After a rough, up-and-down regular season filled with key injuries, the Kyrie Irving vaccine controversy and massive roster upheaval, the Brooklyn Nets have clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
That means a date with the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2022 National Basketball Association playoffs.
It will be a rematch of last year’s first round, when Brooklyn waxed the Celtics in five easy games.
This year, the scenario will be flipped, as the Celtics were the seventh seed then.
Most consider Boston to be the favorite to win this series, but it only has a slight edge in the odds, giving Brooklyn an immense opportunity to move forward into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Why are the Nets poised to pull off an upset?
3. The Nets Have The Best Player In The Series
As he nears the three-year anniversary of his gut-wrenching Achilles injury in the 2019 NBA Finals, Durant put up incredible numbers on the season: 29.9 points per game and 6.4 assists per game while shooting 51.8 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from 3-point range.
Yes, he only played in 55 games this season, but those numbers are still beastly.
Durant is also still a high-level defender, as evidenced by his 0.9 steals and blocks per game this season.
He can go off with the best of NBA players and single-handedly win games or at least give his team a great shot at victory, as he did last year.
In Game 5 of the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals versus the Milwaukee Bucks, Durant turned in 49 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, and two blocks while making 16-of-23 shots in a 114-108 Brooklyn win.
this performance by kevin durant will never be forgotten, putting up almost 50 points against the bucks in game 5 pic.twitter.com/TIYVtKE6Ro
— GT ❃ (@IL0VELATlNAS) August 8, 2021
Then in Game 7, he put in 48 points and came within a toenail of sending the Nets to the conference finals.
2. Brooklyn Has The Most Clutch Player In The Series
For the last several years, Irving has been considered arguably the NBA’s most dangerous player come money time.
He seemed to cement that reputation by hitting the decisive 3-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals to lift the Cleveland Cavaliers to the world championship.
Irving has an elite ability to create his own shot, either on the perimeter or while penetrating to the hoop, and he could be the most skilled ball-handler of all time.
This season, he averaged 27.4 points per game, which is tied for his career-high, while shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point land, which is a career-best mark, as well as dishing off 5.8 assists a game.
With New York City mayor Eric Adams wiping out a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that had been in effect in all five boroughs, Irving can now be a full-time player again and refocus his attention on his team.
He went off in Tuesday’s play-in game against the Cavaliers, making every single shot he took in the first half.
— DukeLights (@duke_lights) April 13, 2022
1. Brooklyn’s Defense May Be Improving
Defense has always been the bone of contention for the Nets.
But there may be signs of improvement on that front.
In the last 15 games of the regular season, Brooklyn had a defensive rating of 113.1, which was ninth in the NBA during that span.
It held the Cavaliers to 108 points and just under 45 percent shooting in the play-in contest on Tuesday, and although one may say that those aren’t impressive numbers, given that the Cavs are an anemic offensive team, they are a step in the right direction.
If the Nets don’t allow the Celtics to reach 120 points in any game in this series, they will put themselves in position to take the series.