Nets advance to face Bucks after finishing off Celtics

The Nets advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs after defeating the Celtics on Tuesday.

First Kyrie Irving stepped on Boston’s leprechaun logo. Then he and the Nets stomped on the Celtics, gentleman’s sweeping them out of the playoffs.

Two years after bolting Boston for Brooklyn — and just two days after getting grazed on the head by a water bottle thrown from the stands at TD Garden — Irving got some closure Tuesday. And he closed out the Celtics.

An electrifying Irving and a dominant James Harden led Brooklyn to a 123-109 first-round Game 5 win before 14,993 jubilant fans at Barclays Center.

It was the Nets’ biggest home crowd since March 8, 2020 — Jacque Vaughn’s first game as interim coach and their last Barclays Center tilt before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended last season. And Brooklyn didn’t disappoint.

“I think it’d be nice for him to finish this and get that whole Boston experience in a sense behind him,” Steve Nash said of Irving. “I’d imagine there would be another element of closure, to finish the series off.”

The Big 3 of Irving, Harden and Kevin Durant sent Brooklyn on to a second-round showdown with No. 3 seed Milwaukee, and sent the Celtics back home.

James Harden and the Nets knocked off the Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

It’s a place the Nets had no desire to return to for what would’ve surely been an emotionally charged Game 6 Thursday.

“I hope the urgency is there just because we’re competitors. I don’t think anyone is worrying about having to go back to Boston — I think everyone is like, ‘Let’s end this now,’ ” Nash said. “We have an opportunity to win the series. Other than the water bottle and a few incidents I’m unaware of, it’s great.

“Let’s hope we have a strong performance and mentality, and can end this series. But it’s not like an extra motivation not to go back to Boston. We have an opportunity to win at home and end this thing. That should be our motive.”

Brooklyn looked motivated throughout.

Harden put on a masterclass, notching the first 30-point triple-double in Nets playoff history with 34 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. Irving poured in 25 points and Durant added 24. And the Nets defense — maligned for much of the season — was good enough against the shorthanded Celtics.

Boston was without Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker and Robert Williams. It let the Nets key on Jayson Tatum, making him work for his 32 points by shooting 12 of 27. They held Boston to just 43.5 percent shooting overall and 11 of 40 from deep.

“They can be the toughest games, no matter what,” Nash said. “The team with their back against the wall, they have nothing to lose. They have one last chance and they can get incredibly hot and confident and the rim can get big because they know that summer’s around the corner and this is their last chance.

“It can be the hardest game to close out. I think it’s a test to your approach and your mentality and just having that competitive fire and will to do the job and not relent in any way and not take anything for granted.”

Summer is here for the Celtics. Saturday’s conference semis loom for Brooklyn and a date against a Milwaukee team that swept reigning Eastern Conference champ Miami. The Nets were authoritative in getting there.

After briefly trailing by six out of the gate — and 21-19 with three minutes left in the first on a Tatum turnaround — they seized control with a 14-3 run and never gave it up.

Nic Claxton’s dunk off a Joe Harris feed gave Brooklyn a 33-24 cushion.

The Nets led 59-51 at the break after holding Boston to just 36.5 percent shooting, and 6 of 26 from deep.

Durant found Bruce Brown for a turnaround hook shot and 73-59 lead with 8:04 remaining in the third quarter. Then his free throws 43 seconds later made it 75-61.

The Nets easily held Boston at arm’s length. With a far tougher test in Milwaukee looming — and Giannis Antetokounmpo having dominated them in a pair of Bucks wins May 2 and May 4 — they even got some work in on their 2-3 matchup zone.

They didn’t need it Tuesday night.

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Brian Lewis

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