It certainly feels like this is the moment for the Celtics. They seem bound to play either the defending world champion Milwaukee Bucks or the Chicago Bulls in Round 2. The Celtics will have home-court advantage in the conference semifinals. And they will have their full team. Pogo Stick center Rob Williams (16 minutes, 2 rebounds, 2 points) returned from meniscus surgery on Saturday and Boston will be in top form for the next round.
The Celtics have been the best team in the NBA since January and now it seems that the Major Forces are working almost in the style of the old school New England Patriots. The Bucks are playing without sharpshooter Kris Middleton (MCL sprain) and Philly giant Joel Embiid has a tight right thumb sprain. In the Western Conference, Phoenix’s Devin Booker has a hamstring and Dallas’ Luca Doncic has missed playoff games with a calf injury.
It’s straight out of the old Bill Belichick/Sun Tzu playbooks: “If you wait by the river long enough, your enemies’ bodies will float by.”
Everything is turning green in NBA America. Taking the message from rookie coach Ime Udoka, the Celts look like a legitimate threat to win their 18th NBA championship, which would put them in their rightful spot at the top of the NBA’s all-time titles list. (The Lakers and Celtics have 17.) . In the first three games of this series, we’ve seen the changing of the royal guard at the Palace of the NBA Greats: Tatum in, Durant out. In with the young. Out with the old.
Missing Persons Williams and Brooklyn Iron Man Ben Simmons were topics of conversation in the hours leading up to the game. Williams underwent knee surgery on March 27, and Celtics coach Ime Udoka said the Time Lord would not start, but would get about 24 minutes of action in “short periods.”
Outcast Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said Simmons, who hadn’t played in nearly a year (back and mental health issues), and hasn’t been seen on the court in a Nets uniform, would not play the Game. 3, but he could still hold on and make an appearance in Game 4 on Monday.
“I’m not sure how it could adapt to the environment,” Nash said. “It’s really a question of Ben’s readiness to play.”
The question now is, “why bother?”
The coach also noted that the Nets have only had their entire team together (without Simmons) for 10-12 games all season.
Irving (no relation to Tanner Houck) is the main reason the Nets couldn’t get their team together for most of the season and for the record, Irving gets a lot of boos before the game in his own gym. His 10-point mail-in performance in Game 2 at Boston likely contributed to the poor juju before Game 3.
Brooklyn came out quickly, taking a 12-5 lead and forcing a timeout from Boston after Durant hit a 3-pointer on his first shot attempt. The Celtics roared after the timeout and led, 30-25, after one. Durant made both of his shots in the fourth, but Tatum outscored his biggest, winning several one-on-one matchups, scoring a dozen in the first. It felt like yet another changing of the royal guard at the NBA palace.
Williams skated her first at-bat in four weeks in the first half, blocked Andre Drummond’s shot at the rim and lobbed for an easy double. Like old times. The Nets continued to deliver the ball and a basket by Peyton Prichard (10 points in the second!) gave the Celts a 12-point lead.
The Nets must have felt like the season was slipping away. You could certainly see Durant’s frustration. He was charged with an offensive foul for pushing Grant Williams. Boston led, 53-50, at halftime. Durant only scored 7 points on five shots (no free throws) in the first half.
The relentless Celtics took their lead back to 10 (72-62) in the third. Brooklyn got so bad that Blake Griffin was late in the third quarter. It was Griffin’s first appearance since April 2. He played zero significant minutes in March. Boston led, 81-72, after three.
Surprisingly, the rusty Griffin made some big shots, but Jaylen Brown and Tatum took over the game, hitting key bucket after bucket. When Tatum turned a 3-point play into a breakaway, the Celtics led, 96-84, with 6:25 left. The lead was 15 with less than three minutes to go.
Bring on the dollars. Or the bulls. The Nets are fried and the Celtics are playing the best ball in the NBA. At precisely the right time.
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