Early Takeaways from Celtics' 2022 NBA Playoff Performance

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 26, 2022

Early Takeaways from Celtics' 2022 NBA Playoff Performance

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Following Monday night, the Boston Celtics are the lone undefeated team left in the 2022 NBA playoffs.

    And to think, they were supposed to have perhaps the toughest first-round matchup in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the typically hyper-explosive Brooklyn Nets.

    The Nets at least made the Celtics sweat out single-digit victories, but the final tally still shows Boston with four wins and Brooklyn with none. Let's explore how the Celtics advanced and what it could mean going forward.

Jayson Tatum Is a Tier-1 Superstar

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    If anyone found themselves still questioning Jayson Tatum's superstar credentials ahead of this postseason, those doubts, critiques and questions have all been silenced in this first-round series.

    He breezed his way to 31 points—including an absurd buzzer-beating game-winner—on 50 percent shooting in the opener. When he couldn't find his touch in Game 2 (19 points on 5-of-16 shooting), he boosted his playmaking with 10 assists. In Game 3, he blitzed Brooklyn for—clears throat—39 points, six assists, six steals, five rebounds and four three-pointers.

    Yet you could argue his defensive performance has bested what he's done on the game's most glamorous end. Kevin Durant, one of the greatest and most efficient scorers this game has ever seen, is a miserable 3-of-18 with as many points as turnovers (10 each) against Tatum, per NBA.com.

    This is top-shelf domination on the sport's biggest stage.

Robert Williams III's Return Completes NBA's Best Defense

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Two years back, the Nets set the NBA's high mark for offensive efficiency. Now they are ranked third in the category out of the 16 playoff participants, per NBA.com.

    It starts at the top with Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and trickles over to the wing with the interchangeable tandem of Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford continues using his mastery of the sport's subtleties to stay a step ahead of the opposition.

    Finally, the return of shot-blocker and aerial disruptor Robert Williams III from knee surgery completes the puzzle for the Association's stingiest defense.

    "It makes our defense that much better, as we all know," Smart told reporters of Williams' return. "He makes everybody else's job a lot easier."

    Williams might need a while to get his wind back, but the first look at the above-the-rim big man was promising. He crushed down a lob pass, blocked a shot, snagged a board at both ends and dropped a dime in a little more than 15 minutes of action.

Boston Is the East's Team to Beat

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    It's been a banner year for the East's best in the playoffs.

    The Miami Heat have corralled Trae Young and effectively clipped the wings of the Atlanta Hawks. The Milwaukee Bucks have mostly made quick work of the Chicago Bulls. The Philadelphia 76ers have found an answer for just about everything thrown at them by the Toronto Raptors.

    Still, if you had to pick a favorite to escape the conference right now, it would be tough to back anyone but the Shamrocks.

    Why? Well, for starters they were the East's top team for the majority of the season. While they didn't snag the No. 1 seed, they did post the conference's best net rating and obliterated everyone in the category once the calendar flipped to 2022, per NBA.com.

    Plus, they have the fewest question marks going forward. The Bucks are without Khris Middleton (MCL sprain). Sixers star center Joel Embiid has a thumb injury that will need surgical attention this summer, and James Harden is shooting sub-40 percent for the postseason. The Heat have questions about their half-court offense, although an assertive Jimmy Butler is beginning to answer some of them.

    This designation might prove subject to change, but it sure looks like the path out of the Eastern Conference runs through Beantown.