We’re just about a month into NBA playoff bubble and we’re inching closer and closer to the beginning of the Western and Eastern Conference finals. Certain teams are peaking at the right times. Certain teams have their backs against the wall with their seasons hanging by a limb. In the Eastern Conference recently the Miami Heat put the nail in the coffin eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks in five games. They’ve been waiting patiently for their Conference Finals opponent as the Raptors in valiant effort pushed to the Celtics to a Game 7.
The Celtics at one point in this series was on cruise control through pretty much Games 1-3, yet they headed into game 5 being tied 2-2. Their spirit and grit has was much too overwhelming for the reigning champs as they were being man handled on both sides of the floor. Raptors gained their momentum when OG Anunoby hit a thrilling three from the left corner to steal Game 3. The Raptors were really on backs against the wall and if Celtics head coach Brad Steven had gone man to man instead of zone perhaps the Celtics are up 3-0 who knows where the series goes forward. Instead the Raptors continued to display their perseverance as each team traded blows with the Celtics with victories in Games 4 & 6. One of the best one-two punches in the NBA Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown strengthened the Celtics to triumph in the Game 7 win. Tatum poured in 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists with four makes from distance. Becoming the second-youngest player to put up 25+ Pts, 10+ Reb, 5+ Ast in a Game 7 behind only Kobe Bryant. Brown also added 21 points and 8 rebounds on 10 of 17 shooting from the field. The young powering duo have been the engine for this team on both sides of the floor and have played a huge part of slowing down Pascal Siakam on the defensive end. All-Star point guard Kemba Walker who’s been up and down all season scored 14 points with a couple of clutch free throws to ice the game. Marcus Smart had a game saving block on Norman Powell with 58.2 seconds left that shifted momentum into Boston’s hands at the perfect time.
The Celtics came into Game 7 in familiar territory. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart these guys have been here before. Not too long ago they had a lonesome Lebron James led Cavalier on the brink of elimination in a 2018 Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 on their home court. Even though they were defeated the foundation of the Celtics’ future was there for everyone to witness even the King himself. The next year was filled with high expectations as their former starting point guard Kyrie Irving returned from injury. Instead of hype and promise the season was filled with locker room turmoil, inconsistency, and constant ups and downs. It was simple Kyrie’s departure was just in everyone’s best interests including Kyrie himself. We all know he didn’t perform up to par but so didn’t everyone else. The heart of the Celtics Marcus Smart cleared the air last summer on ESPN’s The Jump about Kyrie Irving after the Celtics shockingly defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks in five games in last year’s NBA Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
He stated “We, not just me the world even Kyrie knows he didn’t play up to the standard’s he wanted to. But there’s four other guys out there with him there’s a coach out there we’re all supposed to be one team so you just can’t just can’t put the blame on one guy because there’s things that everyone could have done better to not just help Kyrie but help each other and when you’re going in especially when you trying to build that commodity and you start signaling those guys out it makes it really hard we seen it ourselves inside the locker room and things like that where guys are calling guys out and it just wasn’t working for us for me I just wanted to let people know yes we understand Kyrie wasn’t up to Kyrie standard but there’s four other guys there’s a whole roster forward, coaches everybody participated.
Brad Stevens rushed Gordon Hayward back as starter to soon which did affect the overall team flow. Jayson Tatum was too dependent on iso dominant perimeter jumpers instead of taking advantage of his size. Jaylen Brown was still trying to make his strides with his perimeter shot and overall offensive game. Terry Rozier wasn’t providing the same spark off the bench as Celtics were accustomed to. Flat out there were too many factors that took a toll on the Celtics. The addition of veteran savvy star Kemba Walker and his selfless demeanor and style of play has lifted the rest of this team. Jayson Tatum validated himself as one of the NBA’s elite scorers and his career year led him to his first all-star nod. Jaylen Brown has grown into one of the top two-way guards in our league. Marcus Smart was selected to his second consecutive NBA All-Defense first team. The Kyrie-Celtics relationship has been the biggest blessing in disguise for this young Celtics team as it has let everyone take that next step as a player. But really how shocked are we that the Celtics brought it all together at the right time and are in the position that they’re in now? Their next challenge awaits them as the almost mirror imaging Miami Heat look to try to take the NBA Eastern Conference crown.