If it was easy, it wouldn?t be us.
Derrick White summarized the 2021-22 Celtics, a team he hasn’t even played with the full season, perfectly after Boston blew yet another a golden opportunity in a closeout game on its home floor Friday.
Two nights later, with Boston’s backs against the wall yet again, the Celtics cemented a lasting legacy not only as the most resilient team in the league, but one of the most resilient in franchise history.
This isn’t to say the Celtics are not a flawed basketball team. They are. They turn the ball over, slip into stretches of selfish play all while allowing officiating to creep into their compete level. The low stretches make Green Teamers either want to pull their hair out or throw up — or maybe both. But make no mistake, Boston’s resiliency must be admired.
Time and time again this postseason — losing to Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 at TD Garden, dropping Games 3 and 6 at home against the Miami Heat — it would have been easy for the Celtics to fade back into their old ways. Celtics fans likely still have scars of those days. They were the same ways which caused the Green to start the season 18-21 before a remarkable in-season turnaround. But their desire to avoid that when it mattered most, to persevere rather than pout, now has the Celtics in the NBA Finals for the first time in more than a decade.
“Two Game 7s in the last two series,” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said Sunday night after the Boston’s 100-96 win against the Heat. “It shows what I said about our group. That we fought through a lot of adversity this year. A resilient group. Tonight seemed to typify our season.”
It sure did.
For all the big-picture ups and downs, there were equally puzzling stretches any given night. As was the case in Game 7 as the Celtics opened up a 15-point lead in the first half only to blow up in the final minutes before intermission and watch that advantage cut to six.
And later, after a third-quarter effort helped their lead jump to double digits, Boston again watched a 13-point advantage with three minutes left slashed to 98-96 in the closing seconds. The Celtics were one Jimmy Butler 3-pointer away from their most devastating collapse in a season where there were a handful to choose from.
Ultimately, though, Boston did enough to pull it out. With their season on the line at FTX Arena, the Celtics did enough down the stretch to eliminate the top-seeded Heat. It wasn’t always pretty, but Boston is moving on.
“That’s us. We’ve been responding all year, all season to adversity,” Jaylen Brown said, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “Today was the biggest test, not just of the year but of our careers, to mentally come into a Game 7 away after losing on our home court, which was tough, and we got it done.”
Brown added: “It’s hard to win in this league, especially in the playoffs. Any given night, things could go differently, but a good team is able to respond. A good team is able to put their best foot forward each and every night. There was a couple games we felt got away from us, and instead of carrying it like baggage we wore it like a badge of experience to help us get prepared for the next game. We were tested. We’ve been through a lot. We’ve learned a lot over the years, and now the stage is at its brightest, we’ve got to apply everything that we’ve learned into these moments.”
The Celtics have not lost consecutive games since March. Boston’s series-clinching win Sunday helped the group improve to 3-0 when facing elimination, including a pair of wins on the road.
“I think going through those tough times helped us grow, helped us learn. And once we get in that situation again we respond differently,” Jayson Tatum said. “I think that’s what it was today. … We kept responding, we kept the lead, we kept making winning basketball plays. Everybody. And it was big. It really was.”
The Celtics, now four wins away from the franchise’s first NBA championship since 2008, will travel to Golden State to face the Western Conference champion Warriors in Game 1 on Thursday.