Andrew Callahan: These Celtics will live forever, NBA champions again

Andrew Callahan, Boston Herald on

Published in Basketball

BOSTON — No more doubts.

No more questions.

No more qualifiers.

The Boston Celtics are NBA champions, the best in all of basketball, once again.

The Celtics completed their quest for basketball immortality Monday night by mauling the Mavericks, 106-88, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals; the final stroke of their season-long masterpiece.

It was a show of growth and strength for a young team that grew up before our eyes. Boston outclassed the Mavericks, behind Jayson Tatum’s all-around, 31-point showcase and countless tough plays made across the roster that in years past marked the gap between themselves and a title.

But this year, none of that was new.

Powered by unmatched talent, the Celtics foisted impossible defensive decisions on every opponent with their immaculate spacing and untouchable shooting. Then, they’d roll up their sleeves on defense and smother them at the other end. Dallas scored more than 100 points just once all Finals.

To fans of past generations, the dominance surely felt familiar. But this style, these names and the overwhelming star power was all brand new.

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White, Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, Joe Mazzulla, first-time champions. All of them.

Thanks to them, Boston again boasts more championships than any other team in the NBA, breaking an all-time tie with the rival Lakers. In one way, these Finals were perfect: sticking it to one rival and vanquishing another.

Kyrie Irving? The Garden crowd unnerved him last week and buried him Monday.

Irving averaged 14.3 points per game in Boston, unthreatening and unable. But Monday night at TD Garden was not about bad blood or history.

It was a new team, writing a new chapter in an era that belongs all to them.

For too much of the last 30 years, the Celtics were defined by their memories. Of Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek and Robert Parish. Of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen lighting the championship flame again in 2008.

Because most recently, playoff memories brought only pain. Disappointment. Two conference finals defeats to the Miami Heat around a Finals loss against Golden State. A perpetual sense of something missing: be it playoff grit, clutch performance or a glue to bind the talents of Tatum and Brown.

No more. The Celtics are complete. Champions, forever.


For every fan under 40 years old, the glory days have arrived. Two superstars in their mid-20s leading Boston back to the mountaintop. Tatum and Brown aren’t going anywhere, either. It’s 107 playoff games together down, and countless others to go.

Though, they hardly did it alone.

Before Brown was named Finals MVP, Jrue Holiday added to his legitimate case for the award with 15 points, 11 rebounds and four assists Monday. Sam Hauser, an unwanted, undrafted rookie just three years ago, hit two 3-pointers and deflected everything within reach in the first half.

And who could forget Payton Pritchard’s half-court heave to stretch Boston’s lead to 21 points at halftime? The lower Garden stands shook in celebration after that shot. Above them, tucked in his own suite, Brad Stevens looked on.

Stevens can only be described as the best GM in all of American pro sports since he took over in June 2021.

There was the Derrick White trade two years ago. Shipping out Marcus Smart in a deal that netted Kristaps Porzingis and two first-round picks last offseason. Then adding Holiday, and sticking by Mazzulla through his growing pains of a terrible playoff loss.

And you can’t forget coaching.

Under Mazzulla, Boston conquered Luka Doncic, the best player in this series, by playing the long game. The Celtics attacked him at both ends; often fruitlessly with their defense (Doncic posted 28 points and 12 rebounds Monday), but to great effect when they held the ball.

Tatum drew him out in isolation over and over. Brown drove into his chest. Porzingis posted up his old teammate on switches, and beat him up.

Late in Monday’s win, Doncic burped up an air ball with 2:26 left in the third quarter, a sure sign of fatigue. Doncic averaged fewer than four fourth-quarter points per game in the Finals. He was worn out, plain and simple.

Monday wasn’t his night anyway. Doncic’s first shot in Game 5 went halfway down the basket and spun out, ghosts of the Garden playing tricks on Dallas.

The Celtics, 16 years to the day of their last title, weren’t losing Monday night. Not the 617 on 06/17.

And so Boston dispatched Doncic and the Mavs in five, after eliminating the hated Heat and losing one game across the second and third rounds combined.

The Celtics stand alone, the best team in basketball playing in the best sports town in America.

NBA champions, once again.

Long may they reign.

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