The Celtics are the balls, but they’re also a rollercoaster. A somewhat predictable rollercoaster, I might add.
This Celts ‘ squad is quite flawed for a team that is just two wins away from an NBA Championship. The best player on Boston (who hasn’t been the best player on his team this series), Jayson Tatum, has played really poorly in stretches against Golden State, especially the second half of Game 4. The crunch-time offense, a point of concern for myself and many other Celtics fans entering the Finals, is unreliable. Seemingly every other game, this team turns the ball over way too many times. (Tatum, by the way, might lead the group in “what the fuck was that?” types of turnovers.) And the team rebounding isn’t always great, either.
The 2022 Celtics are basically the greatest team of all time after a loss… but are also rarely capable of winning two-straight playoff games. To that same tune, the Celtics are a great road team (8-3) but struggle at home (6-5). They rise to the occasion with their backs to the wall, but typically come up short in spots where they can “afford” a loss.
The regular season was a tale of two halves: the first half being infuriating and the second half being extraordinary. But since the opening round series against Brooklyn, Boston has gone 10-8. It’s been a repetitive cycle of one win, one loss… with the two exceptions of course. Some (10) low points of the Celtics playoff run:
The ostensible Kyrie dagger in Game 1 of the Nets series, going down 62-45 in Game 2, the bad-taste-in-your-mouth ending of Game 3 of the Bucks series, trailing by 10 points in the 3rd quarter of Game 4, the painful collapse of Game 5 at home, having the lead cut to a single possession in the fourth quarter of Game 6 on the road, the Max Strus shot in Game 3 of the Heat series after both Smart and Tatum returned through the tunnel minutes after injuries, giving up 47 points to Butler combined with the Brown missed free throws in Game 6, the near-epic collapse in the final minutes of Game 7, and then of course on Friday night when Steph Curry went nuclear and the Boston offense reverted back to 2021 habits down the stretch.
Ok, deep breath. We knew this series would be 2-2. Golden State and Boston are pretty evenly matched. They are both very good on the road and very good when they need to win.
And although the Warriors have by far and away the best player in the series, I still have faith in the Celtics. We still haven’t lost true back-to-back games since January 5th and 6th. And I have so much confidence and trust in Ime. Why shouldn’t I feel good about a leader who, in his playing days, had an “utter disregard for the pedigree of his more decorated teammates?” When the Celtics are right, Udoka’s toughness is contagious.
In terms of the X’s and O’s, so to speak, the Warriors have been at their best in this series when Draymond is on the bench in lieu of either Kevon Looney or Gary Payton II. The Celtics’ superior size and strength can at times be neutralized by Payton’s competitiveness or Looney’s precise efforts in screening and rebounding. Boston needs better play from Tatum, obviously. But they also need help from role players like Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard. Derrick White has done just about as well as you can hope for as a Celtics fan, but it can’t just be him off the bench giving positive minutes.
But I like to think in terms of a storyteller. I like to think about narratives. If you’re a Celtics fan, there can be two ways to consider how things are playing out. One, as a pessimist: We won’t get away with these frustrating losses this time around. The Warriors aren’t the Bucks or the Heat. Their core has won three titles. We simply can’t win a third straight long series in this playoff run against such an experienced team with championship DNA. But I like to think of this Celtics story arc as an optimist: Milwaukee and Miami were the first two acts of the movie. Golden State is the third and final act. And we can conquer it. The hero (the Celtics) is almost done with his journey. Those previous series only tested our mental and physical fortitude, and we passed with greater strength than what we had going into battle.
Just imagine Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown hugging each other as the green and white confetti falls like Tom Cruise (Maverick) and Miles Teller (Rooster) on the naval boat towards the end of Top Gun: Maverick.
The story of this crazy 2022 Celtics team is about to end. Appreciate this moment. And expect the right conclusion, whether in triumph or in agony, in the coming days.
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