BOSTON — As they discover themselves on the precipice of the 2022 NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics may discover motivation in a collection that occurred a decade in the past.
The Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder have been close to the highest of the basketball world in 2012, having reached the Finals with a roster that includes three future MVPs — Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden — all of whom have been inside their first 5 years within the league.
When the Thunder misplaced to the Miami Warmth in 5 video games within the Finals, the idea was it could be the primary of many OKC appearances within the NBA’s championship spherical. They gave the impression to be a dynasty within the making.
That dynasty by no means occurred.
Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets earlier than the following season started, and yr after yr, a mixture of accidents, unhealthy luck and excruciating playoff losses noticed the Thunder fail to return to the Finals earlier than finally breaking up.
The lesson? Do not assume one other likelihood is coming.
That Thunder group is one instance of how fleeting the form of second the Celtics have in entrance of them might be. They host the Warmth in Sport 6 of the Jap Convention finals (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) with an opportunity to shut out the collection and return to the Finals for the primary time in 12 years.
“This can be a nice alternative,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown mentioned after the Sport 5 victory. “Depart every thing on the ground. You do not need any emotions of remorse.”
The Celtics have made it to the East finals six occasions since that final Finals journey in 2010. This, nevertheless, is arguably the closest they’ve been since they discovered themselves in the identical place a decade in the past: heading residence to TD Backyard after successful Sport 5 of the East finals towards the Warmth to take a 3-2 collection lead.
The distinction was these Celtics — an growing older group led by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, with one title and one other Finals journey beneath its belt — have been going up towards LeBron James at his peak. James went on to play the sport of his life to ship Miami a win earlier than the Warmth would safe Sport 7 and, finally, beat the Thunder in 5 video games as James received his first championship.
Six years later, the Celtics have been in an identical place, main James — in his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers — 3-2 within the collection. James dropped 46 factors, 11 rebounds and 9 assists to tie the collection in Sport 6, and whereas then-rookie Jayson Tatum threw down a memorable dunk over James within the fourth quarter in Sport 7 in Boston, it was James and Cleveland who prevailed.
“Yeah, it does,” Tatum mentioned with a smile when requested if it feels totally different to be on this place now than it did 4 years in the past. “I am quite a bit higher, [Brown] is. We’re simply older. And we have been by way of these robust occasions.”
In 2020, the Celtics ran up towards the Warmth within the bubble, falling in six video games.
This yr, the Celtics are the clear favorites. Whereas Boston has handled its share of accidents — Robert Williams III’s recurring knee points, Marcus Good’s proper leg accidents and Al Horford lacking Sport 1 of the collection on account of NBA COVID-19 well being and security protocols — Miami has been decimated by them.
The Warmth’s three greatest perimeter gamers — Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro — are both enjoying with apparent limitations or unable to take part in any respect. Even when all of them have been wholesome, the Celtics’ league-leading protection is placing an already suspect Warmth half-court offense right into a sleeper maintain.
“If you wish to break by way of and punch a ticket to the Finals, you are going to must do some ridiculously robust stuff,” Warmth coach Erik Spoelstra mentioned after Sport 5. “Getting on to Boston and figuring that out collectively, these are the feelings and the breakthroughs that you’ve that you just keep in mind the remainder of your life.”
4 months in the past, none of this appeared potential. Boston was floundering round .500, seemingly meandering its strategy to a second straight mediocre season. However due to the mixture of well timed transactions, improved well being and coach Ime Udoka’s philosophies translating into success on the courtroom, Boston changed into a juggernaut that was the NBA’s greatest group for the ultimate two-and-a-half months of the common season.
Now the Celtics discover themselves with their greatest alternative, after years of knocking on the door, to lastly break by way of.
“Nothing modifications,” Udoka mentioned of the group’s mindset heading into Sport 6. “We needed to come out with the proper mentality after a win, and we did that. We wish to do the identical [in Game 6], shut it out at residence.”
That is solely Tatum’s fifth NBA season, however his third East finals. It is the fourth for Brown in six seasons, and the fourth for Good in eight. It is each a reminder of how a lot playoff expertise Boston’s younger core has collectively, and the way laborious it’s to make it to that last step.
The Celtics hope their experiences can be sufficient to arrange them for the most important recreation of their lives Friday, after they’ll have an opportunity to punch their ticket again to the Finals.
Like that Thunder group, the Celtics seem like a bunch that might be positioned for an prolonged run of excellence. Seven of Boston’s prime eight rotation gamers are between the ages of 23 and 28 (Horford, 35, is the lone exception). 5 of them are 25 and beneath.
If Boston does attain the Finals, Tatum and Brown will change into the fourth 25-and-under tandem to take action whereas main their group in scoring previously 40 years, in keeping with the Elias Sports activities Bureau.
The opposite three? Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson with the Houston Rockets in 1986, Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway with the Orlando Magic in 1995 and Durant and Westbrook in 2012.
None of these tandems made it again a second time.
“We obtained a possibility to do one thing with this group that is particular,” Brown mentioned. “So let’s not take that with no consideration. Let’s come out Friday on our residence ground, and play the very best model of basketball we performed all season.”