The obvious hook for the Eastern Conference first round playoff game between the No.2 Nets (48-24) and No.7 Celtics (36-36) dates back to the fateful 2013 trade in which the Nets acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry for multiple players and a large number of first-round draft picks. Two of those picks turned into current Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (the latter injured and out for the season), and one was packed in a trade to acquire Kyrie Irving in 2017.
Irving left that team after two seasons and signed with the Nets as a free agent. He will make his first Boston appearance in front of fans since his departure, and he will be joined by Kevin Durant and James Harden, the other two members of the Big 3 acquired during a brilliant rebuild by the Nets general. director Sean Marks.
Considering the lopsided nature of this 2013 trade, it’s very ironic that it’s the Nets entering this game from Saturday night at Barclays Center as the consensus favorite to win the NBA title. The confrontations:
James Harden vs. Marcus Smart – Soon after arriving in a trade, Harden became the true point guard for the Nets, orchestrating the offense with 10.9 assists per game but still scoring at a 24.6 clip. Smart, the Celtics’ best defenseman, will undoubtedly be tasked with disrupting Harden’s game.
Kyrie Irving vs Kemba Walker – When Irving joined the Nets in 2019 and the Celtics replaced him with Walker, reports said there was a celebration in the Boston locker room. Irving maintains he remains friendly with his former teammates, but he’s made it clear he’s happier with the Nets. That feeling was reflected in a brilliant season in which he shot over 50% from the field, 40% from three-point distance and 90% from the foul line, a rare feat.
Joe Harris vs. Evan Fournier – For the second time in his career, Harris led the NBA with 47.5 percent from three-pointers. His clash with Fournier, which was acquired from Magic, is key. Several Nets have identified Fournier, with an average of 13.0 points, as a dangerous secondary scorer.
Kevin Durant vs Jayson Tatum – This is the hallmark game, pitting the 32-year-old, nine-time NBA Durant (26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists) against the 23-year-old, a times all -NBA Tatum (26.4, 4.0, 4.9), who scored 50 in the Celtics play-in victory. Two excellent defenders will force themselves to make ends meet.
Blake Griffin vs. Tristan Thompson – Griffin is a six-time NBA star who joined the Nets to play a complementary role. He’s become a surprising defensive leader and needs to keep Thompson (8.1 rebounds) out of the offensive glass to limit the Celtics’ second chance points.
The Nets have the deepest bench in the NBA. Backup center Nic Claxton will play a critical defensive role and see time against Tatum. Bruce Brown and Jeff Green are key defenders and Green and Landry Shamet excel at three points. The Celtics have a solid bench led by Robert Williams III and Grant Williams in the frontcourt, and Payton Pritchard and Jabari Parker and on the perimeter.
Coach Brad Stevens is one of the brightest tacticians in the NBA, but a slew of injuries helped push the Celtics down to seventh seed and there have been rumors of losing the locker room. Freshman Nets coach Steve Nash has been through an injury-plagued season with aplomb. He had 37 different rosters but still won praise from his players for his poise and planning.
The Nets are as healthy as they’ve been all season with the Big 3 set to play together for just the ninth time this season in Game 1, plus a healthy Harris, who missed the last three. matches with hip pain. The Celtics are without Jaylen Brown, who has had wrist surgery, and Robert Williams III (foot) is hand to mouth.
Boston Fans – Even though Irving wasn’t there when the Nets first visited two years ago after he left, Irving was booed in absentia. He says it won’t bother him in person, and he’s regularly torched the Celtics.
Nets fans – The Nets expect to allow a minimum of 10,000 per game and this will be the first chance for many to cheer on the Big 3 in person.
Continuity – The Big 3 have eight games and 208 total minutes together. Chemistry takes time and they could be vulnerable.
Celtics coach Stevens recently said of the Nets: âThese guys are the best of the bestâ¦ If I’m just a general NBA fan, I can’t see them losing. ”
NETS IN 5.