Celtics doubters must now doubt themselves

Steve Nash is deciding whether to bring back Ben Simmons for Game 4 Monday night.

Someone should tap Nash on the shoulder and tell him to send Simmons home for the summer.

Playing him against the Celtics may help Nash’s Brooklyn Nets avoid the indignity of a first-round sweep. That would be the only benefit conceivable benefit of Simmons’ return.

And at this point, even that is far from a slam dunk.

Simmons has been out all season with a herniated disc. Those sharpies who are inclined to rationalize the Nets’ tumble from their preseason status as favorites win a championship can lean on Simmons’ absence to hide from the shame of their wayward prognosis.

Those same NBA experts relegated the Celtics to making a nice little playoff run that would end the minute they had to face Brooklyn.

The Celtics own this series. They have owned it since Game 1, even if there remain bitter enders who refuse to acknowledge it.

Perhaps some folks don’t understand that the Celtics are winning this series by playing relentless defense. There are few NBA teams these days that hang their hat on their defensive abilities.

That defense is annoying the Nets in a big way. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined for 32 points on Saturday night. Jayson Tatum beat that by seven points.

Tatum is reminding the basketball world that he really has become one of the NBA’s elite players. In addition to his 39 points, he had six steals in Game 3.

Jaylen Brown is winning over those who have struggled to grasp that he can be a factor at both ends of the floor.

Al Horford has looked anything but old. Most of his work inside is being done quietly. Then he drains a 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter, letting most of the air out of Brooklyn’s ability to make a decisive run.

Robert Williams is back from his torn meniscus and played 16 minutes, bringing one more defensive barrier for the Nets to jump.

The Celtics’ bench, so spotty for much of the season, has shown its potential. Payton Pritchard came out to start the second quarter and scored 10 points in five minutes.

By game’s end, the Nets had the air of a club that is beginning to grasp the reality that their season is about to end. Irving, whose mouth’s motor constantly runs in high gear, was reduced to a few moments of wayward babble.

“There’s not much to say. I mean, we know what it is,” Irving said. “I think a few of us in this locker room have either been in this position on the winning side or on the losing side. So, you just got to take your lesson.”

There’s a first time for everything, Kyrie.

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