Celtics Use Finals Loss as Fuel for Their Future
BOSTON – Sitting in the silence of defeat inside their home locker room Thursday night while the Golden State Warriors celebrated an NBA Championship on the TD Garden court was a painful moment for the Boston Celtics.
However, it was also a pivotal moment in the eyes of first-year head coach Ime Udoka.
His parting message following the 103-90 Game 6 defeat was this: “To let it propel us forward, the experience. The biggest message is to learn from this, grow from it, take this experience, and see there is another level to get to … Just don't come back the same as players, coaching staff. Let this fuel you throughout the offseason into next year.”
Those words hold great meaning to Udoka because he has lived them before.
Back in 2013, while serving as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, he experienced a dreadful championship loss to the Miami Heat – the one sparked by Ray Allen's infamous game-tying 3. Those Spurs held onto their pain from that moment, and it drove them all the way back to the Finals the very next year where they would go on to capture a title.
The main difference between this young Celtics team and that aging Spurs team is that this should only mark the beginning of perennial championship contention for Boston. It had reached the Eastern Conference Finals three times in the previous five campaigns before finally getting over the hump this season by reaching the NBA Finals.
The next hump to get over is by winning it all.
“What I did say to the group was that there are levels,” said Udoka. “You can see the difference in Golden State, a team that's been there, been together for a long time. The core group, it's been 10 years now. We've seen what we can achieve. It hurts we fell short of that. But what I did say is the future is bright and we're just getting started, so let's all come back better from this experience.”
The bulk of Boston’s core has been together for a few seasons now, and this was their biggest test yet.
It was a roller coaster of a journey, as the C’s started off 18-21 while navigating the challenges of adapting to a new coach and new system, as well as dealing with a plethora of early-season health issues. They completed a miraculous turnaround, going from 11th place in mid-January all the way up to second place by the end of the regular season before emerging as Eastern Conference champions.
“We speak of the route we had to take to get here; it wasn't easy,” said Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. “That's the confident part we have in it, you know what I'm saying? We went through hell to get here. We didn't play our best basketball, our best series. This is probably our worst series. But it's part of it. It happens. It is what it is. We’re young, and like I said, the things we went through to get here showed us what we have to come for us in the future.”
Their future will be molded by their past experiences, and this Finals loss will be the most critical learning point of all.
“It's hard,” said Jayson Tatum, who joined Larry Bird and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history to amass at least 600 points, 150 rebounds, and 125 assists in a single postseason. “It's hard getting to this point. It's even harder getting over it, the hump, and winning it. It's been a long journey, a long process. That's what I took from it: it's tough. You got to take it up another level to do what we want to do.”
The process of taking it up another level starts right away. After playing a league-high 106 games, the Celtics have earned some well-deserved rest, but then it’s right back to the drawing board.
“We have to make sure that we have a good summer as far as continuing to put in the work and get better and get prepared for next season,” said Al Horford. “Obviously we'll take some time, but we have a great opportunity in front of us to get better this summer individually, then when we come together as a group and build from this.”
This defeat is just one more obstacle to learn from and to eventually overcome.
“I always look at adversity as opportunities to shape an individual,” said Jaylen Brown. “For whatever reason, it wasn't our time. That means we still got a lot to learn. Personally, I still got a lot to learn. For me, it's always about growth. Continuing to get better, continuing to find different ways to lead. That's what it's about. The future is bright. I'm excited to get back next year.”