The Boston Celtics/Brooklyn Nets first-round series was expected to be the most competitive first-round series in the NBA playoffs over the past few years. Instead, the Celtics have mopped the floor with the Nets so far, racing out to a 3-0 series lead. Boston will look to finish off the sweep tomorrow night at the Barclays Center.
All the hype heading into the series was centered around the Nets star duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Yet through three games, the Celtics' star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have vastly outplayed that tandem. Of course, Brooklyn also had the prospect of finally getting their prized trade deadline acquisition, Ben Simmons, on the court for the first time all season long, and he now appears likely to suit up for Game 4 of the series.
Ben Simmons is the biggest wild card in the Boston Celtics/Brooklyn Nets series
Simmons is a complete unknown right now for Brooklyn, but he's their last hope at salvaging something from this series. At his best, he's a dominant point forward who possesses a unique blend of playmaking, defense, and the ability to get to the rim at will. At his worst, he's passing up wide-open shots in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Expecting Simmons to come in and be himself right off the bat is wishful thinking for the Nets and their fans. But Simmons' skillset is precisely what Brooklyn needs, and if he can come in, even in a limited capacity off the bench, and slow down Tatum or Brown for just a few minutes, that could prove to be extremely helpful for Brooklyn. Simmons himself feels confident in his ability to jump in and help the Nets right away:
"I think we'll be fine, personally," Simmons said. "There's some things on defense where, you know, I look at it, and I think I can make a big impact in terms of just being vocal on the floor and helping my teammates and being a leader on that side of the court."
Unfortunately for the Brooklyn Nets, Ben Simmons' return won't make a difference
For the first three games of the series, Brooklyn, namely Durant and Irving, have looked wholly flummoxed by Boston's stifling defense. Aside from Game 1, when Irving nearly willed the Nets to a win with 39 points, both players have been ineffective for most of the series. And Simmons' return to action will not change that.
The problem with the Nets is that their two best players love having the ball in their hands. Boston has thrown multiple bodies at them whenever they get the ball, which Durant and Irving are at least wise enough to recognize. The problem is that their only two options are to pass to a subpar supporting cast or take a contested shot. They have tried both, and both have failed so far.
Simmons is really for his passing on offense and his ability to guard all five positions on defense. Assuming he returns, he will probably be tasked with slowing down Tatum as much as possible. The issue is one player can't stop an entire team; the Celtics have been playing like a team all series long, while the Nets have merely been a group of individuals.
What that means is Boston will quickly figure out ways to get Simmons off Tatum or whoever he may be guarding; they probably already had a plan if he were to return. It's what they have been doing all series long. For example, in Game 3, Blake Griffin provided a nice spark on offense off the bench, but it didn't matter because Brown would force Griffin to switch onto him on defense, and he ended up scoring every time he got that matchup.
Offensively, Simmons' scoring output is limited to the paint. It would be one thing if Boston didn't have Robert Williams, but now they do, and they could probably match his and Simmons' minutes if they wanted. Simmons may find himself as a ball-handler from time to time, but don't forget, Durant and Irving want the ball too. So when he doesn't have the ball, he will be stuck at the perimeter, making Boston's life easier on defense.
It will be nice for Brooklyn to see Simmons take the court (assuming he does), but it means nothing in terms of their playoff hopes. It's improbable that Simmons is the missing piece that allows them to right the ship and magically reel off four straight wins against one of the hottest teams in the league. Simmons is the Nets' last hope, but unfortunately, it's too little too late.