The Celtics look for a sweep as they visit the Brooklyn Nets for Game 4 of their first round series. If the Celtics can win this game, they become the only team to sweep in the first round and also the first team to advance to the second round. Every other series will go to at least a game 5. But, the close-out game is the toughest game to win in any series and the Celtics will have their work cut out for them in order to pull out a sweep.
The Celtics won the first game 115-114 on a last second layup by Jayson Tatum. They fell behind by as many as 17 points in game 2 and were behind by 5 points going into the 4th quarter. The Celtics then outscored the Nets 29-17 in the 4th quarter to come away with a 114-107 win. Game 3 started out with the Nets playing well, partly due to a zone defense, but the Celtics adjusted and pushed ahead and never looked back. They won the game 109-103.
There have been 143 teams that have accomplished a 3-0 lead in 7 game series. No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in a series. Eighty-nine of the 143 teams won the series in 4 games, 41 teams won the series in 5 games, 10 teams won in 6 games and just 3 teams were taken to 7 games before winning the series. Forty-seven of those 143 series were in the first round and all 47 won the series after leading 3-0.
The Celtics have a clean injury report. Robert Williams returned to the court in Game 3 after having surgery to repair his MCL on March 30th. He played just under 16 minutes in Game 3 and reportedly felt great afterwards with no soreness or setbacks. He is expected to play more minutes in this game and I’m going to guess that he may go back to the starting lineup but he may come off the bench once again. If he comes off the bench in this game, Daniel Theis will likely get the start at center. I’ve listed the same starters for the Nets, but there is a possibility that Nash might change them just to shake things up.
For the Nets, Joe Harris remains out with the ankle injury that has kept him out most of the season. For the past week, the Nets have said that Ben Simmons was progressing very well and was expected to make his Nets debut in this game. However, on Sunday, they announced that Simmons had suffered a setback and was experiencing back pain once again.
Simmons had only practiced 3 on 3 and hadn’t practiced with the starters and so I am doubting that, after not playing since last year’s playoffs, he would make much of a difference for them. Now, I guess we will never know. But, if the other players expected him to give them a boost, then it may leave them somewhat disheartened.
Probable Celtics Starters
Probable Nets Starters
Joe Harris (ankle) out
Ben Simmons (back) out
Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Durant
As in the first three games, Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Durant is the key matchup for this game. Tatum and the Celtics have done a masterful job of defending Durant so far. He has shot a combined 19-52 in the first 3 games and has turned the ball over 17 times in the 3 games. He is averaging 22.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 5.7 turnovers per game. He is shooting 36.5% from the field. The Celtics need to be ready for any adjustments the Nets make to try to get Durant back on track as I am sure they will try something. Jayson Tatum has been excellent on both ends of the court for the Celtics, scoring when he is open and making plays when he isn’t. But it is on the defensive end where he has made the biggest difference by smothering Durant as the primary defender.
Marcus Smart vs Kyrie Irving
Along with Durant, Kyrie Irving is key to the Nets play. Kyrie went off for 39 in the first game but was held to just 10 points in the second game and 16 in Game 3. Irving is averaging 21.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.3 turnovers per game. He is shooting 44% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to be ready for the Nets to also try to free up Kyrie to have another big game in the series. Kyrie and KD are both still very dangerous scorers and so the Celtics must continue to play tough defense on them to keep them from getting hot.
Al Horford vs Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown has benefited from the Celtics attention on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and has set career highs in point in the past two games after struggling in the first game. He is averaging 18.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game. In game 3 he scored a career high 26 points, but the Celtics are willing to let him get shots if it means keeping Kyrie and KD locked up. Al Horford has come up big for the Celtics in all 3 games. His defense has helped the Celtics to survive the absence of Timelord and he has hit some big shots along with corralling some big rebounds.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning, and even more so in the playoffs. The Celtics defense on Durant and Kyrie has been excellent in the first 3 games. However, the Celtics defense has not been as good as it could be. Games 1 and 2 were the 4th and 6th worst defensive games in the last 18 for the Celtics. They allowed 115.1 points vs the 105.3 points that they allowed between Christmas and the end of the season. With Robert Williams back, it should lift their defense from very good to elite once again. Every player must make defense a priority because that is how they are going to win this game and this series.
Rebound - The Celtics out-rebounded the Nets 43-29 in Game 1 but in Game 2, both teams had 36 rebounds. In Game 3, the Celtics out-rebounded the Nets by just 1, 34-33. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics need to put out that extra effort for the entire game to beat the Nets on the boards. In order to score, the Celtics need the ball and to get the ball, they will need to crash the boards as a team. Rebounding gives them extra possessions and second chance points. The Celtics are averaging 14.0 second chance points to 13.3 for the Nets. The Celtics must work harder on the boards and having Robert Williams back should help that quite a bit.
Effort and Focus - Jayson Tatum made the statement that the Celtics try to make sure that nobody plays harder than them. The Celtics must continue that trend and come out strong and play harder than the Nets for the full 48 minutes of this game. They have to be more aggressive on the boards, on defense, in going for loose balls, in driving to the basket, and in every aspect of the game. They have to stay focused and not allow let the distractions of playing on the road, or in a close out game, to take that focus away from playing the right way. They have to take good shots and make them. They have to move the ball and move without the ball and trust each other. They have to play harder and be more focused than the Nets if they want to get a win in this game.
Don’t Be Over-Confident - The Celtics are up 3-0, but they haven’t won anything yet. They are playing on the road and in front of a hostile crowd (for the most part). They are playing against a very dangerous team with two of the best scorers in the league. The Celtics must come in and play as if their backs are against the wall and not think that they have 3 more chances if they lose this game. If they lose, the Nets are right back in the series with some momentum and confidence and so the Celtics must look at this as a must win game and play like it is Game 7.
Coaching - Steve Nash is coaching against one of his former assistant coaches. So far, Ime Udoka has owned the matchup. He has consistently made the right adjustments, while Steve Nash has been slow to adjust as can be seen by the Celtics 3-0 lead in the series. Nash has been criticized by most of the commentators and sports writers for not making adjustments and not having a better offensive system in place. At this point, he is likely coaching for his job. Hopefully Ime will continue to own this matchup.
Close Out Game on the Road - Close out games are the toughest to win in any series. The team that is down is desperate for a win to keep their season alive. The team that is up tends to rest on their laurels and expect an easier game since they won the first three. Will the Nets make adjustments and get Kyrie and KD back on track? Will the Celtics let up or will they play even harder to get the sweep?
Officiating - The officiating can always be an x-factor and maybe more so in this game. In the first two games of the series, the officials have called an average of 52.5 fouls combined per game. In game 3, they called 41 fouls combined. In the regular season, they averaged just 38.9 fouls combined per game. The officiating has been bad at times, but not particularly one sided for either team. Some referees call the game tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it evenly. Some refs just seem to have an agenda that doesn’t fit the play on the court. Often in close out games, the officials try to extend the series by calling the game one sided for the team that is down and Scott Foster is known for doing just that. The Celtics have to play through however the refs call the game, whether it is tight or they let them play. They can’t allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on the game.
With Scott Foster as the lead ref, it’s hard to tell what we will get in this one. At times he calls games one sided and is a tyrant with the whistle, calling every little thing and at other times he calls it evenly and lets them play. Tim Donaghy described Foster as a company man who will do what is asked of him to keep his seniority among refs. Foster was part of the 2010 Finals game 7 officiating crew that called the final quarter completely different than the first 3 quarters and very one sided for the Lakers with 21 free throws for the Lakers and 6 for the Celtics in the final 12 minutes, thereby giving the game to the Lakers. He was voted the worst referee in the league by the players and coaches in an LA Times article. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Scott Foster to do his best to try to force a game 5.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are one-point underdogs heading into a potential series-clinching win against the Nets at Barclay’s Center. That’s in effect a toss up and if you believe in trends, this first round series could end in a sweep tonight. Boston has won four of the last six quarters 168-145, but it really hasn’t felt that close. After erasing a 17-point deficit late in the first half of Game 2, the Celtics had a commanding 15-point lead in Game 3 late in the fourth quarter.
However, as CelticsBlog’s Jeff Clark and Keith Smith noted, Scott Foster is one of the officials in tonight’s game in Brooklyn. That could signal a tight home whistle that would penalize Boston’s physical defense against Durant and Irving that has, to this point, defined the series. If that doesn’t become a factor, look for the Nets to throw everything at the Celtics tonight. Even without Ben Simmons being a factor in Game 4, there are a number of veterans on Brooklyn’s bench that could change the dynamic. Steven Nash threw in Blake Griffin to counter Boston’s size advantage in Game 3 to positive results. LaMarcus Aldridge has yet to see the floor in the playoffs despite being effective in the regular season against the Celtics.
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.
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