Many people look at the Celtics dismantling of the Nets as something we all should have been predicting going in. That the Nets weren't very good and the Celtics were. I think there's a lot of hindsight going on here and people are forgetting just how feared the Nets were going into the playoffs. I don't think those fears were misguided. So I wanted to break down why the Celtics win was so impressive.
The Robert Williams Factor: Robert Williams didn't start and barely played in this series. When he did play, he clearly wasn't 100%. And yet the Celtics still swept. Here's a fun stat on the Celtics' turnaround. Most people chalk it up to shifts in how the Celtics were playing or trade deadline moves, which is partly true. But so much of it was just due to staying healthy. After RJ Barrett hit his buzzer beater, the Celtics had played just 10 of their 39 games to that point with their starting 5. From that point to the rest of the season, the Celtics played 29 of their final 43 games with the starting 5.
Now obviously, we know that the starting 5 has been dominant all season, even through the struggles. Back in December when most folks on here were demanding to trade Jaylen Brown, I wrote a fanpost about how well he and Jayson were playing together. And right before the trade deadline, I wrote a fanpost demanding that the starting lineup stay in tact. So you're wondering, what's the difference? The Celtics were 32-7 this year when the starting 5 started games. In all other games, they were 19-24. That's right, one injury to the starting 5, and the Celtics were a below .500 team. They just swept the scariest first round matchup in the playoffs like that. And now Rob is coming back. The league should be on notice.
The Jaylen Brown Factor: I've been critical of Jaylen at times because he has very noticeable flaws. I think we're all a little spoiled by Tatum - he's a perfect basketball player with no weaknesses. Jaylen is very different. I need to do a better job of focusing less on the ways that Jaylen can be exploited and more on the ways his strengths help the Celtics. But I think we saw huge development in some of those areas in this series.
The Nets tried to make Jaylen a passer, and he answered the call with probably the best passing stint of his career. He bailed the Celtics out in several 4th quarters with his scoring and was able to right the ship. He was able to make an impact with his off ball defense and held up on the ball.
My one fear is that the Celtics still don't have a consistent answer when Tatum leaves the floor. In the regular season, the Celtics outscored opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions with Tatum on the floor, and were outscored by 1.8 points per 100 possessions when he left. That's a huge difference. In the first round, the Celtics outscored the Nets by 7.2 points per 100 possessions when Tatum was on the floor, but were outscored by 12.8 points per 100 possessions when he was off. That can't happen. Hopefully, the other guys can pick it up going forward.
Ime Udoka: Now, as good as the Nets are, the Celtics are definitely the more talented team. But Ime Udoka made KD and Kyrie's life absolutely miserable for four games. I do think Nash has gotten some unfair heat for his coaching. There wasn't a whole lot he could do with that roster to counter the Celtics. But he tried making adjustments. But Ime recognized it quickly and was able to counter in the moment. That's the sign of a great coach.
And, in defense of Nash, you can make all the adjustments you want, but eventually the other team is going to adjust back, and now you're back at square one again. Eventually, talent has to do it for you. But the key to all that is being able to catch the adjustments the other coach is making and quickly counter them. That allows your talent advantage to win out.
A Win For Analytics: The Celtics play an analytical brand of basketball. The Nets do not. That was, in large part, the difference in this series. Just look at the shot charts. The Celtics shot 59.9% in the paint this series (68.5% at the rim), and the Nets shot 61.9% in the paint (68.1% at the rim). Advantage Nets, right? The Celtics shot 51.4% from the midrange while the Nets shot 45.6% (I bet that surprised you). And the Celtics shot 35.8% from 3 for the series while the Nets shot 42.2%.
But now let's look at the shot distribution. The Celtics took 48.2% of their field goal attempts in the paint (32.1% at the rim) and 40.8% of their field goal attempts from 3. Just 11% of the Celtics shots were from the midrange. Now compare that to the Nets. The Nets took 36.2% of their field goal attempts in the paint (22.1% at the rim) and 34.9% of their field goal attempts from 3. 28.8% of the Nets field goal attempts came from the midrange. That was the difference in the series.