No need to sugarcoat it, the Boston Celtics blew a championship

Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart (l-r) of the Boston Celtics after losing to the Golden State Warriors 103-90 in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart (l-r) of the Boston Celtics after losing to the Golden State Warriors 103-90 in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics blew it.

No need to sugarcoat it. The Celtics blew it. It’s not every year a team gets a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals and then loses three straight. Boston had a chance to defeat the Golden State Warriors, but couldn’t put them away.

In all honesty, the Celtics shouldn’t have won. Golden State had been here before. That championship experience showed with how composed they were throughout the series, especially in clutch situations.

And the Warriors were deep. We know about Finals MVP Steph Curry. Klay Thompson had his moments. Andrew Wiggins came up huge on both ends of the floor. Jordan Poole, Gary Payton Jr., Kevon Looney and Otto Porter Jr. had their roles and played them perfectly.

But ultimately the Celtics did themselves in. Not to take anything away from the Warriors, but Boston’s numerous self-inflicted wounds piled up and Golden State took full advantage of them.

The Boston Celtics simply beat themselves

The Celtics lost the series in game 4. Boston was up 91-85 in the fourth quarter and 7:32 from taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. From that point on Boston was out-scored 22-6. After that, the series was basically over as Boston’s lack of poise was exploited.

Boston had a problem with closing out games. The Celtics were just 13-22 in close games during the regular season, next to last in the NBA. Great teams win close games. While they showed hope of overcoming this problem against the Brooklyn Nets, this problem emerged again at the worst time.

When the pressure rose, these Celtics got tight. Gone was the ball movement and driving to the basket. It became iso ball before launching ill-advised three-pointers way too often. It was complimented by bad turnovers, failing to rebound and missed free throw attempts. When the temperature rose, they fell apart.

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The reality of this playoff run is the Boston Celtics were at least a year early. This was supposed to be a bridge year before reloading and making a run at finally breaking through in the Eastern Conference Finals. But the trade deadline and “energy shift” propelled this young Boston core to new heights. They just didn’t know how to breathe at high altitude.

An optimist can point to how young Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams and Marcus Smart are and say they could get back to the Finals again. The reality is that’s not a guarantee. A lot of things went right for the Celtics to be within minutes of taking a 3-1 lead over the Warriors. How many chances will this quartet get, if any at all?

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They don’t have to look any further than the 2008-09 Celtics. After Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces to win the 2007-08 championship, they were dominating the league the following season and were en route to a repeat when Garnett suffered a season-ending injury in 2009.

Then in 2009-10, this veteran squad built a 3-2 series lead over the Los Angeles Lakers when starting center Kendrick Perkins suffered a knee sprain in a game six loss. Perkins was unable to play in game seven and the Lakers won their second championship in a row.

If Boston’s health held up, it’s possible the Celtics could had won three championships in a row. Health is just one factor that could derail a championship-caliber team.

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Shifting back to modern times, the hope is the Boston Celtics learned a hard lesson from the Warriors about what it takes to win a championship. Hopefully they took great notes. The players should start with a lot less whining to the officials.

This applies to the players, to head coach Ime Udoka and his coaching staff. Ideally this experience helps them grow mentally to become efficient in the clutch and not bury themselves like they did against the Warriors.

And Brad Stevens will have to build better team for Udoka to work with. With better depth, Udoka won’t have to depend so heavily on his starting unit, particularly the Jays. If everything goes right, it’s possible the Celtics can put themselves back in position and be better prepared.

But there’s no guarantee that will happen. It doesn’t matter that these Celtics were a year early. They may never get this chance again.