It will be a rematch, technically, when the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets open their first-round series at TD Garden on Sunday, but this is nothing like last season. Some of the strategic stuff is the same, I guess — both teams like to switch, both want to limit the other team’s easy stuff — but Boston now has the best defense in the NBA (but is missing a major piece of it, for now), Brooklyn has a new Big 3 (but is missing the new guy, for now) and the Celtics’ new coach was on the Nets’ staff last time.
In-season roster changes mean that only one of the regular-season matchups is relevant: A 126-120 Boston win on March 6, in which Jayson Tatum exploded for 54 points. It’s worth noting that Robert Williams III, who will miss at least the beginning of this series with a knee injury, played 37 minutes that afternoon, and LaMarcus Aldridge, who was not in the Nets’ rotation at the end of the regular season and didn’t appear in their play-in game, played 23 minutes.
Without Williams, is the Celtics’ switch-heavy defense more vulnerable against Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s isolations? Probably, but their defense is still excellent. Without Ben Simmons, is Brooklyn simply too small to deal with Boston’s wings? Maybe, but Simmons could come back. Would this be an amazing conference finals matchup if both teams were whole? Absolutely. But here we are.
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