Why Celtics Fans Should Be Rooting for the Nets in the NBA’s Play-In Tournament

If seventh-seeded Brooklyn beats the No. 8 Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, it'll be Nets-Celtics in the first round of the playoffs

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket past Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics
Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket past Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics.
Adam Glanzman/Getty

“To be the man,” as Richard Morgan Fliehr, known professionally as name Ric Flair, used to say, “You gotta beat the man.”

As relevant as that line of thinking may or may not actually be to professional wrestling because the sport is as real as Santa Claus, it certainly is applicable to professional basketball.

From Michael Jordan and the Bulls finally beating the Detroit Pistons on the way to breaking through for an NBA title to the LeBron James and the Miami Heat getting past the Boston Celtics on their way to a championship, the NBA has a long history of teams needing to advance past a longtime rival on the way to the promised land.

For this year’s version of the Celtics, almost a carbon copy of the club that lost to the Nets 4-1 in the opening round of the playoffs last season, a victory over Brooklyn in the first round of this season’s postseason could be exactly what Boston needs to start a championship drive. Of course, for that to have a chance of happening the seventh-seeded Nets need to beat the No. 8 Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday in the NBA’s play-in tournament — and that’s what Celtics fans should be rooting for.

The Nets would unquestionably have the best player in the series in Kevin Durant, but the Celtics probably have the second-best player in Jayson Tatum and may have the third-best in Jaylen Brown. Kyrie Irving, who was a teammate of Tatum and Brown on the Celtics before he turned heel and forced his way to Brooklyn to team up with Durant, also certainly has a claim to being the third-best player in the series. (Given how Irving has handled playing in Boston since his departure, that storyline alone will make this potential matchup juicy.)

No matter how you view those four players and their respective supporting casts, a victory for Brown and Tatum over Durant and Irving, both of whom have won championships but not with each other, would be a huge step forward for Boston’s young stars and could provide them with the confidence and swagger they need to get over the proverbial hump. Instead of looking up to Durant and Irving as NBA royalty, Tatum and Brown can surpass them, at least for a season. Should that happen, perhaps the guard will remain changed and it will be the Celtics, not the Nets, who are the favorites to win the NBA championship next season.

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