Unlike their previous three playoff series, the Boston Celtics won’t be celebrating by the time the NBA Finals come to a conclusion.
Yes, that will be the Celtics’ reality soon, and let it sink in. The Celtics are not beating the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, and the franchise’s 18th NBA title will remain elusive.
There are many reasons why the Celtics will have to walk off the court, whether at home or on the road, and watch the Stephen Curry-led Warriors hoist the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy high into the air.
Curry certainly is one of them. The long-range marksman looks to add to his already incredible legacy, and Curry should be armed with plenty of motivation, too, with him looking to secure his first NBA Finals MVP award.
Curry is the poster boy for Golden State’s remarkable run of success, with the Warriors making their sixth NBA Finals appearance in the past eight seasons. That type of experience on the league’s biggest stage is insanely tough to replicate, and the Celtics come nowhere close to matching it. Not one player on Boston’s roster ever has played in an NBA Finals game.
The experience factor really shouldn’t be overlooked. The Celtics have shown their lack of it several times throughout this postseason, especially with their inability to close out games. They coughed up a late lead to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals when all they had to do was secure a defensive rebound off a missed free throw. That simple task went awry for the Celtics with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown colliding, leading to an easy lay-in attempt for Bobby Portis.
Then there were the last two games against the Miami Heat, in which the Celtics were extremely shaky in the final minutes of both contests. Boston blew a golden opportunity to close out the Heat in Game 6 at home and get much-needed rest before the Finals. Brown missed two critical free throws with 2:18 left in a tied game in that one, as he truly seemed petrified during the high-stakes moment.
The Celtics followed that up by coming a Jimmy Butler dagger 3-pointer away from suffering one of the worst collapses in NBA playoff history in Game 7. The Celtics held a 13-point lead with 3:35 left only to basically stop playing while Smart tried to become the hero and almost took a trip to the NBA Finals away from his teammates. In the end, Boston was bailed out by Butler front-rimming his pull-up triple with 16.6 seconds left, which would have put the Heat in front.
The way the Celtics have looked in these end-of-game situations is terrifying, and the pressure grows exponentially in the NBA Finals. That makes it much more difficult to execute in the closing minutes, especially for a team that appears to not have a complete killer instinct.
And be sure of it, the Warriors will make the Celtics pay dearly for any extended lapses.
For all the talk of the Warriors offense, their defense is no slouch, and the Celtics haven’t exactly showcased a pristine attack this postseason. Turnovers have crushed Boston, and the biggest culprits are its two star players. While they both have the ball in their hands more, Jayson Tatum and Brown have turned it over at an alarming rate at times, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that trend continue. Tatum is averaging more than four turnovers per game in the playoffs while Brown sits at three per game.
The Celtics certainly have a lot going for them. They have displayed their resiliency by going 6-0 following a loss this postseason. They have a true superstar in Tatum surrounded by tough, gritty role players that can do the little things well.
But this is a whole different type of monster facing the Warriors. And while the Celtics are battle-tested by taking down the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Heat on their way to the Finals, they probably don’t have as much left in the tank as the Warriors, and sometimes that’s the difference in a championship.
None of this seemed possible several months ago when everyone was questioning if Boston’s brass should break up this team. The Celtics got over the Eastern Conference finals hump, but they need a little more seasoning and experience if they are going to take down the Warriors.
It’s been an incredible run for the Celtics, but it’s one that will end just short of an NBA title.