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Exorcising the demons

The Celtics have the rare chance of amending mistakes of the past. Can they deliver?

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The final whistle rang out on Sunday in a tremendous Game 7 at TD Garden, as the Celtics trounced the Bucks in a 109-81 blowout. In a series that saw Boston let multiple games slip through their fingers, Celtics fans can sigh a breath of relief as they move on to face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Both teams have changed over the past two seasons, and now with a rematch in the offing, the two adversaries get to test their mettle and see who is punching a ticket to The NBA Finals. While the Heat are a familiar opponent and brings back painful memories of the 2020 bubble, this matchup doesn’t quite feel like deja vu. Boston’s overall identity as a team has evolved into something completely different since Ime Udoka took over as head coach and Brad Stevens as President of Basketball Ops. Alas, the journey to get to the conference finals was not without its detours and setbacks.

After a year of meteoric highs and catastrophic lows, the Celtics have found themselves on the cusp of something truly special. The past three seasons have been trying for Boston, and they’ve had multiple playoff runs end in disappointment. But with this season, the Celtics have a chance to clean house, clear some skeletons out of the closet, and exorcise the demons of playoffs past.

Whether it’s been injuries, half-hearted effort from key players (see Irving, Kyrie), or inexplicable late-game collapses, Boston has been put through the ringer of postseason heartbreak. This playoff run that Boston has put together has been righting all of the wrongs of the past. They swept Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets in a hard-fought series without Robert Williams at full-strength, the same Kyrie Irving who gave up on the Celtics against Milwaukee in 2018 as the Bucks handled them in five games. Now, with a showdown with the Heat, the Celtics have a chance to cross another name off their revenge list.

In terms of the growth and evolution of this team, a matchup with the Heat is the ultimate measuring stick for Boston. A majority of this Celtics core was present for the 2020 NBA Playoffs run and you can bet that Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart have the loss to Miami fresh in their minds. It’s time to put the ghosts to rest and let the past die; it’s a different year, and it’s time to put your trust in this team and their improvements.

Jayson Tatum has taken another massive leap and is on track to set Celtics playoff history with his performance through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Jaylen Brown has continued to improve and grow as Boston’s 2nd leading scorer, and an efficient one at that. An understated development has been Marcus Smart’s rise as the top point guard on the roster, earning DPOY honors and flashing his abilities in a larger role as a playmaker for Boston. To top it all off, Robert Williams has grown into a defensive fulcrum for the Celtics and will be all systems go for Game 1.

This series represents so much more than who will come out of the East. It’s a chance for the Celtics to get over the hump and earn their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010 (and no, I still don’t want to talk about that series). The whole series will boil down to two things: 1) how much have the Celtics grown? and 2) how badly do they want it?

The Celtics have gone through so much hardship and adversity this season, but as the saying goes, “steel sharpens steel.” I’m of the belief that the Celtics will rise to the occasion, especially after having two of the toughest matchups in the first two rounds. Boston hasn’t shied away from difficult matchups this postseason; backing down just isn’t their style. Whatever the outcome is, don’t expect either team to pull their punches in this grudge match.