6 takeaways as Celtics take a stranglehold on series vs. Nets with Game 3 win

"The playoffs are a different animal. To see this happen in the playoffs is great for us."

Celtics Nets Game 3
Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics shoots against the Brooklyn Nets during Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics pulled away from the Nets in Game 3 on Saturday and claimed a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round series with a 109-103 victory.

1. The Celtics did myriad things right, but we should probably start with this quote from Blake Griffin, who played his first minutes in quite some time and showed more fight than most of his teammates.

“I just feel like we didn’t have the right spirit throughout the entire game,” Griffin said afterward.

Saturday was the Nets’ entire season boiled down to 48 minutes, and they had few answers for a Celtics team determined to make life difficult for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Bruce Brown was excellent, and Griffin played pretty well (more on that in a minute), but Durant took just 11 shots and scored 16 points, while Irving finished 6-for-17 from the floor.

Irving is obviously an important piece of the Nets’ puzzle, but he’s not Kevin Durant. The theory that the Nets might win this series was based on Durant’s ability to slow Jayson Tatum and beat the Celtics’ vaunted defense. He hasn’t really been able to do either, which is less of an indictment on him and more of a reason to buy in to the Celtics as a contender. They can slow Durant — one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players and scorers — to a crawl, and they seemingly broke the will of two players with championship experience. They faced down the 7-seed nobody else wanted to play, and they are now answering post-game questions about staying focused for a close-out game with a big series lead.


“To go through these and pull out a good win in the fourth quarter in a hostile environment, it only benefits us going forward,” Ime Udoka said. “Our confidence has been high but to do it in the playoffs can help us going forward.”

What can’t this team do?

2. Early in his career, Jayson Tatum drew comparisons to Paul George, and that probably undersold his potential. He scored 39 points against the Nets on Saturday, but his defense really stood out — Tatum is doing the inverse of what the Nets need from Durant. On Saturday, once again, he made life difficult for the Nets star while excelling on the other end. Tatum also finished with six steals and six assists – a sparkling stat line even if he didn’t shoot particularly efficiently.

Tatum even drew M-V-P chants from a notably large Celtics contingent in the crowd, who were quickly booed by Nets fans.

“I mean, it feels good,” Tatum admitted. “Especially on the road. You hear it at home, but I’m certain I’m not going to win MVP this year. So just worry about winning each game and that’s all that I’m worried about.”

Tatum has been a star for a while, but this might be the first playoff run where we see him transforming into a no-questions-asked superstar.


“The playoffs are a different animal,” Ime Udoka said. “To see this happen in the playoffs is great for us.”

3. Tatum will get a lot of well-deserved credit for Saturday’s win, but Jaylen Brown was excellent in the fourth quarter. Brown finished with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting, and when Griffin looked like he might give the Celtics some real problems, Brown was the one who attacked him on the other end and kept the Nets at arm’s length. Griffin kept the Nets attached, but he couldn’t help them gain any ground because he couldn’t even come close to covering Jaylen Brown on a switch.

“JB got rolling and myself and other guys just fed off his energy,” Tatum said. “He had some big shots. He threw a pass to me in the corner. So I think his play especially in the beginning of the fourth kind of propelled us and gave everybody that spark in the rest of the fourth.”

Before the series, most analysts seemed to believe the Celtics had the second-best and fourth-best players. After three games, it looks an awful lot like they have Nos. 1 and 3.

4. Robert Williams returned to the floor for the first time since undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus. In 15 minutes, he scored two points, grabbed two rebounds, and dissuaded the Nets from driving at times with his presence.


Still, the Celtics can be doubly encouraged by his debut. First, according to Ime Udoka, Williams felt fine and looked great. He could have played more, but the team didn’t want to risk anything.

“No pain, no setbacks,” Williams said. “So just thankful for that.”

No risks were necessary, either. Maybe equally encouraging for the Celtics: Williams didn’t really impact the game, and they still claimed a 3-0 series lead. The Celtics need one more win to sweep, they have home-court advantage in the second round, and they haven’t tapped their potential in the playoffs.

“Rob and Bradley Beal are probably my two favorite players,” Tatum said. “So getting Rob back is huge for our team. Even in limited minutes how much of an impact he made on the game, even if it doesn’t show up, just his presence being a lob threat, rim protector, great passer. Rob was big for us off the bench tonight. If we was going to do anything special this year, this postseason, we definitely need him.”

5. Dorchester native Bruce Brown was easily Brooklyn’s best player on Sunday. He defended Tatum hard and finished with a career-playoff high 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting.

6. Irving raised a lot of eyebrows by noting after the game that the Nets needed more time to play together.

“I don’t wanna be cliché,” Irving said, “but I don’t know how you make up time from October to now.”

Irving, of course, missed much of the season because he refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even though the city of Brooklyn had a vaccination mandate until recently. The Nets seem to be splintering.


Still, the Celtics didn’t take the bait postgame.

“Those guys are the best players in the world, so just trying to keep them on their toes and live with the results,” Brown said. “We just have to keep going, because very easily those guys could still get it going next game or any game after, so we just want to come out, execute and live with the results, and play good basketball on offense and defense.”

The Celtics and Nets face off in Game 4 on Monday at 7 p.m.


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