Nets advance past shorthanded Celtics in five games, but much tougher test awaits in Bucks

It took five games, perhaps one longer than some expected, but the Brooklyn Nets were able to advance past the Boston Celtics to move on to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 123-109 victory in Game 5. The Celtics would have been overmatched in the series at full strength, and they were far from that. They were without Jaylen Brown for the entirety of the series due to a torn ligament in his wrist, and Kemba Walker missed the final two games of the series because of a knee injury. If not for a monster 50-point performance from Jayson Tatum in Game 3, the series very likely would have been a sweep. 

So, now, it’s back to the drawing board for Boston over the offseason as the Nets will advance. While the Celtics might not have been the toughest test, the series allowed the Nets to develop some much-needed on-court chemistry, especially between their trio of stars — Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. That triumvirate was downright dominant against Boston, and in the process, they became the first trio to ever record 200-plus points over two consecutive playoff games. Together, they averaged 85.2 points per game against the Celtics — that’s the most by a trio in a playoff series, ever. 

When three of the best offensive players of the era team up, this sort of huge offensive output can be expected. Who knew? From watching the first round you’d never know it, but those three played together in less than 10 total games during the regular season, so it’s good that they were able to get some reps in before the competition ramps up because it’s about to ramp up in a big way. 

Brooklyn’s reward for besting Boston is a matchup with the No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks, who vanquished the Miami Heat in four games and looked every bit like a legitimate contender while doing it. With their own trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, the Bucks might be the team best-equipped to defend Brooklyn’s stars, at least on paper. All three of those guys are long, athletic and able to switch with ease, and they promise to make life difficult for Durant, Harden and Irving. After all, Antetokounmpo is one of the few players to successfully block Durant’s jumper. 

They’re no slouches on the offensive end, either. During the regular season, the Bucks had the NBA’s fifth-rated offense. The offseason addition of Holiday has been huge for Milwaukee, as he has provided them with excellent defense while also taking some of the scoring and playmaking responsibility off the shoulders of Antetokounmpo and Middleton. Where they’ve had two creators down the stretch of playoff games in the past, they now have three. And while Brooklyn is still building chemistry, the Bucks were able to do so over the course of the season. 

Plus, many of Milwaukee’s key contributors have played together for several seasons. That familiarity could ultimately be an advantage for the Bucks. Or maybe Brooklyn’s sheer firepower will be too much for Milwaukee to handle. Either way, the second-round series between the two Eastern Conference heavyweights promises to be a high-level one. Both teams look poised to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season, so to get to see them go head-to-head before even the conference finals is a treat for basketball fans.

If the Celtics were a quiz for the Nets, then the Bucks are a final exam (albeit not technically final, if they win), and the same could be said for the Heat and Nets for Milwaukee. Neither the Nets nor Bucks were really challenged in the first round, but that’s about to change. 

“We got our work cut out for us,” Durant said of the matchup. “May the best team win.”  

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