Celtics take on challenge, sweep Durant/Irving Nets out of playoffs

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The Boston Celtics drew the short straw and had to face the team nobody wanted in the East’s first round: The Brooklyn Nets. Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving. Veteran role players with rings (Patty Mills) and accolades (Blake Griffin, Goran Dragic). A team that, on paper, was a real threat.

The Celtics swept the Nets out of the playoffs.

Boston showed off an elite defense, depth, and great chemistry for four games, plus it had the best player in the series in Jayson Tatum, who scored 29 on Monday night. It was all too much for a Nets team that proved to be too top-heavy, not big or athletic enough, and lacked chemistry.

The Celtics beat the Nets 116-112 in Game 4 to win the first-round series 4-0 and advance to the second round (where they will likely face the Milwaukee Bucks, who are up 3-1 on the Bulls).

Boston also got 22 points from Jaylen Brown, 20 points and 11 assists from Marcus Smart, and big men Al Horford and Grant Williams combined for 27 points and seven 3-pointers. The Celtics moved the ball all game long and trusted each other to make the right play.

Durant put up a fight in his final game this season, scoring 39 points on 13-of-31 shooting, plus he had nine assists in the face of relentless defensive pressure and double teams from the Celtics. Seth Curry added 23 for the Nets and Kyrie Irving scored 20.

There were flashes from the Nets and they made it tight down the stretch. However, the Nets did in Game 4 what they did all series — and all season — long: defensive mistakes (especially in clutch minutes), part-time effort, too much isolation leading to a predictable offense, and a lack of chemistry to overcome their roster flaws.

The Nets entered the season with the talent on paper to contend but were never on the court enough together to “jell” the way the Celtics had, as Irving noted (even though he was a key reason for the constantly shifting rotations). There were a lot of factors and changing faces, players admitted too much of the noise outside the locker room found its way in, but mostly Brooklyn didn’t do the little things enough this season, banking on their talent to carry them. Then the Nets had no answers when they ran into another talented team — one who had put in the work and built good habits.

A savage round of postmortems come now for a Brooklyn team that was the betting favorite to win it all before the season started then became the only team this season not to even win a game in the first round. Irving is a free agent and he said again postgame he didn’t want to leave Brooklyn, but how many years are the Nets willing to give him? Will Steve Nash be back as coach? Probably, but nothing is set in stone. How do the Nets get younger, more athletic, and more defensive with the players around Durant and Irving? There are a lot of questions to answer for a front office and organization that has bent to the will of its stars for years.

The Celtics come out of this series looking like title contenders. In an East where every team has question marks — and the Bucks are without All-Star and Olympian Khris Middleton — Boston has the defense, halfcourt production, chemistry and elite talent to win the East.

First, the Celtics will get to rest until at least next weekend. They earned it.