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The Celtics' inevitable 2024 NBA championship is the byproduct of a roster-building masterclass

Kristian Winfield, New York Daily News on

Published in Basketball

Barring a meltdown never-before-seen in NBA history, the Boston Celtics will hang championship banner No. 18 with a resounding victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

The Celtics jumped out to a 3-0 series lead over the Mavericks with a 106-99 win late Wednesday night, stifling Kyrie Irving’s best game of the 2024 NBA Finals (35 points, 4-of-6 3PT) to pull within one win of title town.

And while the Mavericks clearly have the two most gifted players in the series in Irving and Luka Doncic, who fouled out in the fourth quarter with 27 points on 27 shot attempts, it’s clear the Celtics are the better-constructed team.

They are so well-constructed, it’s worth an investigation.

Investigation reiterates building through draft

The Celtics drafted and molded four players vital to their 2024 championship run.

They selected Jaylen Brown out of California No. 3 overall in 2016 behind Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, then they deftly traded down with the Philadelphia 76ers from pick No. 1 to pick No. 3 to select Jayson Tatum in the following draft class.

Boston kept the duo together despite multiple failed championship runs, including a brutal loss to the Golden State Warriors in 2022.

Brown and Tatum are now one win away from hoisting their first title, and with multiple key rotation players under contract for years to come, the Celtics are staring at a potential dynasty following the hanging of banner No. 18.

Brown finished Game 3 with 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and Tatum had his best game of the series, erupting for 31 points, six rebounds and five assists, as the pair of Celtics became the first duo in NBA Finals history to tally at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists apiece in a game.

The Celtics also drafted backup guard Payton Pritchard 26th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, then signed him to a contract extension last summer even though they took significant luxury tax penalties as second apron offenders.

Pritchard has appeared in every game of Boston’s playoff run, including 11 minutes of Boston’s Game 3 victory.

As has Sam Hauser, a sharpshooting wing the Celtics signed as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia in 2021.

Hauser entered the league known solely as a shooter but has since transformed his game on the defensive end, as he displayed in Game 3, when he paired nine points on three-of-four shooting from downtown off the bench with multiple efforts on defense in Boston’s third consecutive game holding the Mavericks to less than 100 points.

Building through the draft has been a common denominator for an overwhelming majority of NBA champions this century:

— 2023: The Denver Nuggets drafted their core of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., as well as a key reserve Christian Braun as they steamrolled the league to secure a title.

— 2022, 2018, 2017, 2015, : A homegrown generational Warriors’ trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green led Golden State to three titles in a four-year span, then a fourth five years later

— 2021: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascent to superstardom culminated with the Milwaukee Bucks’ first title since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won one in 1971. The Bucks selected Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP, 15th overall in the 2013 NBA draft and developed him from a raw prospect into an all-time great.

— 2020: The Los Angeles Lakers paired LeBron James and Anthony Davis and won the title in the Orlando bubble. Two key players were selected through the draft: Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso

— 2019: The Toronto Raptors built through the draft then traded a franchise cornerstone in DeMar DeRozan to rent Kawhi Leonard for one season. The timely deal won them a title, though they have yet to rebound from Leonard’s subsequent departure

— 2016: LeBron made good on his promise to bring Cleveland a championship, but he got some help from home-grown stars. The Cavaliers not only drafted Kyrie Irving No. 1 in 2011, but they also drafted Tristan Thompson No. 4 in the same draft class, and the Cavs signed backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova as an undrafted free agent out of St. Mary’s in 2014.

 

The list goes on.

The San Antonio Spurs built through the draft and won five titles between 1999 and 2014. They are on a crash course for another title run after selecting Victor Wembanyama No. 1 overall in 2023.

The Miami Heat drafted Dwyane Wade and won three championships, one after acquiring Shaquille O’Neale (2006), and another two in a row after forming a super team with LeBron and Chris Bosh (2012, 2013).

The Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but they drafted the other three starters — Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins — as well as role players Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Leon Powe.

Best teams build around developed draft picks

The Celtics promoted Brad Stevens from head coach to president of basketball operations on June 2, 2021.

Stevens’ first move was to re-acquire Al Horford, who’d left Boston to ink a huge deal in Philadelphia, only to become available on the trade market two seasons later after a subsequent trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Months later on Feb. 10, 2022, Stevens traded Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson, and a protected 2022 first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for a combo guard: Derrick White.

White has since been invaluable as a do-it-all utility playmaker on both ends for a Celtics team defined by its versatility.

Stevens had the foresight to know White’s institutional knowledge under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio would make for a seamless transition in Boston.

He also had the foresight to know Horford’s ability to shoot threes and his IQ on both ends of the floor would compensate where his legs as an aging veteran fell short.

Porzingis, for example, missed Game 3 due to a calf injury, yet the 37-year-old Horford logged 37 minutes, and the Mavericks only won those minutes by two points.

Had Porzingis been available, the Celtics may have pelted the Mavericks into submission. After all, the Celtics used Marcus Smart, one season removed from his Defensive Player of the Year campaign, as the centerpiece of the deal to pry the stretch-five away from the Washington Wizards and play five-out on offense the entire season.

Sometimes, you draft and develop players to use them as trade chips to acquire players who better fit the team.

The Celtics used another home-grown talent, Robert Williams III, in its offseason deal to acquire Jrue Holiday, who’d arrived in Portland after the Damian Lillard trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.

And last but not least, Stevens secured insurance. Injury insurance for an oft-injured big man. The kind of insurance many teams forego. At the trade deadline, the Celtics acquired Xavier Tillman from the Memphis Grizzlies for matching salary and a pair of second-round picks.

Lo and behold, Porzingis went down, Tillman was called up, and not only did he knock down a critical three to ward off a furious third-quarter Mavericks’ run, but he also blocked two shots in 11 minutes off the bench.

Like the Mavericks, the Celtics have two individual stars in Brown and Tatum who can carry them to victory on any given night.

Rarely, however, are NBA titles won by individual talents. It takes a team, the likes of which Boston has constructed, to win it all, which is why the Celtics are en route to banner No. 18, and if they keep this group together, banners 19 and 20 could be on the way, too.

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©2024 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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