Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets travel to Boston on Wednesday to face the Celtics in a tantalizing clash between Eastern Conference contenders.
The Celtics currently have the best record in the NBA with a 36-15 record, while the 31-19 Nets are the fourth seed.
Fresh off the road to the NBA Finals, Boston has looked like a genuine contender from day one, building an elite, championship-level statistical profile.
Arguably, the eventual champion will show signs of elite play on at least one side of the ball throughout the regular season. Last year’s champions, the Golden State Warriors, have established an identity in the top two defense. In 2021, the Milwaukee Bucks were top 5 offensively and top 10 defensively. The 2020 Los Angeles Lakers possessed the third best defense.
This year’s Celtics team is in a rare air of being in the top five for both offensive and defensive efficiency, with two All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and Defensive Player of the Year. is in Marcus Smart and his fellow All-Defensive selection Robert Williams III.
Games and series are often determined by which team has the best players, but the Celtics are bolstered by the continued rise of Tatum, now a legitimate MVP contender.
This season, the 24-year-old is averaging career highs in points per game (31.1), rebounds (8.7), assists (4.4), field goals made (10.1), tries (21.8) and 3-points made (3.3). doing. and attempts (9.3), free throws made (7.6), attempts (8.8) – his best on the field since his rookie season. was recorded.
The records, profiles and talent of the Celtics’ elite, combined with the fact that they will be playing in front of home fans, will make them favorites on Wednesday.
There’s no question that the Nets have gone into a mini-tailspin since Kevin Durant suffered a knee injury on January 8 against the Miami Heat.
Ranking as the 5th-best offense and 10th-best defense of the season, both units are mediocre definitions because of this past stretch of ranking 19th on offense and 18th on defense. , both have fallen.
It’s not the ex-Celtic Irving’s fault who enjoys a great individual run. He has recorded his seven-game streak of at least 26 points and six assists, and the Nets dropped him in his next six games without Durant after dropping his first four. 4 wins.
Also to Brooklyn’s advantage is the fact that they are the NBA’s second best team away from home this season. Meanwhile, his 16-11 record in the road only beats his 17-9 record with the Celtics.
Unfortunately for the Nets, Boston also have few problems at home. They possess the fifth-best home record (19-6), and Thursday’s overtime loss to the New York Knicks was TD Garden’s first loss since December 21.
Boston Celtics – Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White
Simply put, the Nets only have one offensive end superstar without Durant in action. The Celtics have the perfect player to make Irving’s life miserable. Or at least they usually do.
Smart became the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since “The Glove” Gary Payton in 1995-96. His influence on Irving has been evident in recent matchups. ankle injury.
Malcolm Brogdon, one of the frontrunners for Sixth Man of the Year, will look to pick up where Smart left off as he takes his place as the lineup’s top defensive guard with the help of Derrick White .
In his last four games against the Celtics, Irving has reached 20 points only once and finished with the following shooting performances: 4 of 19, 8 of 18, 7 of 21 and 9 of 24.
Brooklyn Nets – Bench Shooter
Irving is the obvious focus and engine driving the Nets, but they could need one of their shooters off the bench to get hot.
In Monday’s win over the Lakers, Sparkplug second-year Cam Thomas and veteran Patty Mills combined for 21 points and shot 11-of-8 from long range. In the previous game, in a rivalry victory over the New York Knicks, the trio of Thomas, Edmund Sumner and Yuta Watanabe combined to make his 6-of-6 3-pointers.
Watanabe in particular could be a game changer as he has a 49% completion rate from deep. That’s the highest number in the league for a player who averaged more than one shot per game.
A key battle – how will Brooklyn slow down Boston’s wings?
As previously mentioned, the Nets were in the top 10 defensemen this season, but the 7-foot Durant is definitely gone. and 6-foot-8 TJ Warren.
When it comes to fielding the All-Star duo of Tatum and Brown, they are severely understaffed.Tatum is the exact kind Brooklyn had in mind when he traded Utah a first-round pick for Royce O’Neal. matchup, but they could be stuck with Brown’s Joe Harris.
Watanabe, who is 6-foot-8, and perhaps even veteran Markieff Morris, who is 6-foot-9, will get a chance off the bench, but Brooklyn’s remaining perimeter options are simply too small.
face to face
Since early February 2022, the Celtics have gone undefeated in nine matches against the Nets, including a clean 4-0 sweep in the first round of the playoffs last season.
Boston won both head-to-head matches this campaign by 11 points.