Nets

Nets-Celtics Round Two Vastly Different From Round One

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How much difference can a year possibly make?

One year ago, the Brooklyn Nets walked over the Boston Celtics in round one of the playoffs, setting up a battle of contenders with Milwaukee. It was truly an afterthought– the Nets were just so obviously better than the Celtics. Fast forward to today, and the two will once again meet in round one, but things couldn’t possibly be more different. 

The Rise of the Celtics

If you’d told Celtics fans back in January they’d be the Eastern two seed with serious championship aspirations, they’d have probably laughed at you. Hovering at around two or three games below .500, panic mode had ensued for the legendary franchise. 

The ship notably began to right itself on January 29th, a win over the Pelicans. Boston entered that game with a 25-25 record– they’d proceed to go 26-6, finishing at 51-31, a massive improvement over their 36-36 mark last year. 

It’s a bit difficult to pinpoint one reason why this growth took place, as the roster truly isn’t all that different from last year’s. Jayson Tatum continuously proves that he’s one of the absolute best in the world, and Boston’s supporting cast truly shined down the stretch. It’s simply proof that the pieces for a title contender have been there for a while, they’re just now finally putting it all together at the same time. 

The Simmons Situation

Obviously the biggest difference from last year’s series to this is James Harden. With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden all present and healthy for what seemed like the only time while on the Nets, the Celtics just didn’t have enough firepower to keep up. 

In very Brooklyn Nets fashion, this series has some incredibly unique and strange circumstances, none more prevalent than Ben Simmons. Where do you even start here? The idea that Simmons hasn’t played in over 300 days? The thought that Brooklyn is going to attempt to integrate such an important piece in the middle of an intense playoff series? 

To a certain extent, the Celtics have a similar issue in Robert Williams. “Timelord” had been a phenomenal defensive presence for his team all year prior to recently undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Recent reports make it seems like there’s a real shot Williams could return a bit earlier than expected from his injury, leaving room for a return during the first round battle with Brooklyn. 

With this series more than likely going at least five or six games, there may be no more-important factor than the way Brooklyn handles the looming return of Simmons, who seems to be aiming for a return in game four.

Brooklyn’s Roller Coaster of a Season

For Boston, their season’s trajectory was relatively straight forward. They struggled at the beginning of the year, but they turned it around, got hot, and are bringing great momentum to the playoffs. Brooklyn’s season was a chaotic mess. 

Most notably hindered by the Kyrie Irving saga, which was thankfully settled prior to the playoffs beginning, Brooklyn managing to stay afloat throughout the year is nothing short of a miracle. The “Big 3” that so easily conquered the Celtics last year went up in flames as Kevin Durant missed about a month of action, Harden forced his way to Philadelphia and Kyrie spent the year either playing only road games or not playing at all. 

The beginning of this series represents a new start for Brooklyn, as they look to put their ugly regular season behind them and look to reinvigorate the “superteam” vibe they took to Boston last year. No one gave Boston a shot to beat Brooklyn last year, and they were right not to.

It was, in a word, lopsided. Just one year later, the rematch is inarguably the most evenly-matched, intense series of the whole first round. This is gonna be good.

About Frank Cannistra

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