BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics can deliver a knockout punch to the Nets in Brooklyn on Monday night, sweeping Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out of the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Nets seem like they want no part of Boston or the 3-0 series hole that the Celtics have put them in, and will just let their season end slowly and mercifully Monday evening.
The Celtics, however, aren’t banking on Brooklyn just slinking into the summer. The sweep is not assured, not unless the Celtics go out and take it.
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That’s their approach, even if no team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit. Even if their pummeling defense has held Durant to just 37 percent shooting this series (Durant has shot 50 percent overall throughout his Hall of Fame career) and turned him into an exhausted spectator. Even if Irving has no desire to make a return trip to Boston. And even if Ben Simmons doesn’t want to play for his new team, throwing up the white flag on his season. The Celtics will continue to focus on what they need to do, which has brought some excellent and exciting results over the last week.
The Celtics are not taking this 3-0 lead for granted. They’re going to take the same approach to Monday night’s Game 4 as they have to each of the preceding contests: They’ll be ready for an all-out battle.
That’s the message from head coach Ime Udoka, who has some experience with having a series stolen from underneath him. When chatting with reporters about Boston’s bid to sweep the Nets, he harkened back to the 2013 NBA Finals when he was on the Spurs coaching staff, when Heat guard Ray Allen stole a San Antonio title with a game-tying three with 5.2 seconds left in regulation. Miami went on to win Game 6 in overtime, and took the series with a Game 7 victory.
“There is no complacency from our group. They’re not content with where we’re at,” Udoka said of his Celtics. “We understand how a series can flip due to a number of things. I’m a guy who will never count something being done until it’s done. Ray Allen hit a shot to take away a championship ring my first year as a coach, so that is always on my mind and that’s what I harp on with my guys.
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“One thing can happen to flip a series and we don’t want to be on the wrong end of it. Our message is enjoy what you’re doing but do it better,” Udoka continued. “When it’s all done we’ll enjoy it for a second and move on to the next one. When it’s all done we’ll enjoy it for a second and move on to the next one. That’s our mentality; one game at a time, one quarter at a time and one play at a time. Don’t look at the big picture and try to get it over with in one play in the first quarter. We understand who we are defensively and how we wear on people, mentally and physically, and grind out a series. That was our goal going into and that’s how we’ll look at Game 4.”
Whether or not the Nets give them that battle remains to be seen. No matter what the Nets have thrown at the Celtics, Boston has had an answer over the last three games, while Brooklyn is flummoxed and searching for any kind of solution. Durant has been whittled down throughout the series, and looked content with having his season end in the near future following Boston’s Game 3 victory on Saturday night. Irving has sung his former team’s praises since Game 2, saying it’s their time to go on a deep postseason run. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have replaced that duo as the most talented pairing in the series, while everyone else on the Boston roster has filled their parts perfectly.
The Celtics demoralized the Nets in Boston, stealing Game 1 with a buzzer beating layup by Tatum before coming back from 17 down in Game 2. Saturday night was Brooklyn’s chance to make the series interesting, but once again the Celtics had their number. Anytime the Nets tried to get close, Tatum or Brown led a Boston run, and there was little doubt that the Celtics would be up 3-0 throughout the fourth quarter.
The Nets were resigned to that fact for much of Saturday night, and they seem resigned to the fact that they’re about to get swept heading into Monday night’s Game 4.
It’s wild to think that just over a week ago, the Nets were not only the favorites to win the series, but among the favorites to make it to the NBA Finals. The Celtics were criticized by some for not ducking the No. 2 seed and avoiding the Nets in the first round.
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Now here they are, on the verge of a first-round sweep against what many saw as the most talented 1-2 punch in the NBA. The Celtics have four chances to end Brooklyn’s season. Chances are they’ll only need the one.