In some ways it wasn’t, or at least shouldn’t have been, surprising at all. Thanks, in part, to Irving, who refused to be vaccinated against covid-19, and, therefore, until a late-season rule change by Mayor Eric Adams, was ineligible to play in Nets home games – the Nets had relatively few chances this season to refine their approach. (The team traded a third star, James Harden, amid reports that he had grown frustrated that Irving was only playing part-time.) They were a theoretical superteam, not a fully realized force. And, in many ways, the Celtics have been the best team in the NBA since January or February, especially on the defensive end, where their rookie head coach, Ime Udoka, has his roster of floor-lashing long limbs as fluid as the body of a snake. Their young star, Jayson Tatum, has suffered, it seems, the epiphany – always more conceptual than purely sporting – that accompanies a leap to the top echelon of the NBA. Previously a promising goalscorer with a penchant for taking too many dribbles in the face awaiting defense, or settling for an off-balance seventeen footer instead of finding the open man, Tatum is now an ace playmaker, all quick and sharp decisions led to the rim. He takes his wide wingspan in a dive towards the basket and rarely comes back totally empty. Now he lives on the free-throw line, the residence of all hoop royalty.

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Tatum’s teammates take inspiration from him, passing with precision and defending vigorously. His more veteran colleague, guard Marcus Smart, recently won the Defensive Player of the Year award and, after years of fickle play, has reinvented himself, on offense, as a highly capable playmaker. In the best play of the series so far, at the end of Game 1, Smart, after picking up a clean pass from teammate Jaylen Brown, faked two defenders in the air, then delivered a perfect pass to Tatum, who immediately went into a merengue-like rotation around a defender and made a game-ending layup.

On Saturday, the Nets distributed black T-shirts to Barclays, to better achieve a kind of galvanizing unity in the stands. The kids wore Durant and Irving jerseys, and their parents donned the free shirts, but throughout the crowd, amid the monochrome, you could see a steady spice of Celtic green. Some kids behind me – teenagers, I think, or maybe young adults in their early twenties – shouted generic phrases of encouragement for the home team. They were loud but didn’t seem fierce. The formerly New Jersey Nets still feel like newcomers to Brooklyn at times, and one of my constant fascinations has been trying to understand how and in what ways their fan culture developed. It seemed from the atmosphere of the playoffs that they were still a team for youngsters and climbers. The crowd was cool and impatient but rather polite – there to watch a show as spectators more than to attach themselves, through shouting, moaning or cursing, to the personality of the team.