10 things to know heading into a juicy Celtics-Nets series

It has a chance to be one of the more compelling first-round matchups in recent memory.

Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum will go head to head once again. Kathy Willens/AP Photo

The NBA playoffs are finally here, and the No. 2 Celtics and No. 7 Nets are set to clash in Game 1 on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

Here’s a closer look at a series with storylines galore.

There’s no shortage of talent on either side.

Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving. That’s a whole lot of star power in one series.

There’s no shortage of intrigue in this one, and it has a chance to be one of the more compelling first-round series in recent memory. Make sure to carve out time to watch. It shouldn’t disappoint.

It’s a rematch of last year’s first-round series.

Last year, the No. 2 Nets flattened the No. 7 Celtics in five games. The Celtics won game 3 to make it 2-1, but the Nets finished strong to advance.


This year, the series looks very different, of course – including the major factor that Brown is playing. The seeds are now swapped after Boston had the far better regular season. Any time Durant and Irving are on the court, their team has a shot, but the Celtics are the better all-around team on paper.

Many expect it to be a tight battle.

The series odds as of Saturday afternoon are Celtics -150, Nets +125. It’s expected to go six or seven games, and Celtics in seven is viewed as the most-likely outcome, per PointsBet.

Durant is expected to be the leading scorer (-125), and Tatum (+175), Irving (+350), and Brown (+1200) have the next-best odds.

Both defenses have played well of late.

The Celtics have been arguably the best defensive team in the NBA this season, and their excellence in that area has been a major reason for their overall ascension.

In the last 15 games, the Celtics have the best net rating and the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense in the NBA. They’re not alone in excelling in those metrics, however.

It’s no surprise that the Nets have the No. 4 net rating and No. 4 offense, but it is a bit of a surprise that they have the No. 9 defense in that span.

With such elite talent on both sides, it’s inevitable that both teams will score in waves, but if the Nets can match the Celtics’ defensive execution, advantage Brooklyn. If Boston sets the tone on that end and doesn’t let the Nets do the same, the Celtics have an excellent shot.


“It’s important for us to be who we’ve been,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said Saturday. “We don’t want to let games turn into shootouts. They have some great offensive players and we don’t want to get caught in that.”

Jayson Tatum vs. Kevin Durant is must-see TV.

As Tatum continues his upward ascension into true superstardom, he has a prime opportunity in front of him to out-duel Durant.

Of course, Tatum cares most about the win, but there’s no doubt he wants to prove he’s officially arrived and can one-up arguably the best scorer ever.

In 12 head-to-head meetings, Durant has an 8-4 edge, including a 4-1 margin in last year’s playoff series. Durant has averaged 28.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists, compared to 24.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists for Tatum.

Tatum does have the best individual game, though, with 54 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists earlier in this season in a signature Celtics win.

Durant has consistently praised Tatum and called him a difficult player to stop.

“He’s just so talented and skilled and efficient at what he does,” Durant said.

Robert Williams and Ben Simmons could possibly return.

In addition to the chess match on the court, there’s an additional chess match off it regarding whether or not Robert Williams and Ben Simmons return in the series.

Udoka said the Celtics haven’t ruled Williams out for the entire series. Initially, following surgery on his torn left meniscus, it seemed unlikely Williams would be back in round one. Now, it appears there’s a chance.


Simmons, meanwhile, has played a little 1-on-0 basketball, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday that “hope remains” he could return later in the series.

Williams is the Celtics’ best rim protector and a plus-minus machine, and Simmons is a savvy playmaker who would likely spend much of his time guarding Tatum.

Yes, Kyrie Irving can play in the whole series.

For a while, there was some debate about whether or not Irving would be eligible to play in Nets playoff home games.

He couldn’t play at Barclays Center for more than two months during the regular season but was off the hook once New York Mayor Eric Adams altered the vaccination requirements for professional athletes and performers in late March.

The former Celtic said he knows he made the right decision for him.

“I can really say that I stood firm on what I believed in, what I wanted to do with my body,” Irving told reporters. “I think that should be not just an American right, I think that should be a human right.”

There’s always a local angle.

Nets guard/forward Bruce Brown, who is averaging 14.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists since the All-Star Break, grew up on the Dorchester-Mattapan line and started his high school career at Wakefield High School before transferring to Vermont Academy.

Brown isn’t one of the biggest names on the Nets, but he’s been arguably their third-best player in recent months. When Durant and Irving are doubled and have to give up the rock, Brown often ends up as the beneficiary and has a lot of open court in front of him to penetrate and dish or shoot.

He ruffled some feathers with a recent comment.

Brown takes a lot of pride in his Boston roots, but he recently agitated some folks – including Durant – when he took a not-so-subtle jab at two Celtics bigs.


“Now they don’t have Robert Williams, so they have less of a presence in the paint,” Brown said. “We can attack [Daniel] Theis and [Al] Horford in the paint. Them not having Robert Williams is huge.”

Durant took umbrage with the line and made it clear the Nets still have their work cut out for them inside.

“That’s caffeine pride talking,” Durant told reporters. “He takes some before the game. Them two dudes can do the same stuff. It ain’t gonna be that easy.”

Theis’s response?

“For us, we show it on the court. If he thinks what he thinks, we’re going to prove him wrong.”

Payton Pritchard has been feeling it lately.

One Celtics player to keep an eye on is Payton Pritchard, who has been on fire in recent weeks.

He’s scored in double digits in 10 of his last 13 and has shot 50 percent from the floor and 46.4 percent from 3 in April. With much of the attention on Brown and Tatum, Pritchard will likely get open looks.

If he continues to shoot with conviction and knocks them down at a decently high clip, that would go a long way for the Celtics.


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