Forsberg: Celtics remain confident as ever amid up-and-down NBA Finals originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston:
SAN FRANCISCO – Why stop now?
The Boston Celtics have chosen the more challenging path at every turn this season, most recently fumbling away Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night at TD Garden, leaving themselves an uphill climb in what is essentially a best-of-three series against the Golden State Warriors.
But there is no panic in Boston’s locker room. There is no overwhelming regret for what could have been. These Celtics understand they haven’t made life easy for themselves but there’s a hope that the path traveled could make the reward even sweeter.
Alas, it could also make the regret that much more painful.
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“I wish we would make it a little easier on ourselves at times. But at this point, everything is about responding,” said Jaylen Brown. “So we do embrace those challenges. And that’s something I love about this team.”
From the outside, there is great angst about the status of the Celtics. They must win at least one game on the road with two of the potential three remaining games in San Francisco. Jayson Tatum is laboring through an inside-the-arc shooting funk and has watched Stephen Curry emerge as the star of the Finals thus far. Robert Williams limped off late in Game 4 as his left knee continues to be the ultimate wild card in this series.
Inside the Celtics locker room, there is a quiet confidence rooted in the famous resiliency throughout this roller coaster postseason.
The Celtics have been road warriors in these playoffs, posting an 8-3 record away from TD Garden. That includes winning three consecutive times on the road in Miami to close out the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite all the air miles they’ve logged – some in the organization wonder if the team will set some sort of NBA postseason travel record given the long treks to Milwaukee, Miami, and San Francisco – the Celtics have routinely produced their best basketball in hostile environments.
Tatum is shooting just 27 percent on all shots inside the 3-point arc this series. He has as many makes beyond the arc (14) as inside of it. Alas, that’s on 20 fewer attempts. Tatum’s lack of a big scoring night in these Finals has thrust him back into the, “Is he really a superstar?” spotlight, despite the growth he’s consistently displayed this postseason as someone who can impact the game in other ways with his playmaking, defense, and rebounding.
Tatum’s teammates are certain he’ll produce when it matters most. They do not need to rally his confidence.
“I think sometimes you got a lot of guys telling you the same thing and, sometimes, that can get annoying or overbearing,” Brown said. “So Jayson’s going to figure it out. We figure it out as a group. But he knows what needs to be done. We watch it, we hold each other accountable, we come out and we play better.”
Added Robert Williams: “JT is a person who knows how to impact the game, even when he’s not scoring. I might pat him on the back and tell him keep shooting, keep playing ball. But he’s pretty good at not dropping his head.”
Williams logged a career-high 31 minutes, 27 seconds of postseason floor time in Game 4 – five-and-a-half minutes more than any other postseason stint this year. The Celtics leaned hard on him despite his knee woes and Williams limped off late after appearing to tweak his injury on a fourth-quarter leap.
Williams said Sunday that he’s feeling better and does not expect the tweak to hinder his ability to play in Game 5. The Celtics have operated with a different dynamic with Williams looking more like himself the last couple games. His ability to maintain that level of defensive impact could be vital to the Celtics grinding through this series.
The Celtics could sit around and fret everything that’s gone wrong; instead they’ve decided to just embrace the ride.
“Our confidence level, if you ask me at any point, it’s going to remain the same,” Brown said. “I believe in myself, I believe in my teammates, I believe in our group. So we just got to come out and play basketball the way we know we can.”
Echoed Marcus Smart: “That’s how we’ve been all year. We take a loss and we bounce back. It’s who we are. It’s who we’re going to continue to be.”
It’s been 257 days since the Celtics first huddled for the start of training camp in September. That’s eight and a half months together. They’ve been through too much to fret when things go wrong.
“That’s a lot of basketball, but I love it,” Brown said. “The alternative would be we’re at home and mad and watching. Probably could not even watch the TV because we’re seeing somebody else in his position. So, no, I’m grateful. It’s a blessing to try to soak it up and stay present as much as you can. “
This season would be a lot less stressful if the Celtics did not make everything so difficult. From the bumpy start, to sitting three games under .500 in early January, to all the twists and turns of the postseason, sometimes it feels like the Celtics are choosing the harder path intentionally.
Our confidence level, if you ask me at any point, it’s going to remain the same. I believe in myself, I believe in my teammates, I believe in our group.
“We do not do this s— on purpose,” Tatum sighed after Friday’s loss. “I promise you, we do not.”
It feels improbable that the Celtics would come this far to let it all slip away, especially because much of their woes are self inflicted.
It’s one thing to be overmatched or unready for the moment. The Celtics are neither. Despite their relative youth, they’ve been forged in the playoff grind. And even as Curry puts on a tantalizing display that leaves you wondering if he could be the Finals MVP regardless of series winner, it does not feel like a green-goggles take to suggest that the Celtics are the best team in this Finals matchup.
They simply haven’t played like it enough.
The optimistic view: The Celtics haven’t lost consecutive games at any point this postseason. If that pattern holds, they’ll be NBA champs. The pessimistic view: We keep going back to an analogy that you can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times before you run out of toes.
Whether it was dropping Game 5 at home against the Bucks, or Game 6 against Miami, the Celtics keep putting a whole bunch of additional stress on themselves by being unable to get out of their own way.
Maybe the journey will make the reward that much sweeter. Our minds are left jogging back to the start of the postseason when Boston coach Ime Udoka announced with some swagger that the Celtics weren’t a track team and they weren’t running from anybody.
You can make the case that their playoff path has been about as daunting as possible. Sure, there were breaks along the way (like an injured Khris Middleton) but there’s a case to be made that Boston has taken on four of the five most talented teams in the playoffs.
Not only did they not run from any challenges, they sometimes seemed to sprint towards the fire with a bucket of water in hands, even when they had a firetruck with a water cannon parked next to them.
“I think that’s kind of the beauty of it, that it’s not going to be easy,” said Tatum. “It should not be.”
Added Williams: “[The adversity] makes us want to fight more. Like, why stop here? “