“You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” - Obi Wan Kenobi
Let’s play a game called two truths and a lie. See if you can spot the lie.
- The Celtics blew a golden opportunity to compete for a title without having to face the Warriors, Bucks, or even a full strength 76ers team. Chances like that don’t come around very often.
- Failure is a powerful teacher. The Celtics were not ready to step into that moment against a more disciplined Heat team. The young stars in particular need to take these lessons and apply them to move forward in their careers.
- When Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and others left the Celtics last offseason, it looked like they had taken a huge step back. In fact, they were freed to take a big leap forward.
This game is a farce because it was a trick question. All three things can be true and from my perspective, they are all truth.
Recent Brad Stevens-led playoff teams were always underdogs playing with house money. Isaiah Thomas was a great story, but LeBron was too big of a Goliath for that David to slay. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, and Al Horford were electrifying...until LeBron pulled the plug. Maybe this year would have ended with another LeBron stomping in The Finals, but this team was at least talented enough to make it interesting.
It is only natural to lament the missed opportunities. Critical games were lost (even going back to the Raptors series) on 50/50 plays that could have gone either way but the other team was able to capitalize and the Celtics weren’t. What if Tatum gets that dunk over Bam (or at least forced him to commit a foul)? What if the Celtics made a few more of those open looks they got against the zone? What if they didn’t foul so many 3-point shooters? What if they made a few easy, easy layups in Game 6? What if they didn’t let go of the rope when they had leads in the first half?
All that is painfully true, and yet I can’t help but feel proud of this team. At this point last season (which was nearly a year and a half ago), we were relieved to blow up the team and watch several veterans exit stage left. We were resigned to rebuilding and taking the long view. Only the most optimistic Kool-Aid drinkers could have imagined a scenario where both Tatum and Brown became legit stars leading this team to the Eastern Conference Finals. Gordon Hayward had an excellent bounce-back season (albeit plagued by more injuries) while Kemba Walker provided the true North that was missing. Marcus Smart turned into a walking meme and Daniel Theis evolved into a reliable and versatile cog in the middle.
I thought that we had the better team against the Heat, but I was wrong. Miami out-executed the Celtics and rightfully won the series as the better team. I’ll amend my statement to say that I think Boston had the more talented roster, but wasn’t able to translate that talent at the right moments. On some level, grit, determination, and mental strength can be talents as well, but I have to think that much of that can be learned through experience. Now, the next time the Celtics are letting a 3rd quarter lead slip away, all Stevens has to do is reference the Miami series and he’ll get his point across.
I remain impressed with the rise of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. I want to be watching that pair for the next decade or so and I think they have a chance of being title contenders in the very near future.
But this season is over for the Celtics. What a long, odd, hard, hopeful, inspirational, and ultimately frustrating ride it was. I can’t wait to do it again.