4 takeaways as the Celtics take stranglehold on the Nets with victory in Game 3

Celtics

“The playoffs are another beast. Seeing this happen in the playoffs is great for us.”

Celtics Nets game 3

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics shoots against the Brooklyn Nets during the third game of the Eastern Conference First Round. Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics pulled away from the Nets in Game 3 on Saturday, claiming a commanding 3-0 lead in their first round with a 109-103 victory.

1. We will get into the countless things the Celtics did right and there is a long list of them. But we’ll probably start with this quote from Blake Griffin, who played his first minutes in a long time and showed more fighting than most of his teammates.

“I just feel like we did not have the right spirit throughout the match,” Griffin said afterwards.

Saturday was the entire Nets’ season, boiled down to 48 minutes, and they had few answers for a Celtics team determined to make life difficult for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Bruce Brown was excellent and Griffin played pretty well (more on that in a minute), but Durant took just 11 shots and scored 16 points while Irving finished 6-to-17 from the floor.

Irving is obviously an important piece in the Nets’ puzzle, but he’s not Kevin Durant. The theory that the Nets could win this series was based on Durant’s ability to slow down Jayson Tatum and beat the Celtics’ acclaimed defense. He has not really been able to do that either, which is less of an accusation against him and more of a reason to buy into the Celtics as a candidate. They can slow down Durant – one of the NBA’s very best players and goal scorers – to a claim, and they apparently broke the will of two players with championship experience. They faced the 7-seed no one else wanted to play and they now answer post-game questions about staying focused for a close-out game with a big lead.

What can this team not do?

2. Early in his career, Jayson Tatum made many comparisons to Paul George, and it probably explored his potential. He scored 39 points against the Nets on Saturday, but his defense really stood out – Tatum does the opposite of what the Nets need from Durant. On Saturday, he once again made life difficult for the Nets star, while excelling at the other end. Tatum also finished with six steals and six assists – a sparkling statistical line, though he did not shoot very effectively.

Tatum has been a star for a while, but this may be the first playoff game where we see him transform into a superstar without question.

“The playoffs are another beast,” said Ime Udoka. “Seeing this happen in the playoffs is great for us.”

3. Tatum will get a lot of well-deserved credit for Saturday’s win, but Jaylen Brown was excellent in the fourth quarter. Brown finished with 23 points on 9-to-16 shots, and when Griffin looked to give the Celtics some real trouble, Brown was the one attacking him at the other end, keeping the Nets at arm’s length. Griffin kept the Nets attached, but he could not help them gain ground because he could not even get close to covering Jaylen Brown on a switch.

Before the series, most analysts seemed to think the Celtics had the second-best and fourth-best players. After three matches, it looks a lot like they have No. 1 and 3.

4. Robert Williams returned to the floor for the first time since undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus. In 15 minutes, he scored two points, snatched two rebounds and at times discouraged the Nets from running with his presence.

Still, the Celtics can be doubly encouraged by his debut. First, according to Ime Udoka, Williams felt fine and looked good. He could have played more, but the team would not risk anything.

“No pain, no setbacks,” Williams said. “So just thank you for that.”

There was no need for risks either. Perhaps just as encouraging for the Celtics: Williams did not really affect the game and they still claimed a 3-0 league lead. The Celtics need one more win to sweep, they have home-court advantages in the second round and they have not fully exploited their potential in the playoffs.

The Celtics and Nets meet in Game 4 on Monday at 7 p.m.

We will have more takeaways later tonight.

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