Entering the evening, the Celtics’ first round opponent in these NBA Playoffs was written in pencil, assumed, and to the masses, all but etched in stone. Now, it’s official: Boston-Brooklyn. As fate would have it.
The Nets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference’s seven-versus-eight play-in matchup, 115-108, to officially qualify for the postseason and a date with the second-seeded Celtics.
The series will tip off Sunday, April 17 at 3:30 ET on ABC.
Schedule update for Game 1s of the First Round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs presented by Google Pixel ⬇️— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 13, 2022
More information will be provided as it is finalized. pic.twitter.com/K41lWT8REf
Former Celtic Kyrie Irving was perfect to begin the game, making his first 12 shots — his first miss coming early in the fourth quarter — en route to 34 points on 12 of 15 shooting. He added 12 assists, certainly reasserting the value he brings to the Nets at home. Irving, of course, was only recently cleared to play home games despite remaining unvaccinated against COVID-19.
“We’re gonna speak positivity into this whole entire journey thus far,” Irving told TNT after the win. “It’s been ups and it’s been downs. But we’ve stayed together. We’ve remained resilient. We’ve been through a lot of changes. And we’ve evolved since we came out of All-Star break.”
Kevin Durant added 25 points and 11 assists of his own, but Bruce Brown was the night’s real star. He scored 18 points, dished out eight dimes, and pulled down nine boards, tied with Nic Claxton for a team-high. He created shots for himself and for teammates out of the high post for much of the night, taking advantage of Cleveland being without Jarrett Allen, its most formidable rim presence. Allen, a former Net, was averaging career highs in points (16.1) and rebounds (10.8) before suffering a fractured finger that has sidelined him since March 6.
Brown will likely look to do the same against the Celtics, who could still be missing their own big man, Robert Williams, due to the torn meniscus he suffered late last month. The Celtics reportedly “anticipate playing the first round without Williams,” but have yet to officially rule him out. Defending the offensively-dexterous Nets will prove challenging for the Celtics without Williams, but Boston’s defensive prowess stretched far beyond its center over the course of the team’s turnaround this season. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Marcus Smart has never been a slouch on that end of the floor, and both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have refined their defensive skillsets this season, helping them serve as proper complements to Smart’s mastery.
Despite this being a rematch of sorts — Brooklyn defeated Boston in five games in last year’s postseason when the seeds were flipped — the Celtics are hardly a mirror image of the team that was embarrassed what feels like more than just one season ago. For one, they didn’t have Brown — he broke his wrist late last season and missed all of his team’s postseason action. He’s kind of a big part of their success overall. They also weren’t nearly as together as they seem this season, on both ends.
These Nets aren’t exactly the same team either, but Boston has reimagined its roster and its scheme since last season. This is a whole new series between two new teams. The slate has been wiped clean. Who comes out on top this time is the only question that remains.
Update: Here’s the rest of the series schedule:
Celtics-Nets series schedule pic.twitter.com/1Ch8bhHjXS— John Karalis (@John_Karalis) April 13, 2022
If you’re keeping track, Game 5 on April 27 will mark the end of the fourth week of Robert Williams’ 4-6 week timetable to return from torn meniscus surgery.