Celtics

Jeff Van Gundy: Celtics are ‘truly a championship contender’ after Nets sweep

"At the end of the day, Boston's just better."

Celtics Jayson Tatum
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum dunks against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4. Jim Davis/Globe Staff
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Four games into the 2022 NBA Playoffs, it’s clear the Celtics’ strong finish to the regular season was no fluke.

Boston put the stamp on its notice to the league Monday night by completing a sweep of Kevin Durant, arch-nemesis Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets, becoming the first team in either conference to move on to the semifinal round.

In doing so, they reaffirmed their status as one of the best — if not the best — team still playing.

As ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy told The Greg Hill Show on Tuesday morning, that revelation is hardly a surprise if you’ve been watching this team.

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“I didn’t see a sweep [against Brooklyn], but they’re clearly a better team. They have been for the last three months,” Van Gundy said. “So it didn’t surprise me that they were dominant, but sweeping Kevin Durant is obviously an incredible accomplishment.

“And the way they did it, they played better on offense than they did on defense at times, which is a great balance for them. They have the great defense, and to combine that with really good offense makes them what they are, which is truly a championship contender.”

The Celtics ended the 2022 regular season as the best defensive team in basketball, and they showed off their chops in making life hard on Durant and Irving — two of the league’s best offensive players — for most of the series.

But their dual ascent into a top-10 offensive squad has made them even more dangerous, especially with Jayson Tatum beginning to assert himself as a championship-caliber star.

Tatum currently ranks fourth in both playoff scoring (29.5 points per game) and overall efficiency and fifth among all playoff performers in assists per game (7.3), according to NBA.com. On the defensive side of things, he’s also tied for third in steals per game (1.8), behind only Jimmy Butler (2.8) and teammate Jaylen Brown (2.5).

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“He’s improved from being a dominant scorer to being the best player on what could be the best team,” Van Gundy said of the “unbelievably great” Tatum. “Because he is now passing the ball consistently, making the right plays, which engenders unselfishness for the whole team. And then defensively, he’s been awesome. His commitment to the defensive end of the floor and his actual defensive skill and anticipation is off the charts.”

Even with Tatum’s ascension and the Celtics’ overall brilliance, critics still suggested Boston would’ve been better served with an easier first-round matchup. Even in the aftermath of the series sweep, much of the focus has rested on what went wrong for the Nets as opposed to what the Celtics did to stop them.

But Van Gundy sees the roles being reversed: The Celtics were the team the Nets, and perhaps even the rest of their Eastern Conference foes, should fear.

“At the end of the day, Boston’s just better,” he said. “They play better. They’re better constructed from a roster standpoint. With all the talk about what Brooklyn didn’t do, it diminishes just what Boston did do. Boston’s just a better team.”

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