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Rather than running from facing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the first round of the playoffs, the Celtics opted to take that challenge head-on. It spoke to the culture Ime Udoka's establishing, as he conveyed after sweeping the Nets: "we're a basketball team, not a track team, we're not running from anybody."

Defensively, Boston bottled up Durant. And after erupting for 39 points in Game 1, Irving became less impactful as the series unfolded. The Celtics also had considerable success targeting mismatches at both ends of the floor. The struggles of Brooklyn's supporting cast made Boston's decision not to avoid the Nets look that much wiser.

"It was meant to happen like that; motivation bro," Irving said via a clip Nets Kingdom posted. "We needed that humbling experience, especially going against the Celtics. It was already built to be that matchup. We gonna see them again; we gonna have to."

Despite all the problems the Nets dealt with that series, they only got outscored by 18 points. The Celtics won the opening matchup by one point on a Jayson Tatum buzzer-beating layup. Boston's highest margin of victory in the next three games was seven points.

Now, Ben Simmons will suit up alongside Irving and Durant. Even with his flaws and the rust that he needs to shake off after missing last season, if he performs up to his capabilities, Simmons is one of the NBA's best defenders and a point-producing floor general in the open court.

The Nets also added T.J. Warren and will welcome back Joe Harris, who played in 14 games last season due to injury, strengthening their supporting cast.

While SI Sportsbook lists the Celtics as the betting favorite to win the NBA title this season, the Nets have the fifth-best odds of lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

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