You did it! The Boston Celtics are heading into the NBA Finals on May 29 after beating the Miami Heat in Game 7.
For a Celtics team that stuttered out of goal early in the season, their post-season form is a testament to their resilience and determination to prove themselves on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer.
As of the turn of the year 2022, the Celtics have been a completely different team and have earned a reputation for being the best defensive unit in the league, bolstered by their first place in the NBA’s regular-season defensive standings.
Although their defense clearly set the tone, JJ Redick believes there was another key change that saved the Celtics’ season, one that was far more subtle. In a recent episode of Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast, the former NBA sniper describes how realizing Jayson Tatum was the “alpha” of the team was the true turning point of her season.
“I think the biggest thing that’s happened this year and it didn’t happen in the first two months, it just happened in January. They found out that Tatum is the Alpha, he is the Batman and Jaylen Brown is the Robin. And for a while it felt like these guys couldn’t quite get it. There was a bit of that young player, “I wanna be that guy, you wanna be that guy,” and they’re obviously friends. Tatum talked about it on this podcast, he had conversations with Jaylen, they didn’t want to break up … I think finding that out was great,” Redick said.
When you think about the key players in the Celtics roster, it’s clear that while Smart isn’t the most talented, he is clearly an essential piece of the puzzle. The veteran guard has improved every aspect of his game in his first season in a starting role and is the team’s emotional leader.
After Boston’s seventh victory over the Heat, a clearly emotional Smart took time to reflect on what it means for him to reach the NBA Finals after missing opportunities several times throughout his career.
“It’s every athlete’s dream to reach that final stage and seize this opportunity. I’ve been to the conference finals four times and got sent home every year. It feels really good, and it feels really good for Jayson and Jaylen. And even Al, he’s been playing all these games and working his dick off, so it feels really good,” Smart told reporters after Boston’s win.
Boston’s mid-season turnaround has been a talking point for fans and media since the turn of the year, with most people believing the Celtics are now ready to go all the way and fly Banner 18. But no matter how deep they dive, or who they speak to, no one could pinpoint the exact moment Boston’s season took a turn for the better.
Some believe that Jaylen Brown’s now infamous tweet That’s got Boston moving in the right direction, while others credit Marcus Smart’s mistreatment of Tatum and Brown’s perceived selfish play after the game as playing a role. But according to the Celtics’ All-NBA wing, much of their fuel came from outside criticism and from people questioning Tatum and Brown’s ability to succeed as the team’s core duo.
“All of those things helped. From saying we need to split the group or get rid of someone to saying me and JB can’t play together. That spurred us on to find out and not run away from it. We’ll be here for a while, we trust each other and that we have to get better. I think instead of breaking up, we became closer and I think it shows throughout the season,” Tatum told the media.
Regardless of what was the root cause of Boston’s improvements, it’s clear this team is now poised to fight for a championship for several years, and their first shot at glory begins on Thursday, June 2nd.