The Celtics were destined to lose to Lebron and the Lakers in an NBA Finals for the ages. Tatum ascends into super-stardom, Kemba finally gets to play deep into the playoffs, Jaylen solidifies himself as one of the best two way players in the NBA, and Smart does Smart things. This is the way the Celtics season should have ended.
But in the end, the Lakers star power was enough (for a year at least).
Now that I’ve buried the lead, let’s go on a journey to see how it all happened. As Miley Cyrus said, it’s all about the climb, right? Into the time machine to pre-COVID times we go.
The Bucks are Stopped Here
It’s March 10th and the Celtics have just played the resurgent and newly healthy (hi Dipo, rough season buddy) Pacers. Gordo had one of his based games of the season, and the Celtics have been OK, winning 5 out of 10. Up next is the Milwaukee Bucks.
According to point differential, this is one of the best teams ever at plus 11.2; 5th best ever and right behind one of those KD Warriors teams you may have heard of.
The Celtics have been itching to get to this game and show the rest of the NBA that they are a team to be reckoned with. Well, the Celtics deliver their best performance of the season at the Fiserv Forum, and it sets them up to finish out their season confident and ready for the playoffs. All the while, Tatum’s stardom grows ever brighter as he finishes the season continuing his tear.
Where Did the Celtics End Up
A brief pause here for an explanation. I used winning % from the first 67 or so games of the season to project the final games to keep it simple. It finished out like this:
|Playoff Seed||Team||Final Wins Projection||Final Losses Projection|
I’ll be using this for playoff seeding, so keep that in mind as you read.
OK, back to the narrative.
Philadelphia Arrives in Boston
The playoff match-up the people™ wanted. Celtics face Al Horford, Sharpshooter Simmons, and a semi healthy Embiid in round one. This series is super tight. In game 1, Embiid punishes a highly motivated but over matched Theis down low, and Kanter….tries his best. Simmons is handled well enough by the Celtics’ bevy of versatile wings and swipes at Marcus after a hard foul in transition late in the 3rd. Down the stretch, Tatum hits a tough layup, Kemba makes a gorgeous pass out to Jaylen who nails a 3, and the Celtics pull it out, winning by 5.
More of the same ensues in games 2 and 3, with the games being split by each home team.
Staying in Philly for a crucial game 4, Embiid talks trash about Marcus’ “dirty” play. The Celtics come out a over aggressive and are down early, and Embiid backs up the talk with an absurd 34-14 game to go with 4 blocks. The series is a best of 3 now.
Heading back to Boston, the Celtics know how important this game 5 is. Marcus, the spiritual leader, comes out shooting. Nothing is going for him or the rest of either team in the early going. However, out of the blue, Gordon Hayward catches fire, going off for 14 points in the second quarter. The Celtics hold off the 76ers the rest of the way, and pull out a 7 point victory. Much needed breathing space for the Celtics, yes, but now is not the time to take a breath. The series heads back to Philly where a desperate team lays it all on the line in game 6.
A Fight in Philly
It is back and forth from the tip, Jaylen and Jayson combine for an alley-oop that Jaylen slams down over Horford. Horford, however, has his best game of the series doing what he does best; always being in the right place at the right time and making the best basketball play. The second half begins and the 76ers go on a run to take a 12 point lead off some sloppy Celtics plays. Brad calls a timeout, calms the nerves and the game is within reach by the end of the 3rd, with the Celtics down 4. In the fourth, it’s all Tatum, and its all misses. Tatum doesn’t have it tonight. Kemba tries his best to will the Celtics to a win, but this quarter and game belong to Ben Simmons.
Simmons completely dominates the fourth quarter. Simmons pours in 12 points, 6 boards, 3 Assists and 2 steals to go with lock-down defense on Tatum during the quarter, physically dominating the Celtics wings. The Celtics have no answer and Kemba’s 31 points and 8 assists are not enough.
Finally, it comes down to game 7 at the Garden. However, the 76ers lay a dud. Maybe they hit the Boston clubs too hard the night before, but this game is not close. Tobias Harris as 22 to lead the 76ers, but it is not nearly enough. A balanced attack from the Celtics closes out the 76ers in embarrassing fashion. Celtics win by 18 but it could have been more as Embiid and the 76ers are demoralized by the Celtics hot shooting.
The Celtics Survive and Advance
The Celtics survive and advance in the playoffs to face another tough opponent, the 2 seed Toronto Raptors. The Raptors just dispatched the outgunned Nets in 5 games, and so are well rested coming into the series.
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-Brent Buckley (@bigbucksbuckley)