Considering the names on the Nets’ marquee, it was only proper for them to get top billing heading into the 2021-22 season of the National Basketball Association. Unfortunately, they then went through a tumultuous campaign that all but negated their seeming talent advantage. From the injury to vital cog Joe Harris to COVID-19 protocols decommissioning All-Star Kyrie Irving to the departure of disgruntled star James Harden to the issues surrounding new acquisition Ben Simmons, they found themselves needing to hurdle one obstacle after another. All the same, respect for the otherworldly skills of Kevin Durant had pundits deeming them the opponents nobody wanted to face in the first round.
Not the Celtics, though. From the outset, head coach Ime Udoka made clear that the green and white would not be “running from anybody.” And taking off from his pronouncements, his charges made sure they walked the talk. Against their impressive chemistry and steely determination, the Nets wound up buckling under pressure — not just bowing out of the first round, but getting swept. The supposedly unstoppable force that was Durant proved eminently vulnerable, making only 32 of 83 field-goal attempts in the four-game series. Meanwhile, Irving was marginally better with a 28-of-63 clip, but just six of 13 in the clincher.
To be sure, the Celtics’ suffocating defense caused the Nets’ ostensibly passive output. As good as Durant and Irving may be in isolation, the extremely coordinated coverage limited their effectiveness off the dribble. And they certainly weren’t helped by their coaches, who had them operating out of predictable sets. As good a playmaker Nash was in his heyday, he appeared overwhelmed by the moment. Given the unceremonious exit of the black and white, it’s fair to argue that his job is on the line; he was middling at best in his second year with a clipboard in hand, all the factors beyond his control notwithstanding.
True, the set-to ended with the third-lowest point differential for a sweep in league history. Then again, even casual observers who managed to see each game would not be hard-pressed to conclude that the Celtics were superior in every aspect. There’s a reason the Nets were blanked despite the opportunities that came their way. And as they take stock of their future, they would do well to acknowledge their frailties. Great players on a team do not always a great team make, and they just showed why.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.