2021 NBA playoffs: How Celtics can salvage first-round series vs. Nets

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Bean: What Celtics fans should root for in series vs. Nets originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics have officially made the NBA playoffs, meaning one potential embarrassing end to the season of hell has been avoided. It's likely another awaits them in a first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets

Presumably, nothing that will happen over the next week and a half will make this not the season from hell. That fate’s mostly been sealed. We knew they needed changes before Jaylen Brown had surgery; that procedure just solidified what our expectations should be this spring. 

They’re officially in the playoffs, though, so there’s no lottery pipe dream to fall back on. The Celtics might as well try to make a run, because there are at least some potential positives to be salvaged from this season.

Celtics-Nets playoff simulation: Do C’s stand a chance in Round 1?

Assuming “win the series” is out of the question, the following can at least help going forward. 

50-point Jayson Tatum

We’ve had a decent amount of “how dare you question Jayson Tatum and the Celtics this season!” following Tatum’s awesome play-in performance. That’s excessive; they’re a No. 7 seed. 

At any rate, Tatum has scored 50 points three times so far this season, which is two more than Paul Pierce did in his career. He’s clearly the face of the franchise; next, the two-time All-Star can become one of the faces of the NBA.

Forsberg: Tatum's heroics serve as important reminder for Celtics

If Tatum goes off like he did in the play-in game, not only will the Celtics have a chance at winning some games, they’ll have a player who will attract veteran players to Boston.

The “guys will want to play with ____” argument can be tricky because every potential acquisition is different, but Tatum can continue to ascend with massive performances. 

The non-Kelly Olynyk Kelly Olynyk Game

Remember when Kelly Olynyk scored 26 points against the Wizards and earned him a fat free agent deal with the Heat? That shows how easily teams can get swept up in playoff performances.

The Celtics have a lot of young players who could use playoff experience, from the still-developing Robert Williams to rookies Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith. Any of them stepping up (assuming Williams’ toe is OK) would serve to improve Boston’s slim chances, but also increase the size of a trade chip.

If there is a splash to be made in the offseason, the C’s might need to give up a young player. None of the aforementioned names will land you a star, but a big performance in the playoffs can’t hurt. 

Re-igniting the fire

I don’t know if Celtics players have tuned out Brad Stevens and neither do you. What I do know is that he’s a good coach who has beaten teams with stars in the past. 

If the Celtics can limit Brooklyn’s big three enough to take two or three games off them, it could help to reaffirm players’ faith in Stevens (if it needs reaffirming). This roster has no business giving Brooklyn's any trouble. If it does, coaching will be a big part of it. 

Good Kemba, good vibes

There was a report in February that teams were mad at Danny Ainge for trying to trade Kemba Walker last offseason (it had also been reported the C’s were looking to move Walker for a high draft pick they could flip for Jrue Holiday). 

Teams were presumably miffed because Walker’s knee makes him a major question mark. Even though everyone knows that, opposing execs apparently thought Ainge was pulling a fast one. 

Well, we know the Celtics have had to take it easy with Walker and that his contract is risky. Nothing will change that. A strong performance in the playoffs will at least make him more tempting to a prospective suitor, though you’d have to imagine the Celtics would have to sweeten the pot for another team to take the four-time All-Star.