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Should we measure the Celtics postseason success by results or progress? (hint: it depends)

I think I know what Brad Stevens might say.

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

My first title for this article was “What defines success for the Celtics?” but I deleted it when I wanted to slap the cliche right out of my own mouth. There are so many click-bait-y titles that I could have used and the one above represents the least abhorrent I could come up with.

With that self deprecating disclaimer out of the way, I wanted to address the underlying theme that has stitched the borders of this offseason and outlined the pebbled path leaning forward into future years.

The Celtics are not what they should be but could be better than they have any right to be.

Boston fans can hear this next sentence in “announcer guy” voice because it has been playing in their heads on repeat for weeks. This team is without (say it with me now) Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart (for now), and Daniel Theis. Yet they are still 2 wins away from advancing to the 2nd round.

Is that enough though? Since when does a Boston fan base celebrate anything but banners and duckboats? Narratives aside, the goal is always to win the next game and if you lose the last game of your season you fell short of the penultimate goal, regardless of the circumstances. (Chews on unlit cigar and smiles smugly.)

With that said, it would be silly to overlook those circumstances and dismiss what this team has already accomplished. They won 55 games with just 60.1 games of Kyrie and Gordon, thus giving Brad Stevens his best shot yet at Coach of the Year honors. The narrative is that they’ve already won, next year is the real meat and potatoes, and anything extra this year is just thick, savory gravy.

From a horizon viewpoint perspective, the best thing that could have happened for the development of Tatum, Brown, and Terry Rozier III is exactly what played out. Sensing that, I thought I’d do a twitter poll to take the pulse of Celtic Nation.

As I type this, the “Yes” votes are leading the way with 45%, followed by 39% saying “No” and a healthy 16% waffling in the “Undecided” zone.

Even though it is my poll and it kinda-sorta feels like I should have a strong “take” on subjects like this, I’m feeling an odd kinship with the Undecided crowd here. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, I feel that a lot depends on your point of view. Or in this case, it depends entirely upon what you consider to be the goal of these playoffs.

If development is paramount, then it would seem that success from the young players, despite result, would be a good thing. On the other hand, if they struggled through a few games that resulted in wins, they would have an additional 7 game series to keep developing while high scoring losses would just result in an earlier vacation.

So yeah, I’m going to take this to where hot takes go to die. I’m going to invoke the two words that kill fun hypothetical conversations in a quasi-intellectual and largely insufferable wet-blanket way.

It depends.

So much can happen in the next 2 to 3 games and that’s why we watch with rapt attention isn’t it? The unpredictability is so much part of the fun. But at the same time, I can appreciate that part of the fun is formulating your opinions and rooting for those narratives so you can claim some ethereal king of the hill superiority complex. I don’t know why we are wired to love to say “I told you so” but there it is.

The good news is that the collective “we” have short memories and you can always twist the outcome to fit your narrative. “See, I told you that next year was what was really important” is just as relevant if they lose in the first round as it is in the Eastern Conference Finals.

So enjoy the next few games. Enjoy the NBA playoffs in general. This mortal coil is more fun when grown men are making millions of dollars taking turns hurling a spherical piece of leather in the general vicinity of a metal rim adorned with loose stitches. Soak it up and soak it in. We’ll have plenty of time for scorching hot takes and new narratives in the offseason.

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