Recent rivalry history
Even the most casual basketball fan knows about the infamous 2013 trade between the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics, when the Nets seemingly mortgaged their future by trading three first-round picks and swapping a pick with Boston in exchange for an aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along with a few other pieces.
The trade was obviously panned by everyone from fans, to rival NBA executives, to the media. After the Nets collapsed in the second round of the playoffs the following year, the future of the Brooklyn Nets looked dark; it appeared as if the team would never recover from one of the worst trades in league history. It hurt even more for Nets fans when those picks that were traded to Boston turned out to be two future All-Stars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and a young promising talent in Collin Sexton, who was picked eighth overall in the 2018 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, via trade with Boston.
Fast forward to summer of 2019, one of the greatest point guards of this generation, Kyrie Irving, turns his back on the Boston Celtics - the team that he promised to sign long term with - and along with fellow superstar Kevin Durant, signs a massive four-year, $136,490,600 contract with, you guessed it, the Brooklyn Nets.
Irving went on to have a stellar 2021 regular season with Brooklyn, making history when he became only the ninth player in league history to join the 50-40-90 club, and only the fourth player all time to average 25 points per game while doing it, along with Steph Curry, Larry Bird, and teammate Kevin Durant. Boston swiped Brooklyn's draft picks that turned into Tatum and Brown, but Brooklyn clapped back when they stole Kyrie Irving in free agency.
A rivalry renewed
It took a couple of years, but after two full seasons of back and forth trash talk between Brooklyn and Boston fans, the two teams met in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, and it was time to put the argument to bed (for now at least)
Brooklyn asserted their dominance early on in the series, when they blew the Celtics out in both Game 1 and Game 2, with the respective final scores being 104-93, and 130-108. The Celtics showed signs of life in Game 3 when the series went to Boston, as Celtics star Jayson Tatum posted an insane 50 points. Boston went on to beat Brooklyn in Game 3 with a score of 125-119, cutting the Nets series lead to 2-1.
Kyrie Irving had an uncharacteristic Game 3 in his first playoff game back in Boston since leaving the team in 2018. The Boston crowd seemed to have rattled him, as every time he touched the ball, boo's showered down from the stands. Irving shot an abysmal 6-17 from the field, putting up 16 points and two assists in 41 minutes played.
Unfortunately for Celtics' fans, however, you can't keep the man down for long. Irving bounced back in Game 4, when he torched the Celtics for 39 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and capped the night with a controversial move as he appeared to deliberately stomp and scrape his foot across the Boston Celtics logo at center court.
Is Kyrie Irving the biggest villain to the Boston Celtics since Magic Johnson in the 80's? He's definitely up there.
Nets big three performs as advertised, and then some
Two members of this Brooklyn Nets team that we haven't discussed in depth yet are Kevin Durant and James Harden, mostly because they are still being introduced to this Nets/Celtics rivalry. Both Durant and Harden dealt with their health issues throughout the regular season, and the big three's chemistry had come into question, as they only played 20 regular season games together before the start of the playoffs.
Brooklyn promptly put those doubts to bed in the first round, when James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving scored a combined 104 points in Game 4, tying an NBA playoff record for most points scored between three teammates, a record set by the Boston Celtics' John Havlicek, Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens all they way back in 1973.
So far in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, Kevin Durant is averaging 32.6 points per game, James Harden is averaging 27.8 PPG, and Kyrie Irving is averaging 24.8 PPG. Brooklyn's big three are not just proving that they have the chemistry to succeed, they're trying to make their case as one of the greatest big three's in NBA history.
An underrated hero for the Nets in the first round was Joe Harris. Harris shot for an incredible 51.5% from three point range against the Celtics in the playoffs, with a 47.1% field goal percentage.
The Nets went on to eliminate the Celtics in Game 5 in Brooklyn, with a final score of 123-109. Brooklyn will look to face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. Game 1 kicks off on Saturday, June 5th at 7:30 PM EST.
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