Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens yells during the game...

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens yells during the game against the Miami Heat in the first half at TD Garden on May 11, 2021 in Boston. Credit: Getty Images/Kathryn Riley

Is Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens a wise truth-teller? Or a master motivator? Or a big-time fake-out artist?

This past week, Stevens said this about his seventh-seeded team’s Eastern Conference first-round playoff matchup against the second-seeded Nets and their incredibly talented Big 3:

"We'll do our best to get ready for Brooklyn. They're the best of the best. As a fan of the NBA, it's hard to see those guys losing."

Aw, shucks. After those comments, were the Celtics even planning to show up at Barclays Center and compete in a throbbing arena with a sellout crowd of 14,391? Or were they just going to walk in, shake hands and stand aside so the Nets could perform a layup drill and move on to the next round?

Turns out, for the first half in particular, Boston not only showed up but showed up in force. The Celtics held the Nets to 16 first-quarter points and led by six at halftime as Kevin Durant got off to a dreadful shooting start.

But the second half went as Stevens seemed to think it would as the Nets won, 104-93.

Turned out it was hard to see the Nets losing, even when they weren’t at their best and the Celtics played their hearts out.

"I’m sure if we made shots, it would have been a different conversation," James Harden said. "Kevin missed shots. I missed shots. Kyrie (Irving) missed shots. Joe (Harris) missed shots. That first unit, we just didn’t make shots. It’s pretty simple. Not trying to go too deep into because that’s all there was."

It wasn’t easy for the Nets. If the ending went as expected, the start did not. The Celtics hit the ground running, taking a 13-4 lead.

The Nets just hit the ground.

The lasting images of the first half were the Nets missing shots (including their first 10 three-point attempts) and Harden and then Durant hitting the deck hard after crashing to the basket.

Harden was fouled so fiercely on a drive midway through the second quarter that his jersey was ripped under his right armpit by Evan Fournier. Harden ended up on the floor under the basket. He was not injured and continued to play with the torn jersey.

Durant’s crash to the floor a few minutes later had the fans covering their masked (and some maskless) mouths in fear of an injury.

Nets fans know about injuries. Durant knows about injuries. It's possible health will be a tougher foe for the Nets than the teams they play this postseason.

Durant swooped to the hoop, crashed over Boston’s Marcus Smart and landed hard on his right side. He was not injured, but he was called for an offensive foul. That had to hurt.

Boston led by as many as 12 in the half and went into halftime with a 53-47 lead. But you knew a storm was coming: The Nets scored the first seven points of the second half to take their first lead since it was 2-0.

Still, it was a three-point game with just under seven minutes left in the fourth. Irving scored the next five points, and what felt like the final nail came when Durant turned a steal into an uncontested two-handed dunk to give the Nets their first double-digit lead of the night and send the unleashed and overjoyed crowd into one of its final frenzies.

"First playoff game — we didn’t have that touch that we usually have scoring," Durant said. "But we just stayed with it on the defensive side of the ball."

The smoothness was back in Durant’s game after a clunky first half. He finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds in his first postseason game since June 10, 2019, when he tried to play in the NBA Finals for Golden State with an injured leg and ended up with a ruptured Achilles tendon and a long, long rehab.

"He didn’t have a classic for him tonight," coach Steve Nash said. "And you look up and he still had 32 and 12. Proud of him, happy for him, and I know our fans were excited to see him out there in the playoffs again."

Before Game 1, Nets guard Landry Shamet called his squad "arguably one of the best teams ever assembled," and he should know. He has to guard them in practice.

Imagine doing it in a game and then in a series. That’s the challenge that Stevens knows his team will be facing over the next couple of weeks.

Maybe it’s an impossible challenge. It sure seemed like it in the second half on Saturday night. Maybe Stevens has known that all along. Maybe he was just being honest.