Defeat is cruel and it hurts. For an NBA player, losing in the Finals represents the pinnacle of “sporting” pain. Even more when the last game of the series is played at home. Despite their fans, despite their efforts, despite their progress throughout the season, the Celtics couldn’t stop Stephen Curry’s Warriors. They were leading 2-1 going into Game 4 in Boston and they lost three in a row to see their opponents triumph and celebrate on their own floor. Terrible. This moment is likely to haunt Jayson Tatum and his teammates all summer long. It is the burden of the finalist beaten so close to the goal. “It hurts. We could have done better. I have the feeling that there are plenty of things that we could have done better“, dropped the young superstar, annoyed.
Because the Celtics had their chance and they know it. “We lead ourselves alone“, even confessed Jaylen Brown after Game 6. Their solid performances in the first three games, with an inaugural victory on the Warriors field, put them in an ideal position to seek the eighteenth banner of the franchise. Then Curry went there, planting 43 runs to tie it at 2-2 in the fourth set. Everything went off the rails afterwards. They may have regrets. They may be disappointed. But they also have reason to come out with their heads held high, proud of what they have accomplished.
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Ime Udoka’s men waged a heroic campaign in which they eliminated the Nets of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in four straight sets before emerging victorious in an epic series with the defending champions Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. . The Heat, first in the East this season, also failed to stop this revanchist squad. A hell of a journey that left its mark on the organizations, with palpable fatigue in the finals. Yes, this team lost but they can believe in their chances of coming back stronger. “The future is bright, it’s only just begun for us “, assured the coach.
Boston, a young group that will continue to progress
A message of hope that makes sense. After all, the Celtics had a serious experience deficit compared to their opponents. Tatum and Brown, the two All-Stars who carry Boston, are only 24 and 25 years old. They are not even at the peak of their careers. Robert Williams is also 24 years old, as is Payton Pritchard. Grant Williams is even a year younger. Marcus Smart, 27, is older but he is only entering what is theoretically billed as the best period of his career. This group is already strong but its potential is even more intriguing. He learned to live together, to go through hardships and to recover.
The Celtics have faced adversity and they have always overcome it so far. It is now one more step towards glory. “I always see it as an opportunity to grow as an individual. It was not our time. And that means we still have a lot to learn. For me, it’s all about evolution. To continue to be better, to find other ways to lead our team. The future looks bright and I’m already excited to come back next season“, noted Brown.
This is exactly the mentality that all his teammates must adopt. Especially Jayson Tatum. The winger has come under fire – perhaps a little unfairly – after his displays throughout the series. He was not bad but he also failed to take the games on his own, finishing with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists on average at 36% shooting success. But let’s not forget that these were his first finals.
LeBron James had aligned similar statistics while being even more clumsy when discovering this stage of the competition in 2007. He then died in the fourth quarter four years later in his second finals. It obviously doesn’t guarantee such a rich future for Tatum, but it’s about keeping in mind that he’s still young and will continue to improve. Let’s not forget either that he played many more minutes than everyone during these playoffs and that he had been imperial against KD and Giannis, the two best basketball players on the planet.
Jayson Tatum vs. Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics) on October 20, 2021 in the NBA
Credit: Getty Images
The Celtics’ targets to turn a corner
But there is one area (and even several) he needs to work on after these finals. Tatum is increasingly asserting himself as a quality playmaker but it would be essential for him to be able to really master this aspect of the game. No team has been crowned champion without an elite creator for more than ten years. And that’s what these Celtics lack. JT, Brown, and Smart can bring danger or cause others to play streaks. But they are not real playmakers.
Either one of them – Tatum is the best placed – takes a significant step, or the leaders will have to go find a confirmed playmaker. Possession management has cost Udoka’s men dearly during this series. They lost 101 balls in 6 matches, unheard of since 1998 in such a long final! 22 balls conceded to the opponent in Game 6 alone. A recurring problem that paid off in cash against a team like the Warriors, lethal in transition.
Robert Williams (Boston Celtics) martyrise les Golden State Warriors à l’image d’Andrew Wiggins
Credit: Getty Images
It already gives a work track for the management. We will have to look for a ball handler capable of creating for others. If possible a good defender, so that the Celtics can keep their DNA. Malcolm Brogdon would also be available on the Indiana side… Another important point: the depth of the bench. The staff revolved around 8 players only on these finals. And again, Pritchard, Williams and Derrick White, the three substitutes, brought less and less to the last matches. It takes a wider rotation to travel more serenely. In particular insurance in the event of injury of the other Williams, Robert, a young key player but often prone to physical glitches. Brad Stevens has done a good job in his first year at the helm. GM must continue this momentum.
The lights are green for Boston. But getting back to the finals will certainly not be an easy task. In 2012, the Thunder discovered this atmosphere by relying on Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They were promised the moon. They never went back there. The Celtics are going to have some competition. The Bucks won’t always be without Khris Middleton. The Nets are a few adjustments (and a stable Kyrie Irving) away from being able to roll on the Conference. The Heat will remain competitive. The Sixers have not said their last word. Sometimes the shooting window is smaller than it looks. That’s why it hurts to lose so close to the goal.
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