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Gary Washburn | On Basketball

‘That’s caffeine pride talking.’ The Nets are coming to Boston, and they had plenty to say about the Celtics

Bruce Brown of the Brooklyn Nets reacted during the second half of the Eastern Conference 2022 Play-In Tournament against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center on Apr. 12, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.Sarah Stier/Getty

NEW YORK – Seven minutes passed between the end of Bruce Brown’s postgame media session after the Brooklyn Nets’ play-in victory over the Cavaliers and when Kevin Durant stepped to the podium to address reporters.

Before he even planted his 7-foot frame into his seat, Durant asked reporters: “What did Bruce Brown say?”

Apparently Durant frequents Twitter or got a text about Brown’s assessment of the Celtics without rim-protecting center Robert Williams.

“Now they don’t have Robert Williams, so they have less of a presence in the paint,” said Brown, a Dorchester native who was wearing a shirt with “Boston” printed on the front. “We can attack Al Horford and [Daniel] Theis. Them not having Robert Williams is huge.”


Durant was visibly annoyed by those statements. It was the first shots fired ahead of a fascinating first-round series beginning Sunday at TD Garden. The future Hall of Famer tried brushing Brown’s comments off as young bravado, but they can’t be taken back as the Celtics prepare for a flawed but alluring Nets team.

“That’s caffeine pride talking, taking some before the game,” Durant said of Brown. “Them two dudes [Horford and Theis] can do the same stuff [as Williams]. It ain’t going to be that easy, I’ll tell you that.”

Durant was asked later why Brown’s comments bothered him.

Kevin Durant wasn't thrilled about what Bruce Brown said regarding the Celtics.Sarah Stier/Getty

“We respect our opponents,” he said. “We don’t need to talk about what we’re going to do to them. I just don’t like that. But that’s just how Bruce is. He keeps the same energy throughout the whole season. We don’t need to say [things] like that. We just go out there and hoop.”

And you thought Kyrie Irving would get the loudest boos Sunday at TD Garden?

Irving and Durant combined for 59 points on 21-for-31 shooting Tuesday as the Nets held off a late Cleveland rally for the 115-108 win at Barclays Center, earning a playoff matchup with the second-seeded Celtics. Brooklyn began the game looking like an NBA Finals contender, scoring 40 points in the opening quarter on nearly 71 percent shooting for a 20-point lead.


The next three quarters showed why many pundits will likely pick the Celtics to win the series. The Nets looked uninterested at times, committed 13 turnovers in the final three quarters, allowed the Cavaliers countless open shots [many of which missed] and then relied on Irving and Durant heroics to seal the win.

It was hardly a masterful performance but the Irving-Durant combination is what makes the Nets so damn irresistible to pick for an upset.

Irving hit his first 12 shots, despite fasting for Ramadan, where he does not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. And as much as Irving has made headlines with his barbs about his time in Boston or criticism of Boston fans, even he was completely respectful of the current Celtics.

“It starts with really slowing [Jayson Tatum] down,” he said. “He’s got a great feel of playing against us. And everyone else around is very complimentary to that attack when JT’s getting doubled and Marcus Smart’s pushing the pace and [Jaylen Brown] is playing well, hitting shots. Al Horford is dominating offensive rebounds and Daniel Theis filling in for Robert Williams is big.

“It’s going to be a great test as I said. I know that team very well and they know us very well. It’s going to be a back and forth. Once you throw that ball in the air, you’re going to see some spectacular basketball and I’m just looking forward to it.”


When asked how the Nets slow down Tatum, Durant said: “That’s a tough question. He’s one of those players, you just got to play hard and see what happens. He’s just so talented and skilled and efficient at what he does.

“Staying disciplined, playing together, and playing with passion. I don’t have the schemes or strategy to break it down to you but that’s what every team has to bring if you want to win in the postseason.”

The “We Want Boston” chants that began briefly in the third quarter, with the Nets up 20, increased late in the fourth when the fate had been decided.

That chant wasn’t as loud or raucous as it could have been. The crowd cooled as the home team had to hold off the erratic Cavaliers in the final minutes.

That appeared to dampen the enthusiasm of the Brooklyn faithful, who saw first-hand a team that can dominate at times, turn lethargic at others, and then rely on their star power when it counts.

Kyrie Irving hit his first 12 shots Tuesday night against the Cavs.Sarah Stier/Getty

The Nets winning makes for the most intriguing first-round series in years. A team that held championship aspirations in October but has mostly made headlines with its chaos and dysfunction faces a Boston team that turned itself from one of the league’s biggest disappointments to title contender in the span of weeks.


The Celtics chose this matchup Sunday. They could have rested their starters against the Memphis Grizzlies, increased their chances of losing and faced the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Instead, Udoka played his frontline players and the Celtics dominated, almost as a warning shot 215 miles southwest to Brooklyn. The Celtics asked for this, and the Nets, as tantalizing but imperfect as they are, will be at TD Garden on Sunday.

“Really impressed with the Celtics and the job Ime has done,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “They’ve been able to build on that continuity. The group’s been together quite a while and they’ve made some tweaks and adjustments that I think have improved their team on both ends of the floor. It will be a great challenge for us and for a new group to play a team like that, that’s terrific at both ends. I hope that’s something that brings out the best in us.”

The question is whether the best of the Nets beat the best of the Celtics. Boston isn’t the same defensive team without Williams, an All-Defense candidate.

Brown quickly pointed that out, leaked Brooklyn’s strategy, and kicked off what should be an intense four days of preparation for Udoka, who will relish this challenge with the quiet confidence that has turned the Celtics into a legitimate Finals contender.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.