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The test of time

A flirtation with a Finals win followed by another with one of the greatest of his generation has taught the Celtics a lesson on time.

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Time is valuable.

You’ve heard that expression a million times.

Time is money. Time waits for no man.

These Celtics know all about time. Boston was five minutes away from a 3-1 lead in the Finals.

Tick, tock.

Precious seconds felt like an eternity whenever Steph Curry had the ball in that perilous fourth quarter.

Tick, tock.

TD Garden begged for time to somehow speed up.

Tick, tock.

But the defending champs somehow found a way to slow time down and act calmly through it.

Tick, tock. Buzzer.

The Celtics wouldn’t win another game last season. Time marched on, seemingly leaving Boston behind in its wake and a chance to beat it, to become one of those legendary teams that stand its test and lives forever.

And yet for the Celtics, this offseason provided another rare opportunity to manipulate time again. Brad Stevens had two paths to lifting a Larry O’Brien trophy. No, he didn’t invent a time machine to Marty McFly the outcome of that Game 4, but he had a chance to change his franchise's just as much as Golden State seemed to bend time to their will last spring.

Potentially trading for Kevin Durant this summer was supposed to shorten time. There are no sure things in sports, particularly when it comes with the mercurial 33-year-old who has battle major injuries over the last few yaers, but getting one of the greatest of his generation is the closest you’re going to get to a guarantee. KD in green was supposed to somehow compound time — the heartache, the growing pains, the losing — and make raising Banner 18 a more tangible reality. It’s been fourteen long years since Boston has raised a championship to the rafters and if you can make the wait shorter, you do it, right?

But Stevens went the other way. As a former coach who frankly never really benefitted from roster consistency in his eight seasons as Boston’s bench boss, he intimately understood time’s value, and not just time moving forward with youngsters Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart and whatever else the Celtics would have had to part with to get Durant, but also time spent together in Boston.

Consider that when KD jumped ship from Oklahoma City and joined the 73-win Warriors in 2016, Brown was starting his rookie season in Boston. In the four years that Durant won back-to-back championships as the Warriors hired assassin, played in three Finals, and spent a season rehabbing in Brooklyn from a torn Achilles, Brown had cut his teeth with those Hospital Celtics squads lead by IT, gritted those teeth alongside Kyrie Irving, and grew fangs next to Jayson Tatum as the cornerstones of the franchise.

It would have been an acceptable business decision to say, “the Celtics are playing for the present. If you can get better today, you do it.” Few would have faulted that logic. And while fortune favors the bold, there’s that old adage that patience is a virtue. And it goes beyond that.

That 2008 banner hangs just slightly lower than the others. There’s no doubt that that team is beloved; Kevin Garnett has his #5 hanging right next to Paul Pierce’s #34 despite playing less than half his career with the Celtics. However, they were an instant success and didn’t endure the blood, sweat, and tears that time — the kind of long time that asks if you’ve had enough, where days and weeks turn into years — painstakingly extracts from you.

In the thick of the Durant drama, Tatum was asked about his team and the upcoming season, and he replied, “chemistry is half the battle. I feel like you can have a great team with great talent, and not necessarily gel together. You guys saw we figured it out in January and never looked’s a little different, knowing that we got to a certain point and was so close. And we’re excited to get back to that, get back to the group, because we’ve got unfinished business.”

The Celtics didn’t win a championship last year and they didn’t trade for Durant in an attempt to cheat time. No, they invested. They insulated themselves with consistency. They locked in a core for multiple seasons and said, “these are our guys.”

The six-to-eight weeks that it will take for Robert Williams to recover and rehab from knee surgery? That’s a blip for a player that is signed for another four years. Time heals all wounds, even knees. The possible one-year suspension that Ime Udoka is facing? That may be harder to weather, but something that will only make the team stronger in the long run.

Tick, tock.

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