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On Jan. 6, the Boston Celtics blew a 25-point result in the New York Knicks, and misplaced in heartbreaking vogue when RJ Barrett banked in a 3-pointer on the buzzer. That was the Celtics’ fifth loss in seven video games, and dropped them to eleventh place within the Jap Convention at 18-21. 

A annoyed and disenchanted Ime Udoka sat on the podium and let his crew have it after that loss. The Celtics’ first-year head coach referred to as them out for a “lack of psychological toughness to battle by way of these adversarial instances.”

“I really feel like he is one hundred pc proper, to be trustworthy,” Robert Williams III mentioned on the time. “We get rattled so much, particularly once we’re dealing with adversity. We have got to seek out in ourselves the battle to only come collectively.”

5 months later, the crew has not solely come collectively, it has superior to the NBA Finals for the primary time since 2010. On Sunday night time, the Celtics held on by a thread down the stretch to beat the Miami Warmth in Sport 7 of the Jap Convention finals, 100-96. 

The postgame message this time round was a bit totally different:

“Two Sport 7s within the final two collection,” Udoka mentioned. “Exhibits what I mentioned about our group. That we fought by way of loads of adversity this yr. A resilient group. Tonight appeared to typify our season.”

The Celtics nonetheless have their flaws. They’re turnover susceptible, will be taken out of video games at instances by worrying an excessive amount of in regards to the officers, and have points scoring in crunch time. They blew a 14-point result in the Milwaukee Bucks in Sport 5 of the second spherical, misplaced Sport 6 of this collection at dwelling regardless of holding a late lead and noticed their 13-point lead within the remaining jiffy of Sport 7 get whittled down to 2 within the closing seconds. 

However even when they do not at all times make it straightforward on themselves, they at all times have a response. 

“That is what we do, we did all that on goal to make it fascinating,” Jaylen Brown mentioned. “No, I am simply kidding. However that is us. We have been responding all yr, all season to adversity. Right now was the largest take a look at, not simply of the yr however of our careers, to mentally come right into a Sport 7 away after shedding on our dwelling court docket, which was robust, and we acquired it achieved.”

There have been mini examples all through this recreation. When their 17-point lead was lower to 6 at halftime (partly as a consequence of some questionable officiating), they went on a fast 7-1 run out of the break to push it again to double figures. When the Warmth made one other cost at the beginning of the fourth quarter to make it a three-point recreation, the Celtics rattled off an 8-0 run. And at last, when the Warmth acquired it again down to 2 within the closing seconds, Marcus Sensible hit two clutch free throws to assist seal the deal. 

That was the psychological toughness and resilience we have seen from this group all through the playoffs. They’re 3-0 in elimination video games, together with two wins on the street, have received two Sport 7s and are nonetheless an ideal 6-0 following a loss. In reality, they have not misplaced back-to-back video games since late March. 

At instances, it is onerous to imagine this is similar crew that sat there on that fateful January night time in New York questioning the place every thing had gone flawed. That defeat nonetheless lingers in Tatum’s thoughts. He referenced it once more on Sunday, calling it the “lowest second” of the season. 

In one other world, that might have been the start of the tip for this group. Whether or not Tatum and Brown might play collectively was a continuing subject of debate, not solely in native Boston media, however on a nationwide stage. Marcus Sensible’s capacity to run the crew was in fixed query, and he was topic to commerce rumors but once more. There was skepticism, too, about whether or not Udoka was the best man for the job. 

Even internally, the doubts have been beginning to creep in. 

“It was robust,” Tatum mentioned. “Like actually. There have been undoubtedly some robust moments all through the season the place — not doubt your self however perhaps query, proper, query, can we do it? You begin to understand how onerous it’s to win. You begin to query your self; are you adequate to be that man?

“However I feel you simply belief in your self, belief within the work that you simply put in to get thus far and proceed to work. It may well’t rain endlessly. Good days have been coming. I felt that we have been — no matter it was, one step away from clicking all through the season, and clearly as soon as we did, we have not appeared again.”

Not once they blew that recreation to the Knicks and have been sitting outdoors of play-in match place. Not once they choked away Sport 5 to the Bucks within the second spherical and needed to win two straight elimination video games. Not once they fell aside down the stretch in Sport 6 of the East finals and had to return to Miami for a Sport 7 on the street. 

Irrespective of the scenario, the Celtics have been at all times assured of their skills and anticipating an opportunity to reply. For the previous 4 months, they have been centered on the following recreation and the following alternative. Now, they’ve their largest one but. 

“I feel it is all proper to take pleasure in this tonight and be pleased as a result of it is onerous,” Tatum mentioned. “It is not straightforward — clearly that is my first time being within the championship. It isn’t straightforward. We all know we’ve got a troublesome process forward. They have been there many a instances, they’ve received many a instances. I am wanting ahead to it.”

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