The Celtics will need physical play to slow down Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, as well as Kevin Durant. Steven Senne/Associated Press

The Boston Celtics know the challenge in front of them in the Nets, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Brooklyn was supposed to be a title contender, but a strange, injury-riddled regular season forced a trip to the play-in tournament, where the Nets earned the No. 7 seed and the right to play No. 2 Boston in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs starting Sunday afternoon.

The Celtics will sorely miss Robert Williams III – who’s still rehabbing his knee after meniscus surgery – but will look to scheme their way to success and, most importantly, slow down Durant and Irving. The Celtics will look to use their physicality to make the proper first impression against the Nets.

“Our mentality is punch first and we want to affect them and not make it easy on them,” Boston Coach Ime Udoka said. “That’s how we’re rolling into it and what we’ve done well this year and continuing that.”

The Celtics can throw many defensive schemes at the Nets. Teams get to know each other’s sets and plays the longer a series goes on. Adjustments are part of the postseason, and the Celtics’ playoff-experienced roster knows all about those intricacies.

Of course, Durant and Irving are going to make shots – that’s what they do. The Nets are going to go on runs, which the Celtics saw multiple times last postseason. But Udoka said it’s about making sure they keep the pressure on the Nets.


“Those are two offensive juggernauts over there,” Brown said. “What they do with the ball is special. So it’s going to take everybody. It’s not Al Horford by himself, or (Jayson Tatum) or Jaylen in an iso matchup – we gotta play team basketball if we want to win.”

HAWKS-CAVALIERS: The Cleveland Cavaliers have a second shot at getting into the playoffs. The same goes for Trae Young.

Atlanta’s high-scoring All-Star guard will be the defensive focal point for Cleveland on Friday night as the Cavs host the Hawks in a win-or-start-vacation game. The winner advances to play No. 1 seed Miami in the Eastern Conference’s first round.

Young averaged 32.5 points in four games against Cleveland during the regular season. The Cavs know to have any chance to win, they have to at least slow him down. Cleveland could get back All-Star center Jarrett Allen, who has missed the past 19 games because of a broken finger. He’s officially listed as questionable.

PELICANS-CLIPPERS: CJ McCollum scored 27 of his 32 points in the first half, Brandon Ingram shook foul trouble to add 27 points and the New Orleans Pelicans beat San Antonio 113-103 late Wednesday night in a Western Conference play-in game.

The Pelicans, who finished ninth in the West after starting the season 3-16, will play at the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, with the winner getting the eighth seed and a spot against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round.


TIMBERWOLVES: Minnesota guard Patrick Beverley was fined $30,000 by the NBA for what the league declared “inappropriate statements,” including the “egregious use of profanity” in a media interview and social media post following the team’s play-in game victory.

Beverley was especially emotional after the Timberwolves beat the Los Angeles Clippers 109-104 on Tuesday. He played the last four seasons for the Clippers and confidently predicted upon arrival in Minnesota that the Timberwolves would make the playoffs.

Beverley was just fined $25,000 by the NBA on Tuesday for improper conduct toward a game official. He was ejected from Minnesota’s final regular-season game on Sunday for receiving two technical fouls, which were levied against him for complaining about calls and non-calls.

The Timberwolves earned the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and play at Memphis on Saturday in Game 1 of their first-round series.

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