There are a lot of phrases and cliches you can break out right now when looking at the Boston Celtics being a win away from the NBA Finals. From “ahead of schedule” to “that’s why we play the games”, there are plenty of options. They all add up the same idea.
The Celtics weren’t supposed to be here.
Even before the season, there was probably cautious optimism among the faithful. An off-season trade and another high draft pick, coupled with Jaylen Brown looking ready to emerge last season, were all reason to believe the Celtics could secure a good seed in the playoffs at the very least. But no one felt they would get past Cleveland. The regular season went a bit differently than expected, and even with homecourt advantage and the Cavs looking vulnerable, most felt the Cavaliers would win and advance to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics have been playing with a great deal of house money in this series. They have been written off for a long time.
Of course, the Celtics have been hit hard by injuries. When Kyrie Irving was done for the season, many fans felt like they should win one playoff series, while winning a second would be even better and there were no real expectations beyond that. Expectations that had already been dampened went down just a bit more.
And yet here they are. They can close out the series and advance to the NBA Finals. Against a team basically everyone picked to beat them.
This playoff run has shown what Danny Ainge and the front office have been building this team towards. For a few years, the talk has been how the Celtics own a lot of assets, with the question being whether they would translate into something resembling a championship team. This is probably only the beginning; the Celtics have a lot in their favor right now, from guys on rookie contracts to a lot of options at every position, and still plenty of draft picks. LeBron James is not getting any younger as well; going through the East means going through where he plays, for the time being.
But Celtics fans have to be cautious. A lot can happen to send this in the wrong direction, from a bad injury, a bad trade, or other teams getting better faster. Windows always seem to close faster than anyone imagines, and the idea of arriving “ahead of schedule”, as some may describe this, is not grounded in competitive reality as much as one might think. Every season is different.
That’s why the Celtics have to look to win now. There can be no, “well, we can win next year when we’re better.” This is the chance they have right now, one they are hardly guaranteed to get again anytime soon, no matter how rosy the future might look. And the best chance to further that would be to storm into Cleveland and steal Game 6 to end it on Friday night.
They need to have the same urgency the Cavaliers are bound to have. They can end the Cavaliers’ season right where both teams’ season began. And they can continue to go where they were not supposed to be.