We just witnessed the greatest ever Boston Celtics season that didn’t end with a championship.
Yes, I’m wearing my green-tinted glasses today, despite the hard truth that the Celtics’ season ended two wins shy of Banner 18. And yes, I know that finishing second in a two-team contest isn’t good.
Am I disappointed that they lost The Finals? Of course. It’s an ordeal to get that far, and you never want to miss that opportunity because there’s no guarantee it will come again. Nevertheless, I’m not upset like I have been in other years.
The fact is, the Celtics had a great season that happened to end with a terrible week. It was the first time in 2022 that they lost three straight games. Worse yet, it was the first time in franchise history that Boston lost three straight Finals games. Still, I can live with it.
This take does not mean everything is rainbows and puppy dogs with the franchise. Instead, it’s to say we can and should appreciate what the Celtics achieved over the past five months, while being optimistic they can get back to The Finals next year and take home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
I’ve been a Celtics fan since Red Auerbach was coaching, and trust me, there’s never been a season like this one. The closest one perhaps was the “Hospital Celtics” coming within a few minutes of beating the Cavs in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.
During eras when the team was championship caliber, any year they didn’t hang a banner was a failure. Many times, those defeats left scars. I’m not over Game 7 losses to the Knicks in the 1973 ECF, or to the Sixers in the ’82 ECF, or the Lakers in the 2010 Finals. And I never will get over them.
There have also been many years where the C’s haven’t been contenders – those were failures, too. To be fair, at least we didn’t have title hopes crushed.
But this season was unique because of the way it unfolded. NO ONE expected the Celtics to make The NBA Finals – yet they did. And they were five minutes away from taking a 3-1 lead before the Warriors pedigree surfaced.
You know the details. After a .500 season and a first-round exit, with a rookie President of Basketball Operations and a rookie head coach, expectations for 2021-22 were very low. Preseason championship odds ranged from 40-1 to 50-1. And when the Celtics played even worse through the first half of this season, the mood became extremely dark.
But that second half. We had the joy of watching them catch fire, of thinking before tip-off, not “will they win?” but “will they win by 20 or 30?” We had the fun of checking the standings each morning to see how high they had climbed.
I went to the Garden in March for the first time since COVID. The Jazz were in Boston and I expected a competitive game. Instead, the Celtics buried their first 11 shots and the rout was on. It was like a dream. And they kept that going all the way into Game 4 of The Finals.
Once the playoffs came, the Celts passed every test during the “Revenge Tour” of teams that had eliminated Boston the past three years: swept the Nets, came back from a 3-2 deficit to oust the Bucks, and beat the Heat not one, not two, but three times in Miami. The Heat series ended with Boston’s first Game 7 road win in 48 years.
Entering The Finals, many were optimistic because we knew the Celtics had been successful against Golden State recently (8-4 in the last six years). However, those were regular season games. The Warriors in The Finals were on another level, especially since Boston had zero players with Finals experience. That difference proved costly.
Could the Celtics have done better this postseason? No question. While they were amazing in winning eight road games, they missed several chances for an easier path by going just 6-6 at home. Perhaps closing out the Bucks or Heat series sooner would’ve left more in the tank for the Warriors.
The main takeaway from this run is the Celtics overachieved in spectacular fashion. Don’t take my word for it – Mike Gorman said it:
“…I think as fans we all get a little ahead of schedule, too, and putting a very high expectation level on them. Whereas I think Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Rob Williams — they are all going to see their best basketball two, three, four years from now, not necessarily right now. I think that might be the thing I leave this team with at the end of the year is, actually, you guys really overachieved. You got way past anything I thought you could do the first half of the season. If it doesn’t turn out well over these next two games, I still think this team really overachieved, way overachieved.”
Mike was right then, and he’s right now.
Even though it’s frankly not my personality, I’m choosing to remember this season positively. If fans of other teams try to mock the Celtics on Twitter for not winning The Finals, I’ll laugh it off (also not my nature), secure in knowing that their hopeless franchises got nowhere near the title. But Boston did.
So I encourage Celtics fans to remember this season fondly. Don’t dwell on the past week, think of the big picture, because it was a special time. Even if it didn’t end with Banner 18.