To paraphrase a deceased sports legend, it feels like déjà vu again for the Boston Celtics. After Game 3 of the 2022 NBA Finals, the Celtics took a 2-1 lead over the Golden State Warriors, but despite leading in both Game 4 and Game 5, they are now at a 3-2 disadvantage. After losing back-to-back games for the first time this postseason, the Celtics are on the verge of being eliminated for the third time in as many series.
It’s not that hard to figure out exactly what went wrong for the Celtics on Monday. The team committed an unacceptable 18 turnovers, missed double-digit free throws and constantly argued with the officials instead of focusing on the game at hand. Because they fell into those bad old habits, the Celtics were unable to capitalize on a rare day when Steph Curry failed to hit a three-pointer, something they can’t hope to do again in Game 6 tonight will happen.
To their credit, the Celtics know exactly what they’re doing wrong, having addressed it at the end of seemingly every loss this postseason. The bad news is that admitting mistakes is never enough to warrant real improvement: the trick is to actively avoid repeating them. That’s the part of the equation the Celtics have yet to figure out.
That’s partly because they’re still a young team and their best player — Jayson Tatum — is only 24 years old, although he’s been in the postseason so many times it feels like he’s a lot older. Ime Udoka deservedly finished fourth in this year’s Coach of the Year rankings, but he’s still in his first year on the job after years as an assistant. Given that they’re playing against a Warriors team seeking their fourth championship in the last decade, it’s understandable that their opponents would take advantage of the experience gap.
In theory, that appearance at the NBA Finals – the first since the era of the New Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – should be the start of dominance in the East. Boston took the risk of renewing Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III to ensure they have their young core available for the foreseeable future in hopes they would compete for a title year after year .
Still, there’s no guarantee that the Celtics – no matter how talented their roster – will be in a better position to win a title in their current state. We all remember the saga of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who seemed poised to rule the Western Conference but never returned to the Finals. Even the New Big Three Celtics failed to win another title after scoring a championship in their first-ever year together. Opportunities come only so often in the highly competitive NBA.
But no matter what happens tonight, the Celtics have ensured that this has been a hugely successful season. After their offseason organizational reshuffle and subsequent struggles in the first half of the season, it was difficult for even the most optimistic Greenbloods to imagine these Celtics going down a deep run in the playoffs, let alone making it to Game 6 of the NBA Finals . A Thursday loss would be the furthest thing from disappointment, especially against a popular Golden State team.
Regret, however, is life’s most brutal inevitability. If the Celtics don’t come out and play their best tonight, they won’t remember how lucky they were to be there: they will only remember the missed chances. The Celtics have successfully held up against adversity all season, now it’s time to see if they still have a counter punch left in them.