Kevin Durant #7 of the Nets drives to the basket...

Kevin Durant #7 of the Nets drives to the basket past Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics during a game at TD Garden on March 6, 2022 in Boston.  Credit: Getty Images

BOSTON — History may tell you that the Nets dominated the Celtics in the postseason a year ago,  with many of the same pieces returning this time. But with the Celtics now featuring a new coach, a defensive mindset and the No. 2 seed, this seems like a new challenge. Here are five storylines to watch for this time.

KD vs. JT

Both Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum almost certainly will find a spot on the All-NBA team for their performance this season, stars on a different level. And while we search out background storylines, the biggest story will be who can rise above the other at the top of the roster. Tatum already has a 54-point effort against the Nets. Other than missing games this season, Durant could stake a claim as the best player in the game — amazing in terms of not only returning from a knee injury this season but from the Achilles tear that he brought with him when he arrived in Brooklyn three years ago. In two games against Boston this season, he averaged 29.0 points and 8.0 assists,  and in the Nets’ five-game playoff series win over Boston last season, he averaged 32.3 points. But that was a different Boston team, one on its last legs in that incarnation. Tatum still is the star piece, averaging 26.9 points per game (and 29.5 points against the Nets), but this time they are the NBA’s best defensive team and have the players to at least cause Durant some trouble.

Mandates couldn’t stop Kyrie, but what about Marcus Smart?

Kyrie Irving spent much of the season in limbo, waiting for his chance as he cleared the Nets sidelining him and then New York City ending its restrictions on athletes. He has managed to regain his form, fitting in nicely and topping it off with a brilliant performance in the play-in game. Now comes a two-pronged test — facing up to the crowds in Boston, which have held a grudge over his departure from the Celtics, and  the defensive ability of Marcus Smart. While Irving had a clear run against Cleveland in the play-in, Smart and the Celtics present a different challenge. The Celtics were the best defensive team this season  and will need to be to slow Irving and Durant.

The mystery medical men

 Each team could find help coming from unlikely sources. For the Celtics, it is Robert Williams III, who has provided the anchor to their defense but has been sidelined with a torn meniscus for what originally was expected to be four to six weeks. Four weeks would set him up in time for the latter part of the series. The more uncertain status is that of Ben Simmons, who wasn’t expected back for this series but whose impending arrival was rumored to be pushed up. But unlike Williams, who already was a key fit for the Celtics, Simmons has never played a minute with the Nets. So even if he clears the physical hurdles and the mental struggles, can he fit?

The inside information

Ime Udoka learned his craft over a long career, first as a player and then on the staff of Gregg Popovich in San Antonio for seven seasons. But he spent a year in Philadelphia after that and last season was on the bench with Steve Nash in Brooklyn. So spending that year with Nash, Durant and Irving in Brooklyn, did Udoka glean any secret information that will help him stop the Nets? He’s not saying. “It’s very different,” Udoka said. “What we do defensively is different. The main players are similar and the styles are different.”

Bring it on

While teams may have plotted their placement in the Eastern Conference to avoid the possibility of facing the Nets, the Celtics insisted they weren’t dodging anyone. Udoka said, “Our thing was to just worry about ourselves and be the best version of ourselves.”

More Brooklyn Nets

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME