Welp, that sucked. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. We all wanted it. How great would it have been for THESE Celtics to knock off The King... man. But hey, hats off to LeBron James, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen an athlete who has had such unrealistic expectations placed on him and respond every single time. It’ll probably all end with another Finals loss, but he deserves all the praise in the world for getting this Cavaliers team to the Finals. But let’s get back to Boston.
Before the postseason started, my theme for the Celtics was all about the youth. The losses of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward all but ended the Celtics chances of winning a championship, but this was still a perfect opportunity for the young players to experience a playoff atmosphere and just one series could be considered a success. But boy did they have more to give.
Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford each had superstar moments. The defense was suffocating; the coaching was brilliant. And man, did we get the trash talk. Remember Drew Bledsoe sitting courtside? Marcus Morris putting up the “3-0” sign in Joel Embiid’s face as the young center desperately tried to find any mental edge? These C’s may have been overlooked, but they did not go out humble. They took pride in their home court down to the very end, and even with their road struggles, it was the youth that had some of their best performances. Jaylen Brown had 34 points in a nailbiter Game 4 in Milwaukee.
Jayson Tatum gave the Sixers 24-4-5 in a pivotal Game 3 in Philadelphia.
And Terry Rozier had 28 and 7 in Cleveland with a chance to close it out.
Through it all, three themes emerged from this playoff run:
1. This run changed the Celtics ceiling forever
After the Celtics beat the Sixers, Brett Brown talked about how despite the disappointing loss, the Sixers should be happy with the big picture because this run accelerated their growth. The thinking goes like this: most young players don’t get a chance to experience meaningful playoff games until much later in their career (think Devin Booker, Kristaps Porzingis, Andre Drummond, etc.). Playoff basketball has a way to let you know precisely where your weakness is because teams have two weeks to pour over film and hyper-focus on your tendencies and overall game. There’s nothing like a playoff series to let you know what you need to do to get better at. Furthermore, just having that experience of going against a crazy home court or a pivotal 2-2 game is vital because it’s not something that could ever be replicated by a regular season game.
In just this postseason run, the Celtics were able to get guys like Tatum and Brown 19 playoff games under their belt including two Game 7’s, (three for Brown who was on last years team). That’s already more experience than Anthony Davis has ever had, and they’ve already experienced more success than guys like Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, etc. I’m cherrypicking a bit, but the point is that these guys have been through an experience that some of our league’s brightest stars have yet to have and they proved they could play in lead roles.
Tatum proved to himself and the coaches that he’s a 3-level scorer who can create for himself while continuing to bring it on the defensive end. Brown showed he’s maybe the most versatile defender on the team, an elite athlete that can kill mismatches in the post, and that he’s a legitimate shooter. Had Boston’s two stars been healthy the entire season, there’s a reasonable chance that they would have never been pushed to show their full capabilities and Boston wouldn’t have put them in a position where they would have been able to take over the offense as they have.
#Celtics Jayson Tatum: This has been a long year. That first game seems so long ago ... I learned I definitely belonged.— Scott Souza (@Scott_Souza) May 28, 2018
This run is the type of stuff that builds trust from the coaching staff and will lead to the young wings getting sets called for them next season in ways that may have never come. It proves to vets like Irving, Hayward, and Horford how good the kids are and allows them to trust them to make plays. Overall, it’s going to make this team more deadly than they would have ever been without this experience and that’s encouraging considering the team was already a contender before knowing just how good any of these kids were.
2. Turns out stars are quite important!
There was a little bit of talk throughout the playoffs with fans wondering whether the team was good enough that there may not be much of a need for some of their injured stars. Not nearly as many people talked about the fact that a big part of the Celtics road success during the regular season was tied to having Kyrie Irving on the roster (22-8 with him, 7-11 without him). Without him, the team was mediocre out of the Garden, and there were multiple times throughout the postseason where the team was playing well on the road, but just needed a guy who could get baskets at will and create opportunities for others. Irving averaged more points on the road, shot better from the field, and averaged more assists. This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering he was a crucial contributor in the Cavaliers lone 2016 title where he dropped 41 points in a potential elimination game.
It’s hard not to imagine that this team could have stolen a game or two in Cleveland with Irving, or at the least shortened the series against the Bucks. Thanks to the regular season, the Celtics never had to steal one from the road, but that seems to be the one area where the team will love having Irving and Hayward back.
3. This might have been the last game Terry Rozier played for the Celtics
This is a little controversial and something I’m not 100% on, but at this stage, I think the writing may be on the wall. Rozier has been fantastic during this playoff run. It ended in disappointment, but he finished with 16.5ppg, 5.3rpg, and 5.7apg on an inconsistent 40.6/34.7/82.1. Rozier proved he could be a starter in this league and showed he could perform on the biggest stage. His value has never been higher at this point, and he may have just outplayed what the Celtics were able to pay.
Rozier on Kyrie: “As far as the starting thing I’m not really worried about that. He’s our starter.”— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) May 28, 2018
Boston’s first move should be to see if they can extend him on reasonable money (8-11mil/year) which gives Boston the ability to keep him or deal him down the road without any pressure of impending RFA. If not, it may be in Boston’s best interest to trade him now while a hot playoff run is still on every front offices mind.
This has been a fantastic year. The ending was painful, being that close to a Finals appearance and missing it hurts. But by this time next year, we could end up remembering this year as the season that rose the Celtics ceiling. “Pain is part of the path” as Stevens eloquently said last night, and no matter how much this hurt, it’s hard not to smile at this team’s upcoming journey.