BOSTON — Following their season-ending loss to the Golden State Warriors Thursday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at TD Garden, the message from the Boston Celtics was that the future is bright and they believe this loss is just the beginning.
“It’s definitely tough,” said Marcus Smart of Boston’s 103-90 loss to Golden State. “But it’s definitely one of those things that we went through hell to get here and you take that. You know what I’m saying? We have to use that.
“It’s going to be tough. I know that myself. I look at it and look at all the s— we had to get through to get here just to even get into this situation to have a chance.”
The Celtics, who won their first three eliminators in these playoffs to get to this point, couldn’t do it a fourth time on Thursday as their streak of problems reared their heads offensively once again.
Despite all the attention paid to Finals MVP Stephen Curry, Boston has kept the Warriors in and around the low 100s in every game of this series. But, as Jayson Tatum said, it was Boston’s offensive stance that repeatedly let the Celtics down as they made turnover after turnover.
The Celtics had another 22 turnovers in Game 6, while Tatum — who finished this postseason with an NBA-record 100 giveaways, the most ever by a player in a single playoff — had five of them alone.
In the opening minutes of the game, it looked like Boston would be in business. The Celtics came flying out at both ends, ran crisply offensively and harassed the Warriors defensively. That allowed Boston to lead 14-2 after four minutes, sending the TD Garden crowd into a frenzy and creating the possibility of this series returning to San Francisco.
But then the Warriors responded. And reacts. And reacts. Minutes passed and Golden State continued to score. Boston kept flipping the ball over. By the end of the first quarter, the Warriors had taken the lead — a Golden State would never give back. That lead grew to 15 at half-time, and while the Celtics fought valiantly in the second half, they never really threatened to come back.
“It’s tough to get to this point and not achieve what we wanted,” said Tatum, who spoke little more than a whisper during his stint on the podium after his last tough game of the series and with 13 points 6-for completed -18 shots in 40 minutes. “It hurts. You know we all could have done things better. I feel like I could have done a lot of things better.
However, the attempt was not enough to solve the mysteries that Golden State presented to this Boston-based team. The Celtics were able to overcome the turnover and execution problems they had faced against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Warriors were a different story, however, as veteran Curry and Golden State rosters took one look after another at Boston during that series and the Celtics — and Tatum in particular — struggled to adapt.
And as Boston enters a long offseason that has him wondering what could have been — especially after gross fourth-quarter meltdowns of winnable games in Games 4 and 5 and after ending the postseason with a dismal 6-6 record here at TD Garden — Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who was on the San Antonio Spurs’ coaching staff when they lost to the Miami Heat in seven games in 2013, said that loss will linger for some time.
“It will hurt. It’s gonna hurt for a while. The stuff will probably never go away. I’ve lost one before.
“That was part of the message. Let’s drive from the experience. The growth and progress we’ve made this season. Obviously, reaching your ultimate goal and missing a few games will hurt. There are many people in there [that are] very emotional at the moment.”
One of them was clearly Tatum, who looked like he didn’t want to speak for most of his post-match press conference. But another was big man Robert Williams, who recovered from the knee pain that dogged him through most of the playoffs to be Boston’s most influential player in that series.
“It doesn’t stop hurting,” he said when asked when he will start moving on from this loss. “Honestly, it never stops hurting until we’re back in that position. Starting with the start of the season.
“Must get better, man. Has to get better. Everyone needs to step up, make everything we do a little more intense. But it never stops hurting.”
However, a lot of what the Celtics said after that game is that the future is looking pretty bright here in Boston. All of the team’s top eight rotation players are signed for next season, and of those, only Al Horford is over 27.
After a slow start to the year, with Boston sitting 23-24 at the end of January, the Celtics completely reversed the script, going 28-7 at the end of the year and then going down against superstars Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler through – the final two in a seven-game streak – to make it this far.
Ultimately, however, the combination of Curry and the experienced Moxie and the Warriors’ experience on this stage was too much for Boston to overcome. Now the Celtics will head into the summer reflecting on what could have been and looking forward to where this franchise is headed after reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years.
“The future is bright,” said Jaylen Brown. “I always see adversity as an opportunity to shape a person. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t our time. That means we still have a lot to learn. Personally, I still have a lot to learn.
“For me it’s always about growth. Always getting better, always finding different ways to lead. That’s what it’s all about. The future is bright. I’m looking forward to being there again next year.”