NEW YORK — Did anybody really think Kyrie Irving and the Nets actually wanted to come back to Boston?
The Celtics finished off Brooklyn’s latter day Bums Monday, beating the Nets, 116-112, to complete a four-game sweep of a team that was favored to win the NBA championship at the start of this season. It was sweet revenge for last spring’s series loss to Brooklyn when annoying Kyrie stomped on the Celtic logo at the Garden.
All of Boston and NBA America expected Dem Bums to roll over one last time against the surging Celts. It would be not fair to say Brooklyn quit in this one, but the dysfunctional Nets fell behind by as many as 15 and never led. They go down as the Greatest Dynasty That Never Was.
Meanwhile, the Celtics have reason to feel this could be a long, magical spring. Jayson Tatum (29), Jaylen Brown (22) and Marcus Smart (20) perhaps went from Boyz II Men in this series, standing tall and pushing back every time the vaunted Nets threatened (all three touched the ball in the final three seconds of the electric Game 1 win). Tatum vaulted past Kevin Durant in the NBA’s current-day star pantheon, and his teammates made sure they held the lead after Tatum fouled out late in the fourth on a hideous call by the notorious zebra Scott Foster (the Ángel Hernández of the NBA).
“I’m not surprised how I played,’’ said Tatum. “I do feel like I’m one of the best players.’’
Durant snapped out of his funk in the finale, finishing with 39 points, but Boston made him earn every basket. Underrated Celtic coach Ime Udoka threw everyone but Ty Law at Durant in the series and I think Bill Polian petitioned the NBA to demand that the Celts stop playing roughhouse with KD. Durant shot 39 percent (32 for 83) in the four losses.
Udoka played a year of college ball at the University of San Francisco. Those of you steeped in Celtic lore know that USF was the college home of Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. All these years later, the San Francisco pipeline has delivered a man who stresses defense and dignity in the same manner as Russell and Jones — who won championships as players and head coaches of the Celtics.
Boston’s rookie head coach was questioned by many (me included), when he tried to win every game in the last week of the season, a strategy that earned Boston what looked like a difficult No. 7 seed in Brooklyn.
“We’re not running from anybody,’’ Udoka said after the sweep. “We wanted to play our best basketball going into the playoffs.’’
Before the finale, I searched far and wide at Barclays, seeking anyone who would go Full Kevin Millar and say, “Don’t let us win tonight. If we win this one, we got KD and Kyrie going back to Boston on Wednesday and then Game 6 back in our house Friday and then on Sunday, anything can happen! Maybe that’ll be the day Ben Simmons decides to play basketball again.’’
In all seriousness, there must be a reason no NBA team has ever crawled out of an 0-3 hole. In the 75-year history of the Association, NBA teams are 0-144 when falling behind, 0-3, in a best-of-seven. A full 90 of those losers rolled over and got swept. Which seems like the only rational thing to do when you fall behind, 3-0.
“We got up 3-0 against the Bucks in 1984,’’ recalled Cedric Maxwell. “That was the only time I wanted to sweep somebody because they had swept us the year before. I remember being on the bench in Game 4 begging K. C. to put me back in the game. Paul Mokeski — Paul Mokeski of all people — torched Larry and they beat us. We had to come home to win it in five.’’
Sox fans know that the Curse-busting Franconamen of 2004 are the only baseball team to recover from an 0-3 deficit. It’s happened four times in hockey, including 2010 when the Philadelphia Flyers came back against the (gulp) Bruins.
At this hour, it’s hard to believe Brooklyn was a preseason favorite to win the title. The Nets were a joke all season. Irving blew up the team with his “personal freedom” anti-vax posture, Durant was sideline with an injury for six weeks, James Harden shot his way out of town, and Simmons never played after the trade deadline blockbuster.
Durant said, “no regrets,’’ but he has to be wondering, “why did I leave the Warriors for this dumpster fire?’’
Kyrie spoke of “all the things that happened,” but was unaccountable, as ever, and took no responsibility for blowing up Brooklyn’s season (shame on any team that gives this man a contract extension for more than a single season).
The Nets went old school on their night of desperation, stamping their retro logo on center court and rocking uniforms made famous by the likes of Mike Gminski and Micheal Ray Richardson.
Micheal Ray, you might remember, is the guy who famously said, “The ship be sinkin’,’’ when he was a member of the Knicks.
It’s a little hard to believe the way this series deteriorated for Brooklyn. Before it began, many of us thought it might be one of the greatest first-round series in league history. Ex-Celtic champ Kendrick Perkins said, “It feels like the Finals.’’
That proved true in Game 1, which had a million lead changes and ended in spectacular fashion with Smart ending a mad scramble and making a spectacular pass to Tatum for a game-winning, buzzer-beating layup.
When Brooklyn bolted to a 17-point lead in Game 2, it felt as if the series might live up to its billing.
But things changed when the Celtics roared back in Game 2. Durant kept playing worse and Irving was a non-factor in Games 2 and 3. Every time the Nets threatened, Boston stole the ball or made a shot and crushed the small hearts of the Nets. Boston won the four games by an aggregate 18 points.
The Celtics led from wire to wire in Game 4. The Nets made a mad rush late in the fourth, cutting the lead to 1 point with 1:28 left, but Al Horford made a huge follow-up and three free throws by Smart sealed it.
For comic relief, Brooklyn center Nic Claxton missed his first 10 free throws of the night before breaking his slump late in the third.
When Claxton finally converted, there was lots of mock applause. Sort of a metaphor for the Nets season.
The Celtics. They are on to the conference semifinals, probably against the world champion Bucks.