We wanted to preview the first round of the playoffs with a series of roundtables with the staff. The second question posed to the group was Who will be the series MVP? (and if your answer is Tatum, who’s the next most likely)
Adam Spinella: If the C’s are going to win, Tatum needs to have a herculean effort to match the scoring wit of Kevin Durant. But if we are to shut down the Nets in convincing fashion, it will be because Marcus Smart steps up defensively to shut down one of Kyrie or KD. Smart is the team’s best individual defender and should draw one of those assignments. It’s likely Udoka switches less, especially late-game, than the Celtics have all season. We need Smart to really make their lives difficult
Will Bjarnar: This isn’t even a ringing endorsement as much as it’s a necessity: Give me Marcus Smart. The Nets are going to do everything in their power to take away Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the offensive end. They won’t succeed, but they may make their lives a bit more difficult from a shot-making perspective. (That Kevin Durant has never made an All-Defensive Team is stupid. He’s severely underrated as a defender. He’ll do everything he can to make life a living hell for the Jays.) That will leave the door open for Smart. He’s not a good shooter as much as he’s a streaky one, but when he gets hot, he can pour it on. He’s confidence personified, and when he’s feeling it, it sometimes feels like he’ll never miss. What he can do defensively will never falter, nor will it ever come under question. But his offensive output in this series is what Boston will need more than they might normally. He averaged a tick under 18 points per game in Boston’s four matchups with the Nets this season; that should do it, but he certainly shouldn’t hesitate to bring even more if the opportunity presents itself.
Honorable mention: Derrick White. Something tells me he’s itching to explode on offense after what has been a disastrous start to his Celtics’ tenure from a shooting standpoint.
Trevor Hass: It will be Jayson Tatum, but if it’s not, Jaylen Brown is naturally the next-most-likely candidate. That’s assuming the Celtics win, of course. If they don’t, that Kevin Durant guy or his friend Kyrie Irving might have a shot. They could both easily average 25-to-30 a game in the series. As for a dark horse candidate, don’t sleep on Al Horford. He’s been outstanding all season, has tons of playoff experience and makes everyone around him better. If Bruce Brown doesn’t know now, he will soon.
Daniel Poarch: I’ll forego the obvious answers (either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown) and take my third choice: Marcus Smart. I think Smart’s matchup against Kyrie Irving is one of the most important for the Celtics – perhaps THE most. We just watched as Irving burned the Cleveland Cavaliers to the ground; those Cavs just didn’t have guard defenders who could make any kind of impact on him. Doubtless, Smart will be switching all over the court defensively, as he always does. But his (and Derrick White’s) work in shutting down Brooklyn’s second star will be extremely consequential for them to succeed in this series.
Michael Pearce: The MVP of this series will be Al Horford if it isn’t Tatum/Brown. Playoff Horford is the key to success, especially with Rob Williams’ status up in the air. Whether Williams returns in this series or not, the steady defensive anchor, Horford, will be the most valuable piece to beating the Nets. The Celtics roadmap to a convincing series win is predicated on defense, and while we know Marcus “DPOY” Smart will bring the point of attack D, Horford’s rim protection will be vital as he works with Theis, and hopefully Williams, to lock up Brooklyn.
Keith Smith: My answer would have Jayson Tatum, but I’m going to play by the rules and pick Marcus Smart. Smart has to provide that Defensive Player of the Year level of defense on not only Kyrie Irving, but whoever he gets switched onto as well. On offense, the Nets will let Smart shoot. He has to make open shots, but without forcing things. And if he can run the offense the way he has been for the last few months, everything opens up for Boston. The game will be much easier for Tatum and Jaylen Brown to do their thing, if Smart is involved as a creator.
Bobby Manning: Remember, sometimes the MVP can be on the losing team. Kevin Durant is the only reason the flailing Nets have a chance in this series. You can almost pencil him in for over 30 points per game, rim protection and important spot defense on Jayson Tatum. If you removed him from Brooklyn, the Celtics would breeze. He’s still the one figure on the other side that makes you think Boston has any chance to lose.
Mike Dynon: If it’s not Tatum, then Jaylen Brown will be the series MVP. Jaylen is motivated to show what we missed when he sat out last year’s postseason due to injury. He also might have something to prove to everyone who believes the Nets have two of the top three players in the series.
If Brooklyn goes all out to double-team and stop Jayson Tatum from dominating, Brown will have to step up. It says here that he will.
Jeff Clark: My answer is always Marcus Smart. He won’t get the headlines or the stats, but he’ll impact winning.