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Celtics ready for Giannis, Bucks challenge

BOSTON: The Celtics’ sweep of the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs underscored one thing about Boston’s late-season rise to the top tier of the NBA’s Eastern Conference: it was no fluke.

Boston Celtics guard Derrick White shoots against Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant during the first half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series on Saturday, April 23, 2022, (April 24 in Manila) in New York. AP PHOTO
Boston Celtics guard Derrick White shoots against Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant during the first half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series on Saturday, April 23, 2022, (April 24 in Manila) in New York. AP PHOTO 

Leaning on the defensive brand cultivated under rookie coach Ime Udoka and punctuated by big scoring games by All-Star Jayson Tatum, Boston stymied a Brooklyn team that looked to be gaining late-season momentum led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

The only team to register a four-game sweep in the opening round, the Celtics are a conference-best 37-10 since their buzzer-beating loss to the Knicks on January 6. They enter their second-round matchup with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks playing their best basketball of the season.

Udoka said their performance against a high-quality Nets team that wasn’t a typical No. 7 seed bodes well for them going forward.

“We understood this is the playoffs and we’re gonna have to play really good teams,” he said. “The only thing we talk about is we’re a basketball team, not a track team. We’re not running from people.”

That includes embracing the challenge of trying to slow reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. The teams haven’t met in a postseason series since 2019, which Milwaukee won 4-1 in what proved to be Irving’s final games in a Boston jersey.

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