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Dan Shaughnessy

Jayson Tatum vs. Kevin Durant is no contest, and the Celtics have the Nets on the ropes

Jayson Tatum (39 points) easily outshined Kevin Durant in Game 3.Al Bello/Getty

NEW YORK — The Celtics beat the dysfunctional Brooklyn Nets, 109-103, at Barclays Center Saturday night to take a 3-0 lead in their first-round, best-of-seven series.

Jayson Tatum (a game-high 39 points) is officially better than lethargic Kevin Durant (16 points, 11 shots, two free throws) and it looks as if Brooklyn has packed it in for the summer. The Celtics should be able to close out the bowser Nets Monday at Barclays.

It’s not officially over, of course, but I haven’t been this sure of anything since I declared that the Red Sox were finished after they lost Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, 19-8. No NBA team has done what that Sox team did — come back from an 0-3 deficit. And the circus tent Nets are not the guys to do it. Kyrie Irving effectively ceded the series after losing Game 2 in Boston when he said of the Celtics, “Their window is now . . . "

This certainly feels as if it is the Celtics’ time. They look ready to take on either the defending world champion Milwaukee Bucks or the Chicago Bulls in Round 2. The Celtics would have home-court advantage in a conference semifinal. And they will have their full team. Pogo stick center Rob Williams (2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block, 15½ minutes) returned Saturday from his meniscus surgery and Boston will be at full strength for the next round.


“This is a big win, but it’s not over,’’ Tatum told ESPN. “We’ve got to win four.’’

A defeated Durant could only mumble, “Just not making the right decisions. Overall, we’re just losing . . . That’s a [barnyard expletive] game, man, a [barnyard expletive] game.’’

The Celtics have been the best team in the NBA since January and now it seems as if the Larger Forces are at work in almost old-school-New England Patriot-fashion. The Bucks are playing without sharpshooter Khris Middleton (sprained MCL) and Philadelphia behemoth Joel Embiid has a sprained right thumb. Over in the Western Conference, Phoenix’ Devin Booker has a hamstring and Dallas’ Luka Doncic has missed playoff games with a calf injury.


It’s right out of the ancient Bill Belichick/Sun Tzu playbooks: “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.’’

Everything is coming up Green in NBA America. Buying into the message of rookie coach Ime Udoka, the Celts look like a legitimate threat to win their 18th NBA championship, which would put them in their rightful spot atop the NBA’s all-time title roll call (the Lakers and Celtics both have 17). In the first three games, we have seen the changing of the royal guard in the NBA Palace of Greats: Tatum Saturday had 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 6 steals to go with his 39 points. Durant has 19 baskets and 17 turnovers in the series.

In with the young. Out with the old. Tatum in. Durant out.

Missing persons Williams and Brooklyn Iron Man Ben Simmons were topics of conversation in the hours before the game. Williams had knee surgery March 27 and Udoka said the Time Lord would not start, but would get about 24 minutes of action in “short stints.’’

Williams came through nicely.

“I felt good,’’ said the Time Lord. “We got the Dub. So I’m feeling a lot better. No pain, no setback.’’


Overmatched Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said Simmons, who had not played in almost a year (back and mental health issues), and has not been seen on the court in a Nets uniform, would not play Game 3, but still might suck it up and make an appearance in Game 4 Monday.

“I’m not sure how he would be able to adapt to the environment,’’ said Nash. “It’s really a matter of Ben’s readiness to play.’’

The question now is, “why bother?’’

The coach also noted that the Nets have had their whole team together (sans Simmons) for only 10-12 games all season.

Irving (no relation to Tanner Houck) is the primary reason the Nets couldn’t have their team together most of the season and let the record show that Irving gets a lot of pregame boos in his own gym. His 10-point, mail-it-in performance in Game 2 in Boston probably contributed to the bad juju (16 points on 6-of-17 shooting, 0 for 7 on 3-pointers) in Game 3.

Brooklyn got off quickly, taking a 12-5 lead and forcing a Boston timeout after Durant drained a three on his first shot attempt. The Celtics roared back after the timeout and led, 30-25, after one. Durant made both of his shots in the quarter, but Tatum got the better of his elder, winning several one-on-one matchups, scoring a dozen in the first. It felt like more changing of the royal guard in the NBA palace.


Williams skated his first shift in four weeks in the first half, blocked an Andre Drummond shot at the rim, and threw down a lob for an easy 2. Just like the old days. The Nets kept turning the ball over and a bucket by Payton Pritchard (10 points in the second!) gave the Celts a 12-point lead.

The Nets must have felt their season slipping away. You could certainly see Durant’s frustration. He was tagged with an offensive foul for pushing off on Grant Williams. Boston led, 53-50, at intermission. Durant had only 7 points on five shots (no free throws) in the first half.

The relentless Celtics pushed their lead back to 10 (72-62) in the third. It got so bad for Brooklyn that Blake Griffin checked in late in the third quarter. It was Griffin’s first appearance since April 2. He played zero meaningful minutes in March. Boston led, 81-72, after three.

Surprisingly, rusty Griffin (8 points) made some big shots, but Jaylen Brown (23 points) and Tatum took over the game, draining one key bucket after another. When Tatum converted a 3-point play off a breakaway, the Celtics led, 96-84, with 6:25 left. The lead was up to 15 with less than three minutes to play.

Bring on the Bucks. Or the Bulls. The Nets are toast and the Celtics are playing the best ball in the NBA. At precisely the right time.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.