The Celtics have been in “championship or bust” mode all season long, but one obstacle loomed large as Boston vied for its 18th championship in franchise history.

The C’s need to win the Eastern Conference — no ifs, ands or buts. The path was laid out perfectly for Joe Mazzulla’s top-seeded bunch, who watched the majority of their conference counterparts fall due to injuries to key players, sheer inexperience and other troubling factors. Boston, meanwhile, steamrolled its way to the East finals, dropping only a pair of losses in the first two rounds combined.

There was a scenario where the basketball world might have cut the Celtics some slack in the NBA Finals, though. Boston probably wouldn’t have been shamed had it fallen to the Nuggets, last season’s champion who rosters the best player on the planet. At that juncture, one could have argued the C’s simply lost to a better team on the biggest stage.

But Boston and its fans no longer have to worry about running into Nikola Jokic and company, who shockingly blew a 20-point lead at home and lost to the Timberwolves in Sunday’s Game 7. The Western Conference crown now will be awarded to either Minnesota or the Dallas Mavericks, who dispatched the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the semifinals.

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To be clear, the Celtics probably wouldn’t be able to throttle either the Mavs or the T-Wolves. The NBA is a star-driven league, and Anthony Edwards and Luka Doncic are two of the best game-changers in the sport. But Boston undoubtedly is a better team than both Minnesota and Dallas, and it’s certainly not lacking in star power either with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown leading the way.

Any member of any championship team in any sport likely will tell you that you need at least a little bit of luck to win it all. You need to earn the championship, no doubt, but you need to catch some breaks along the way. Virtually everything in these playoffs has worked out in Boston’s favor, with Kristaps Porzingis’ injury serving as the lone exception. And judging by several reports, it sounds like the freakishly talented big man would be rested and ready to go if the Celtics reach the NBA Finals. Heck, he might even return in Boston’s series against the inferior Indiana Pacers.

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The Celtics flirted with basketball’s ultimate prize in recent seasons, but accepted excuses for coming up short were on the table. “Tatum and Brown weren’t ready” and “They ran into a better team” and other narratives that softened the blow of Boston not hanging another banner. But no matter how hard you squint at this point in the postseason, you won’t be able to find a fair reason why the Celtics shouldn’t hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.

That’s a great spot to be in, and Boston should continue to play with a great deal of confidence. But the luxury also comes with significant pressure — the Celtics must get it done this season.

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Featured image via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images