That’s how close this team came to winning a championship. That’s the only goal that matters to this franchise. So, it is impossible not to be frustrated by the team failing to capitalize on that opportunity.
On the other hand, there are 28 other teams that are envious of how far the Celtics got and how they are positioned for the future. Considering where they were in calendar year 2021, it is nothing short of incredible that they got within two wins of a title.
Both of the above statements can be true at the same time. Being proud of this team doesn’t make you a bad fan because “only banners matter.” Being frustrated with the team doesn’t make you a bad fan either. The emotions of a fan in this moment can be complicated and many layered. Just don’t let anyone tell you that you are doing it wrong (unless of course you are being disrespectful to someone else, in which case stop and rethink your position - or just log off for a while).
Jayson Tatum in particular embodies this dichotomy. We don’t come anywhere close to the Finals if Tatum didn’t take another leap this year. Note also that the higher you go, the harder the leaps get. The Celtics witnessed up close and personal what a true superstar is like on the biggest stage. He just happened to be playing for the other team. If Tatum wants to get to Steph Curry’s level, he’s got some more work to do and another leap to make.
It is tempting to try and cheer yourself up with reductive forecasting like “get another bench scorer and we can win two more games in next year’s Finals.” There are thousands of factors that played into the Celtics reaching the Finals this season, many of which are exterior to this franchise and completely out of their control. There’s no way to predict how the next 365 days will play out.
On the other hand, it is important to remember that in Tatum and Jaylen Brown, we have two of the game’s brightest stars who play the game on both ends of the court at a critical position (the wing) in the modern game. We have connectors and leaders in Smart, Horford, White, and others. We have proven performers that are only getting better in Robert Williams and Grant Williams. Could they use some more help? Sure! But that’s a fantastic starting point for any team.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ll spend the whole offseason breaking down what the Celtics should or shouldn’t do with the roster. What improvements the players and coaches need to make internally. How they stack up with the rest of the league. That’s all part of the fun of following a team.
This team learned a lot of painful lessons this season. They learned how hard it is to survive and advance each round. They learned to take a long hard look at themselves and buy in to the team concept. They learned how costly turnovers are. They learned how hard it can be when they run up against other elite defenses that take away your first, second, and third options and force you into scrambling for answers. The key will be taking those lessons and finding a way to improve on them next year.
As far as Tatum and Brown have come, they are not finished products. It is cliché to point out how young they are, but they have plenty of career left ahead of them. As many playoff games as they’ve had, they still have plenty of room to grow from here. Their growth hasn’t always been linear, but they’ve progressed so far from where they started and that’s largely due to a combination of incredible talent and tireless hard work. I have a lot of faith that they’ll be able to internalize these lessons and take another step forward as a result.
Now the team gets a long overdue opportunity to rest and recover. Only they know the extent of their injuries and exhaustion. In a different way, it has also been an exhausting season for the fans. We went from being exasperated to intrigued to ecstatic to elevated then defeated. All within six months. It was a heck of a ride; it just didn’t end the way we wanted it to.
So yeah, I’m frustrated with the missed opportunity. The team didn’t perform on the biggest stage ,so they flat out didn’t deserve the NBA title this year.
I’m also very proud of this group and thankful for the journey they took us on. I’m hopeful for more good things to come in the days and years ahead.
Go Celtics! Forever and ever and ever.