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Boston Celtics’ dream postseason ends with a whimper in Game 6 loss

By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports Columnist

BOSTON — Marcus Smart left the media convention room and started to make his means by way of the underground hallways of TD Garden. His Celtics-green pants matched his Celtics-green hair, which was a little longer than it was when the playoffs began and Boston hadn’t but misplaced the NBA Finals to the Warriors in six video games.

The scent of cigar smoke from Golden State’s championship celebration and the distant whoops of its joyful gamers hung in the air. Near Smart, nonetheless, the one sound was his sniffles.

The Defensive Player of the Year’s Celtics-green sneakers had been embroidered with sequins, and so they sparkled underneath the fluorescent lights as he shuffled alongside the carpet with a member of the staff’s workers. Before Smart made his means out of the maze and towards the broader hallways the place household and buddies had gathered, he placed on his sun shades to cover the redness ringing his eyes. 

Entering the general public house as soon as once more, he nonetheless thought to carry the door for the individual behind him.

Smart’s sparkly footwear had been nearly taunting after Boston’s 103-90 loss in Game 6. They had been celebration footwear, footwear in which it nearly feels foolish to be unhappy, like crying whereas sporting a clown nostril.

Those sneakers had been what this Celtics staff was at its finest: brash, gritty and layered, with depth and smothering brightness that blinded opponents. This staff began 19-21 after which, after Jan. 10, went 32-10. It ended the season with the second-best document in the Eastern Conference and the very best protection in the league. 

“We’ve been by way of hell to get right here,” Smart stated.  

It’s true. These guys weren’t purported to be right here. They weren’t purported to make it to the Finals underneath rookie head coach Ime Udoka, not to mention seem as if they may win all of it after they gained Game 3 to take a 2-1 sequence lead.

But Boston didn’t blind anybody on Thursday. In reality, each participant regarded like a deer in the headlights, if deer might play sizzling potato with a basketball as a substitute of driving to the rim. The staff lacked the grit and confidence it had performed with to get so far. The Celtics had been erratic, with flashes of former greatness, however they by no means sustained it or kicked into a greater gear.

Perhaps it was the dearth of expertise on the playoff stage, particularly towards a Warriors staff that has been in the postseason collectively so many instances. Perhaps it was the truth that no Celtics participant had been to the Finals, so there was nobody to proper the ship when gamers began to get slowed down mentally.

Perhaps the staff merely lacked the cohesion that it was beforehand capable of sew collectively with Band-Aids and no matter it was that held Robert Williams III knee collectively.  

“They gained, and we misplaced,” Jaylen Brown stated after the sport. “We did it to ourselves. We had the chance to go up and win, and I assume we confirmed our immaturity at instances. And it stings. [We’re] nonetheless a younger group, nonetheless acquired a lot to be taught.

“[There’s] nothing to hold our heads about. Tough day for Boston. Tough day for the Celtics. I don’t know what to say.” 

On Thursday, each Boston participant appeared afraid to be the one to take pictures. Every participant besides Al Horford, who performed in 141 playoff video games over 15 years earlier than making it to the Finals. As the sport slipped away, he sank 3s and made a monster block that (cruelly) stored some hope alive for Celtics followers.

But Horford couldn’t cease the others from wanting sluggish and demoralized, and he couldn’t encourage the boldness his youthful teammates wanted to take crucial pictures. As a consequence, Boston gamers stored passing the ball to another person till somebody, ultimately, turned it over. 

That is just not hyperbole. The Celtics had 21 turnovers Thursday. When they’d fewer than 15, they had been 13-2 this postseason and 2-0 in the Finals. More than 15? The staff went 1-8 in the playoffs and 0-4 in the Finals.

As Udoka stated after the sport, “You might take a look at the field rating and see if we gained or misplaced primarily based on a few issues.”  

Boston’s younger famous person, Jayson Tatum, turned the primary participant to notch 100 turnovers in a single postseason on Thursday. That’s not the sort of historical past anybody desires to make — particularly not a participant who has been hailed as The Guy. The identical man who made a buzzer-beating layup to take Game 1 in the primary spherical towards the Nets. The identical man who put up a 46-point, nine-rebound, four-assist efficiency in Game 6 towards Milwaukee to ship the sequence to a Game 7. The identical man who scored 31 to pressure one other Game 7 towards Miami in the convention finals. 

That man by no means actually confirmed up in the Finals. He had a few good video games however none that would depend as a definitive Tatum Game and mark his undisputed arrival in the pantheon of legendary Finals performances. 

But Tatum didn’t get the Celtics right here alone. Far from it. On Thursday, Brown confirmed as much as attempt to will the staff to a win, placing up 31 factors. 

Still, he and Tatum every had 5 turnovers. 

And all season, Smart was the beating coronary heart of this staff, leaving every little thing on the courtroom as he caught to opposing offenses like glue. Horford introduced a degree of expertise — if finally not sufficient — that appeared to behave as a consolation to the younger staff. Williams III performed by way of ache, Grant Williams had a monster recreation when it counted in Game 7 towards the Bucks, and Brown constantly proved why he and Tatum are Boston’s famous person future. Derrick White, Payton Pritchard and plenty of others contributed to the Celtics’ success.

Going into these playoffs, plenty of folks talked concerning the first-round sequence towards the Nets as if Boston had misplaced earlier than it began. Kevin Durant was too large of a identify and too large of a presence. 

It seems that a true squad is an excessive amount of for anyone participant. 

Game 6 of the Finals was, then, the final word instance of Boston’s season. It was much less the Warriors’ to clinch and extra the Celtics’ to as soon as once more win with their backs towards the wall — or lose. 

And this time, as a substitute of rising to the event, they acquired scared or psyched out. They appeared to lose belief in themselves. And as a result of nobody participant might decisively win or lose the sport, all of them misplaced it collectively.

T.S. Eliot may as effectively have written his poem “The Hollow Men” concerning the 2022 Celtics: “This is the way in which the season ends, not with a bang however with a whimper.” Or at the least it felt like that because the clock ticked down in the fourth quarter, with the Warriors’ lead constructing and Boston’s gamers wanting like shells of themselves.

Afterward, Brown stored saying how brilliant the long run is for Boston. But getting again to the Finals — by way of a wholesome Bucks staff, a wholesome Heat staff, a Nets staff with a Durant who has a lot to show and Joel Embiid’s Sixers — can be no straightforward process. 

Let’s, nonetheless, select optimism. These Celtics willed themselves so far, and if Boston followers are fortunate, they are going to accomplish that once more. They definitely have the expertise. This may be the painful expertise that retains them hungry. 

“You don’t need to really feel like this once more, however you need to get again right here,” Tatum stated after the sport. “So, yeah, it’s going to gasoline us.”  

Maybe sooner or later, Smart will put on these sparkly sneakers once more to have a good time a championship. And perhaps, reasonably than shrinking from the duty, each participant will clamor to be the one who ends the opposing staff’s season with a bang.

Charlotte Wilder is a basic columnist and cohost of “The People’s Sports Podcast” for FOX Sports. She’s honored to symbolize the always uncared for Boston space in sports activities media, loves speaking to sports activities followers about their emotions and is happiest consuming a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.

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