Why Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Celtics might never make it back to NBA Finals

After the Celtics defeated the Heat in a seven-game slugfest, WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche asked Boston coach Ime Udoka if he had a message for all Celtics fans celebrating their team’s win. Udoka replied, “We don’t celebrate Eastern Conference championships in this organization. We don’t hang those banners. We’re here for bigger and better things.”

Udoka and the Celtics know the bar is always set high in Boston. They didn’t win the franchise’s 18th championship, which would have put them ahead of the rival Lakers. If you judge them on those terms alone, they have failed.

But the Celtics’ journey to the NBA Finals shouldn’t be overlooked.

They went under .500 for nearly 50 games in the 2021-22 season before suffering an incredible tear, winning 28 of their last 35 games. Boston entered the NBA playoffs with the league’s best defense, capable of choking opponents with size and speed at any position. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams formed a dominant starting five.

MORE: When was the last time the Celtics won the championship?

Tatum was selected to the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career. After being confronted with the question of working together as a dynamic duo, Tatum and Brown silenced the critics. Smart became the first guard since Gary Payton to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.

In the postseason, the Celtics eliminated star-studded teams in every round. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo – they sent them all home. They then managed within two games to defeat a Warriors team featuring the title winning trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

The true failure does not lie in one of the great dynasties of NBA history. No, it would fall and not get up again.

Williams (24), Tatum (24), Brown (25) and Smart (28) all have prime years ahead of them. Grant Williams (23), Payton Pritchard (24) and Derrick White (27) should also continue to improve. Udoka is just getting started. The parts are all right there.

But having the pieces is not the same as completing the puzzle.

We watched the Thunder reach the 2012 NBA Finals with Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, all in their early 20s. You never made it back.

OFFSEASON OUTLOOK: What’s next for the Celtics?

The Magic reached the 1995 NBA Finals behind the outstanding play of some young players named Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal. This dynamic duo broke up before they ever made it back.

Boston will face many challengers next season. The Bucks, Heat, Nets and Sixers are firmly in win-now mode. Even if the Celtics make it through the Eastern Conference again, the Warriors or a new contender are waiting for them.

The Celtics aren’t interested in winning the Eastern Conference championships. Tatum shouldn’t settle for an Eastern Conference Finals MVP trophy. No one in Boston will accept anything less than Banner #18.

Will this NBA Finals loss propel the Celtics as they strive for “bigger and better” in the future? Or will they look back at the 2022 NBA Finals as the series eludes them?

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