Jayson Tatum scored 29 points as the Boston Celtics completed a 4-0 series sweep to eliminate the Brooklyn Nets from the NBA playoffs on Monday.
Kevin Durant delivered a towering 39-point display for the Nets, but it was not enough to stop the powerful Celtics’ line-up from sealing a 116-112 victory at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Boston’s balanced offense and battle-hardened defense once again proved too much for Brooklyn, who trailed from start to finish as a late rally from the home side came up just short.
“We knew who we were facing, we knew how talented they were, and we knew it was going to be a dogfight,” said Tatum, who endured a nervous final two minutes after fouling out as the Nets chipped away at the Celtics lead.
“It was 4-0 but each game was back and forth and tough. We just believed in ourselves. We took it one game at a time and didn’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” Tatum added.
Tatum was one of five Celtics players in double figures, with Jaylen Brown also coming up big with 22 points and point guard Marcus Smart adding 20 points with 11 assists.
Grant Williams delivered four three-pointers off the bench in a 14-point haul while Al Horford added 13.
Second seeds Boston will now face either the defending NBA champions Milwaukee or Chicago in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
The Celtics’ clean sweep of Brooklyn -– tipped as championship contenders before the season -– is all the more remarkable given Boston’s indifferent early season form.
As recently as February, Boston were languishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, well outside the automatic playoff places.
“It took us a minute, but when we got our full team, we were right there,” Tatum said. “We stayed composed, we stayed together, we didn’t lose sight of what we were trying to accomplish and we haven’t looked back since.”
The Nets will go back to the drawing board after a season that promised so much ended in a first-round exit from the playoffs.
While Durant delivered his best performance of the postseason, Kyrie Irving was restricted to 20 points and just five assists while Seth Curry added 23 points.
“Give credit to the Celtics, they’re an incredible team. They’ve got a chance to do incredible things in the rest of the playoffs,” Durant said afterwards.
“There’s a lot of stuff that may factor in to why we lose, but they were just a better team.”
Raptors, Mavs romp
In other playoff action, Toronto stunned the Philadelphia 76ers to keep their series alive while Dallas thrashed Utah to take a 3-2 lead.
Toronto dropped the first three games of their series with the Sixers but are now just one win from tying it up and forcing a game seven after Monday’s 103-88 victory.
Sixers talisman Joel Embiid clearly looked to be struggling with the thumb injury that has been diagnosed as a ligament tear.
Embiid once again failed to impose himself, finishing with 20 points, well below his season average of more than 30 points per game.
Sixers star James Harden was also kept quiet with just 15 points while Tyrese Maxey finished with 12 points.
Instead it was Toronto who dominated, jumping into an early first-quarter lead which they never relinquished during a composed performance.
Pascal Siakam led the Toronto scoring with 23 points while O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. both had 16 points apiece.
Toronto will now be brimming with confidence as they head into game six in Canada on Thursday.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in an NBA playoff series.
Toronto head coach Nick Nurse played down suggestions that momentum was now with his team.
“I mean, maybe, but it doesn’t really matter,” Nurse said. “The ball goes up on Thursday, everybody’s got to fight like heck.”
In Dallas, Luka Doncic put on a shooting clinic with 33 points as the Mavericks thrashed Utah 102-77 to take a 3-2 lead in their series.
The Mavericks led from start to finish against an overwhelmed Jazz, leading by as much as 33 points at one stage in the second half before completing a blowout win.
Doncic hauled in 13 rebounds and five assists with support from Jalen Brunson (24 points) and Dorian Finney-Smith (13 points).
Jordan Clarkson led the Utah scoring with 20 points off the bench.