With the Boston Celtics winning their Play-In Game to claim the No. 7 seed in the East, their reward is ... a series against the powerhouse Brooklyn Nets.
There are plenty of storylines to follow in this one, from Kyrie Irving versus his former team to Jayson Tatum squaring up with Kevin Durant.
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The 2021 NBA Playoffs will begin on Saturday, May 22. The full schedule has not been released yet.
- Game 1 - Sunday, May 23 at 5:30 a.m. IST
- Game 2 - TBD
- Game 3 - TBD
- Game 4 - TBD
- Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD
Result: Nets won 3-0
Best game: April 23, 2021 - Nets 109, Celtics 104
Best performance: Kyrie Irving (Dec. 25, 2020) - 37 points (13-21 FG, 7-10 3PT), 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal
The Nets handled the Celtics in all three matchups this season despite never having all three of Irving, Durant and James Harden on the floor for the same game.
They didn't need all three of their superstars suiting up at once with the way Irving got revenge against his former team. He made things personal, averaging 30.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field, 50.0 percent from 3 and 100 percent from the free throw line in three wins against Boston.
Irving started the season series off with a bang, going off for 37 points, eight assists and six rebounds in a blowout win on Christmas Day. When they met later this season, he dueled it out with Tatum as the two All-Stars went for 40 and 31 points, respectively, in another win for Brooklyn.
The final meeting was the closest of all, with Tatum erupting for 38 points and 10 rebounds to try and lead the Celtics to their first win against the Nets. His efforts fell short behind a balanced scoring attack from Brooklyn's supporting cast and a near-triple-double of 15 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for Irving.
In their first meeting, Harden hadn't been traded yet, so it was just Irving and Durant.
In the second meeting, Durant was injured, so it was just Irving and Harden.
In the final contest, both Harden and Durant were out, so it was just Irving.
Now with all three players back in the lineup, how will this series shake out for Boston, who is down an All-Star in Jaylen Brown?
Key Storyline: Can Kemba Walker be the second star the Celtics need to keep this series competitive?
The Celtics are up against it without star guard Brown in the lineup.
They had enough trouble against Brooklyn without all three of its stars, so it's hard to imagine things getting any easier with three of the best scorers in the NBA sharing the court at once.
It's well documented what level of heroics Tatum needs to bring in order to keep the Celtics' playoff hopes alive - look no further than his 50-point game to lead them out of the Play-In Tournament and into the No. 7 seed - but former All-Star Kemba Walker has to step up as the No. 2 guy in this series.
Walker made his presence felt in the Play-In Game, going for 29 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals while shooting 10-for-24 from the field and 6-for-14 from 3-point range. He brought a swagger and intensity to the floor that Boston will certainly need if it's going to have a chance at pulling off a first-round upset.
Walker only appeared in one contest against the Nets this season. His lingering knee injury caused him to miss the Christmas Day game and their final matchup against Brooklyn came on the second night of a back-to-back, which Walker sat out those games all season.
In his lone outing against the Nets, the former All-Star did not have his best performance, scoring just 11 points to go with two assists while shooting 5-for-12 from the field and 1-for-7 from 3-point range.
Without Brown, Boston cannot afford games like that from Walker if it's going to keep this playoff series competitive. This will be a massive opportunity for Walker to prove he still has All-Star-calibre play left in the tank.
Three Players to Watch
Irving got plenty of revenge in the regular season, averaging 30.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists in three wins against the Celtics, but it's hard to believe there isn't more of that to come in a full series. He has yet to play in front of fans at the TD Garden, so that will make for an interesting wrinkle to this series and an interesting experience for the All-Star guard.
We already saw what Tatum is capable of doing when his team needs him the most, dropping 50 points while shooting 14-for-32 from the field, 5-for-12 from 3 and 17-for-17 from the free throw line to lead the Celtics out of the Play-In Tournament and into the playoffs. It was his third game of 50-plus points since the beginning of April, and he may need a few more of those if he's going to make some magic happen in this series.
It has been two years since we last saw Durant play in the playoffs, so let this serve as a reminder of the last time the unstoppable scorer played in a first-round playoff series.
As a member of the Golden State Warriors in 2019, Durant did this to the LA Clippers:
- Game 1: 23 points on 16 shots
- Game 2: 21 points on eight shots
- Game 3: 38 points and seven assists
- Game 4: 33 points, seven rebounds, six assists
- Game 5: 45 points, six rebounds, six assists
- Game 6: 50 points on 26 shots, six rebounds, five assists
Durant went for an efficient 29 points in his only meeting against the Celtics this season. Boston is going to have to find an answer to contain KD to prevent him from producing stat lines like the ones above in this series.
Picks and Predictions
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Nets in 5
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Nets in 4
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): Nets in 4
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