By Jake Force
Boston University News Service
Despite referee Scott Foster’s best efforts to curtail a Green sweep, the Celtics are on to the second round with an NBA Finals run in their sight.
Aside from Kyrie Irving’s 39-point, smack-talking, fourth-quarter dominating performance in game 1, the Celtics’ insatiable defense reduced the Nets to rubble. Now, a year removed from Irving stomping on the Celtics’ logo after finishing them in five games in the first round, the Celtics are here to fulfill their potential.
They’re in the best position to win a title than they’ve been in since 2008.
Jayson Tatum was magnificent the entire series. Marcus Smart played like the Marcus Smart we love. Jaylen Brown, Grant Williams, and Al Horford all played key roles in the four wins. Robert Williams returned and looked healthy.
Despite being a favorite to win it all at the beginning of the year, the Nets were simply no match.
Clearly, there’s also more of a winning mentality in the Celtics locker room. On the last day of the regular season, the team was questioned for not intentionally losing to the Memphis Grizzlies, which would’ve fixed the playoff seeding to avoid a first-round matchup with the Nets. Because who would embrace a first-round dance with Durant and Irving?
These guys, that’s who.
The Celtics never questioned their ability to compete against the best teams and players. It showed in these last four games.
Then there was the coaching, which this series showed is something that still matters in today’s NBA. Ime Udoka simply coached circles around Steve Nash, who has failed to get through to the superstars on his team. Nash mostly let Durant and Irving play offense by themselves against the league’s best defense.
Meanwhile, Udoka has the Celtics moving the ball, making defensive switches, diving for loose balls, and overall playing their best basketball of the Tatum and Brown saga.
But it was Tatum, averaging 29.7 points per game this series, who showed everyone why he belongs in the conversation of top-tier NBA stars. We know him for that type of scoring, but Tatum’s defense is ultimately what shined. He guarded Kevin Durant, arguably the best basketball player on earth at the moment, for most of the series and relegated the superstar to a shell of himself. In the first three games, Tatum held Durant to just 2-of-15 shooting when guarding him.
Durant also turned the ball over 21 times through the four games. Contributing defensive switches on Durant were made by Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Grant Williams. Durant was better in Game 4, but the series outcome was a formality by then.
Well, not a complete formality. I refer, of course, to how blatantly obvious it was that the NBA was trying to extend this series by way of poor officiating and the larger league issue this exposes.
The head referee for Monday night’s game was Scott Foster, someone who passionate NBA fans have come to know quite well. Of the last 21 elimination games Foster had refereed before Monday (games where a team had a series lead of 3-0, 3-1, or 3-2), the teams trailing the series won a remarkable 19 of those 21. What a massive coincidence that Foster was sent in for Game 4 with the Celtics up 3-0 when what was supposed to be the longest and most competitive series of the first round had been unexpectedly one-sided.
Another convenient occurrence Monday night was Jayson Tatum fouling out. You may not ever remember that happening before, because it’s only happened one other time. How convenient that the Celtics’ best player fouls out for just the second time in his entire career in what is not only an elimination game but also a game officiated by Foster.
The NBA’s desire to extend playoff series’ through rigged officiating in pursuit of more TV Ratings and ticket sales has become so blatantly obvious it’s a little insulting.
Seriously, the NBA is turning into WWE with this stuff.
The Celtics’ second-round matchup will be the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks, who finished with the same regular-season record (51-31) and also split their four-game season series, although the Bucks won the latter two games. The Celtics will have their work cut out for them whoever they face.
But the Bucks, even with fewer superstars, will surely present a tougher matchup than round 1.
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