Boston Celtics

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 25: Grant Williams #12,Derrick White #9,Al Horford #42, Jaylen Brown #7, Marcus Smart #36 and head coach Ime Udoka of the Boston Celtics huddle in the final minutes during Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on April 25, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Boston Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets 116-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics? What fools. Don’t they know everybody wanted to avoid the No. 2 seed? What’s the point of being the No. 2 seed when all it gets you is waxed by the Nets in the first round? Even the reigning, defending, undisputed NBA champion of the world Milwaukee Bucks wanted nothing to do with that.

To be clear, this was absolutely the prevailing thought among too many who will wake up Tuesday and walk this take back as best they can without saying they were wrong. They’ll now talk about a flawed Brooklyn team that never got the time to gel together. They’ll blame Ben Simmons, because if there’s one thing a team should do in 2022, it’s bank on Ben Simmons after he sat out an entire season. They’ll even toss in Nic Claxton’s three hundred missed free throws (and that was just in Game 4), or the vaccination issues that limited Kyrie Irving to 29 games during the regular season.

But the Celtics? Well, the Celtics just did what they told you they were going to do when they approached a potential Brooklyn showdown head-on and without fear.

“We’ve said it quite openly: We’re not running from anybody, and we’ll let the chips fall where they may,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said following his team’s series-clinching Game 4 win. “That was the message. We’re not gonna run from anybody. We understood who we were playing against and the caliber of [their] players.”

“Ime set the tone from the jump with how he felt about it,” Jaylen Brown, who noted that he was ‘shaking’ when he had to watch his team falter against these same Nets last year, said. “We all came to the conclusion like, ‘Look, man, if we want to do something special, ain’t no shortcuts and ain’t no trying to manipulate or ducking [opponents].’ Sometimes you gotta take the hard way — or what perceives to be that way —  and let the chips fall where they may.”

It’s one thing to say it, of course. Hell, I want any team saying that. 0-81? I want you guaranteeing a victory in Game 82. Otherwise, what’s the point of any of this? Do literally anything else with your finite time on this dumb rock if you’re going to spend your time doubting yourself. But to go out and execute your mindset and plans in the fashion the Celtics did? S H E E S H.

As a team, the Celtics looked as connected as they’ve been at any point this season. From ball movement to defensive assignments, the Celtics rarely gave Brooklyn an opening to run away with things. The Celtics also applied lessons learned in their early-season struggles to rally when necessary, from a nearly 20-point comeback in Game 2 to late-game closeouts that went the complete other way in the first half of the season.

“We feel confident and we feel strong against anybody,” Brown said. “And we’re going to come to play every single game.”

And perhaps no player embodied that ‘no fear’ approach more than Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum.

Matched up against the Nets’ Kevin Durant for large segments of the four-game series, Tatum won the showdown at both the offensive and defensive end. From the series-opening thriller to a psycho mode that appeared to fully take flight following a dust-up with Claxton with the Celtics trailing in Game 2, Tatum was everything the Celtics needed and more. And doing that against a player widely regarded as the best in the world this time of year? Well, that’s just gigantic.

“We’ve talked to [Tatum] about being the guy every night he steps on the court. You could tell he was extra motivated for this series and that matchup,” Udoka said. “It’s well-chronicled that I told him to go at certain guys and not respect anybody too much. He relishes those moments.”

“I have the utmost respect for KD and what he’s brought to the game and accomplished, but somebody like that, he brought the best out of me,” Tatum said after the Game 4 victory. “I knew I had to be on top of my game in this series. In the same breath, I wasn’t surprised with how I played. I do feel like I’m one of the best players and that’s how I approach the game when I step on the floor regardless of who’s on the other team.”

Tatum is no longer happy to be here or willing to simply learn. He’s officially in that ‘put me in that conversation’ mindset.

“I’m a completely different player than I was when I was 20 in my first playoffs, and different player than I was last year, and we got a different team,” Tatum acknowledged. “We’ve put the work in, we’ve prepared, we’ve focused. We got all the confidence every time we step on the floor that we can get it done.”

“The overall message that I’m going to give the team and that they relayed back to me is that we’re not scared of anybody and we’re not going to run from anybody,” Udoka repeated. “If you’re going to win, you have to go through certain teams at certain times, anyway, so might as well get a really good test early.

“I think it will help us going down the line.”

The C’s will certainly hope that’s the case, too, with a likely second-round showdown with the reigning champs, and a path that could very well include future showdowns with the East’s No. 1 seed should they make it out of the second round. But like it was for the Celtics in a first-round sweep, it’s about themselves more than the opposition.

“It’s important to just maintain who you are,” Brown offered. “It’s all about us trying to be the best team we can possibly be. If we come out ready to play and compete, we’re one of the best teams in basketball… the best team in basketball.”

In other words: No fear. Still.

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Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has been covering the Bruins since 2010, and has been a member of the Boston chapter of the PHWA since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.