle. That alone gives him points in my book.
JW: Still handsome as ever.
MG: The Celtics need to win every non-Durant minute they get. And given their struggles in close games, taking early leads is huge. It would also be nice if they'd cut back the complaining to officials, since Durant and Irving are going to get plenty of calls throughout the series. The Celtics cannot let that take them out of their game.
X-Factor: I'm going to go with Bruce Brown, Massachusetts' finest. One postgame comment aside, the man has won over the hearts of everybody in #NetsWorld. He's also played really well over the last two months and is going to get some heavy minutes defending either Brown/Tatum. He's also always been a great finisher near the rim during his Nets tenure, but the biggest development in his game is he's taking more three-pointers and he's knocking them down at a solid rate.
MG: I like Brown a lot, but hopefully he gets pumped up on "caffeine pride" from a bunch of Dunkin visits.
This was a lot of fun. Thank you for taking the time to talk some hoop and hopefully we can still be friends after the Celtics beat your Nets.
JW: If that's the case, winner pays for "caffeine pride" from Dunkin for both of us.
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