Nets’ discarding of Celtics couldn’t have been more perfect

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The Nets did as they were supposed to do at Barclays Center Tuesday night: they throttled the Celtics in the fourth quarter and walked away with a 123-109 win, wrapping up their first-round best-of-seven with a gentleman’s sweep, five games. Next come the Bucks, which means the varsity is on tap. This will be fun.

But in its own way, this Nets-Celtics series was fun for Brooklyn, too. In its own way, in fact it proceeded along a perfect pathway and for three distinct reasons:

You know the mantra: heading into this series James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had only played eight games with each other. How would that translate once the klieg lights were turned up an extra notch for the playoffs?

Well, here’s one word for it: extraordinary.

Game 5 wasn’t the bold-faced tour-de-force that Game 4 in Boston was, when Durant (42), Irving (39) and Harden (23) combined for a breathtaking 104 of the team’s 141 points. But it was still remarkable, not only the triple double from Harden (34/10/10) and the back-to-back-to-back 3s from the same spot on the floor, all three splashed in breaking the game open for good in the fourth, but something more subtle.

They just look … right.

They look as they are supposed to look. It’s 13 games now and not eight, but we’ll let Harden’s review stand for our own: “How do you think we looked?” The Beard said with a laugh.

Ah, yes, from ancient Rome, the whisperer who would follow the great war heroes of the time and remind them not to get too full of themselves, lest they suffer from a crippling case of hubris and, well, die on the battlefield.

The stakes aren’t quite that high for the Nets.

But they’re still relatively high. And, look: the Celtics were a shadow of themselves in this series. Jaylen Brown missed the whole series with a wrist injury. Kemba Walker missed the last two games with a sore knee. Robert Williams did as well, with a bum foot. This could have been a one-sided slog, which would have served little purpose.

Instead, the Celtics won Game 3 in Boston, which certainly got the Nets’ attention. Boston played terrific for 3 ½ quarters of Game 1, and hung around until the end of Game 5 before the Nets sent them on their way. Both times the Nets had to figure it out. Both times they did. That will only help them as they get ready for Giannis & Friends.

“We’re not proclaiming this was anything to celebrate,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We did the job. We spent time preparing, competing, playing.”

And, now, advancing. All in all, 10 days very well spent.

Yes, they lost Jeff Green early in the series, though he is expected back soon.

But look around the league.

Look at Philadelphia, where Joel Embiid’s MRI was awaited breathlessly, and where it is unlikely he’ll play Wednesday in Game 5 against the Wizards. Look at Milwaukee, which lost a key contributor in Donte DiVincenzo.

Look at the Lakers, who lost Anthony Davis for Game 4 and Game 5 of their series against the Suns, and who are forever bracing themselves whenever LeBron James absorbs contact. Look at Denver, which lost Jamal Murray before the playoffs even started. Look at Phoenix, where Chris Paul fights through the pain but is scuffling nonetheless.

Heck, look at the Knicks and wonder: wouldn’t a healthy Mitchell Robinson have been helpful against the Hawks the last week and a half?

Health was the Nets’ No. 1 concern entering these playoffs, and it will remain so for as long as they are in the playoffs. Losing Green was not a good thing. But they are a quarter of the way through what they hope will be a four-round playoff run, and it is impossible not to feel good about how they emerged from it.

“The Big 3 was sensational,” Nash said, “but it really takes a team effort.”

So far, so good. Onward.

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