Nets’ big three too much for shorthanded Celtics, take series with 123-109 win

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It’s the highest compliment of a regular season game to say it felt like a playoff game: The players are dialed in, the crowd is loud and energized, the game intense.

The Nets and Celtics played a playoff game that felt like a regular season game.

This could have been some random Tuesday night in February. There was no heightened level of play most of the night (Nets coach Steve Nash said, “we’re thinking a little too much instead of just playing.”). The Brooklyn crowd apparently found more interesting things to look at on their phones, it was a quiet building on the broadcast. It was as if everyone was waiting for the inevitable — they expected this to be the closeout game of the series.

It was.

Brooklyn flipped the switch enough in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 123-109 win, giving the Nets a 4-1 series win.

Brooklyn is now headed to a much-anticipated second-round showdown with Milwaukee that starts on Saturday (June 5).

Boston is headed to an offseason with a lot of questions after a disappointing season. Will the Celtics bring back Evan Fournier? Can they find a way to get — and keep — Kemba Walker healthy? How will Danny Ainge shake up the roster?

It wasn’t like their dominant Game 4 performance, but Brooklyn’s big three still put up numbers: James Harden had a 34-point triple-double with 10 points and 10 assists, Kyrie Irving had 25 points, and James Harden 24.

The Nets led most of the way behind those three but let the Celtics hang around/the Celtics were scrappy and would not go away (depending upon your perspective). Jayson Tatum had 32 but was not terribly efficient (12-of-27 shooting), but it was the buckets from the “others” that impressed: Romeo Langford had 17, Marcus Smart 14, and the biggest surprise of all was Jabari Parker coming off the bench for 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

Celtics continue to stick around, staying within striking distance, and a Tatum bucket at the buzzer made it a seven-point game after three quarters.

It was an eight-point game midway through the fourth when Brooklyn went on a 9-2 run — with Harden, Irving, and Durant each hitting a three in that stretch. Brooklyn cranked up its firepower just enough and pulled away late for the win.

That kind of energy and effort from Brooklyn will not cut it against a Milwaukee team that swept Miami out of the playoffs and looked impressive doing it. The Bucks bring star power with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, long and active defenders, real energy, and a chip on their shoulders.

These Nets, with all three stars on the court, have not been tested like that yet. They are about to be.