Celtics

6 takeaways as Jaylen Brown, Celtics weather final Nets push and complete sweep

Jayson Tatum fouled out, but the Celtics held up to the Nets' final push.

Game 4 takeaways
Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics dunks as Nic Claxton of the Brooklyn Nets defends. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics weathered a bizarre Game 4 and swept the Nets with a 116-112 victory.

1. The Nets were a highly dramatic team all season and certainly brought about their own demise, to an extent. Kyrie Irving didn’t help anyone out by refusing to get vaccinated — a decision which objectively hurt his team’s chemistry, however you feel about his cause. The lack of continuity hurt. The lack of any form of wing depth on the defensive end hurt. The Andre Drummond/Nic Claxton big man combo wasn’t going to get the job done against a good playoff team with elite ball-handlers and wing scorers.

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But as we wrote yesterday: The Celtics sweeping the Nets was more about what the Celtics can do than what the Nets can’t. The Bucks and Sixers had no interest in facing the Nets for a reason. The Celtics valued the 2-seed and were happy to pursue it for a reason. They have the NBA’s best defense, one of the league’s best duos, and a multifaceted offense that can take a lot of different forms.

“I know so many people thought that we should have tried to play somebody else in the first round,” Tatum said. “Our mindset was that we were probably going to have to play them eventually, and I’m assuming the road to the championship is never easy. You’ve got to play against the best. So we took on that challenge, and we knew it was going to be tough, and I think that was good for us.”

The Nets, meanwhile, had two superstars — thus why they made the playoffs — but they also had a lot of dysfunction, a subpar defense, and a lackluster bench unit. 

This series wasn’t about the Celtics’ superstars against the Nets superstars — not when Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Grant Williams, and Payton Pritchard all played such integral parts. In the end, Celtics vs. Nets was just your standing 2-seed taking on a 7-seed.

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“They’re just a better team,” Durant said. “… This is the best defense in the league.”

2. The Nets did make the Celtics sweat on Monday, particularly when Tatum picked up his fifth foul with 8:17 remaining and when an inexplicable call fouled him out with 2:49 remaining.

“Couldn’t believe it,” Tatum said. “Couldn’t believe it at all.”

“First, it was a bad call,” Brown added.

The Celtics held a 109-103 lead at the time, which was trimmed to three when Irving buried a deep triple. On the next possession, Durant hit a jumper that cut the lead to one. If the Nets had pushed the game to overtime, the Celtics might have found themselves in some trouble.

Instead, Jaylen Brown finished a tough finger roll along the baseline and the Celtics defended hard down the stretch. Kevin Durant went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line on a key trip, and the Celtics escaped without being fouled and pushed the lead to four with 13.7 remaining on Horford’s put-back layup. From there, they skated to the finish.

3. The Celtics moved the ball typically well, trusting their role players to make threes. The role players delivered — in particular, Horford and Grant Williams, who were 7-for-11 from deep. On a night when Brown went 0-for-5, getting contributions from shooters across the board was crucial.

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4. Robert Williams still doesn’t quite look like himself after two games back from his meniscus surgery. That’s understandable, of course — he came back early, and the procedure he underwent to trim the meniscus was the first surgery of his career. 

Still, it’s noteworthy that opponents haven’t been quite as afraid to attack him around the rim, and his teammates aren’t quite as willing to throw the lobs that made the Celtics’ offense so dangerous even when it broke down around the rim.

They did throw one, though.

Getting Williams back to full strength is key to the Celtics’ title hopes. 

“For him, it’s good to get his feet wet in a few games and that’s why it’s beneficial that he came back before the end of the series,” Udoka said. “He got a taste of it and we can use this week to prep him back in, continue to rehab and build on his body and then get him more confident to his normal minutes.”

5. With 22 seconds remaining and the Celtics nursing a three-point lead, Smart decided to aggressively try to pick Durant’s pocket, and he nearly pulled it off — he knocked the ball free in the back court and dove to try to steal it. The officials, however, whistled Smart for a foul, which didn’t hurt the Celtics much — instead of going for a three and the tie, Durant had to settle for a pair of free throws.

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Smart didn’t agree with the foul call, predictably.

“If we’re being honest, it wasn’t a foul,” Smart said. “Tipped the ball, and I fell, dove to the ground, loose ball. It wasn’t a foul, but they called it, and it worked out in our favor. Three-point game, he’s going to the line to shoot two instead of three. I’ll take that any day, especially with him.”

6. The Celtics play the winner of the Bulls and Bucks. Milwaukee leads the series 3-1 and can clinch on Wednesday. If they do, the Celtics might get a shot at them without Khris Middleton for a game or two after Middleton sprained his MCL.

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