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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Celtics top Mavericks in Game 5, win record 18th NBA championship

SportsCeltics top Mavericks in Game 5, win record 18th NBA championship


BOSTON — Behind 31 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists from Jayson Tatum and 21 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists from Finals MVP Jaylen Brown, the Boston Celtics blew out the Dallas Mavericks 106-88 to win the 2024 NBA Finals, winning a record-setting 18th NBA title on the 16th anniversary of the day they won their 17th championship in this same building.

In doing so, the Celtics passed their forever rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, for the most titles in NBA history.

“I mean, this is going to be a night that I will remember for the rest of my life, from the game, the celebration, these moments,” Tatum said. “Over the last couple years, we had some tough losses at home in the playoffs. We’ve lost the NBA championship at home in front of our fans. We had a chance to beat Miami in Game 6 a few years ago and lost that one.

“So to have a big win — the biggest win that you could have in front of your home crowd — I felt like that was really important to go out there and do everything in my power to make sure we won this game tonight.”

Boston, after playing its worst game of the season Friday night in its first chance to close this series out, responded with a wire-to-wire victory Monday. Big performances from Tatum and Brown allowed Boston to put the game away early — much like it did in 2008, when the Celtics routed the Lakers in Game 6 at TD Garden to win what had been their most recent championship.

The Celtics built a 21-point lead at halftime, with a second Payton Pritchard half-court heave of the series emphatically sending them into the break with a comfortable cushion — and sending the sellout crowd at TD Garden into a frenzy.

The crowd had been in a fervent state since before the game even began, but particularly when Kristaps Porzingis — who had missed Games 3 and 4 because of the left leg injury he suffered in Game 2 — checked into the game midway through the first quarter. Porzingis finished with just five points in 16 minutes but gave Boston some valuable minutes spelling Al Horford off the bench.

Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, continued to struggle in Boston, after admitting Sunday that he has had trouble playing against his former team at TD Garden. After going a combined 13-for-37 in Boston in Games 1 and 2, including 0-for-8 from 3, he finished with 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting in Game 5.

Brown earned his MVP award behind series averages of 20.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5 assists, while also consistently guarding Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic.

“I can’t even put into words the emotions,” Brown said. “It’s just I’m blessed and I’m grateful. This was a full team effort. We had a great team. My teammates were great. They allowed me to lead us on both ends of ball, and we just came out and performed on our home floor. It’s just amazing.

“You know, it could have gone to anybody. It could have gone to Jayson. Jayson, like I can’t talk enough about his selflessness. … I can’t talk enough about his attitude. It’s just how he approached not just this series or the Finals but just the playoffs in general. And we did it together as a team, and that was the most important thing.”

With the win, the Celtics finished the playoffs 16-3, second only to the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors (16-1) since the NBA went to four best-of-seven rounds of the playoffs in 2003 in an emphatic reversal of Boston’s recent playoff disappointments. The Celtics — until their Monday night victory — had played more postseason games over an eight-season span without winning a title than any team in NBA history.

That run involved six trips to the Eastern Conference finals, including last year’s loss in seven games to the Heat, when Boston became the fourth team ever to force a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0. There was also the loss to the Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals after winning two of the first three games and leading in the fourth quarter of Game 4, before seeing Golden State celebrate its fourth title of the Stephen Curry era on Boston’s famed parquet.

The title checked off boxes for many of Boston’s top players. For Tatum and Brown, the 107 games they played together are the most by a duo prior to winning their first NBA championship.

“It means the world,” Tatum said on stage. “It’s been a long time. And, damn, I’m grateful.”

Tatum had the fifth-most career playoff points at the time of his first championship — trailing only the late Jerry West, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant.

Horford, meanwhile, played in 186 playoff games before his first title — the most in NBA history prior to getting a championship.

“The first thing you have to do when you come here is you have to embrace that pressure,” Horford said. “And I was OK with being in that position. I was OK if we were getting criticized and we weren’t getting it done because I understood what it means playing here.

“Our group, we’ve had a lot of hardships the last few years. Last year, heartbreaker against Miami, Game 7. Year before, Golden State. It’s been building up. But this team has been resilient, and we’ve continued to work. I’m so proud of Jaylen, and I’m so proud of Jayson. Those two guys continue to take steps forward. People all year criticizing them, all that expectation, all the pressure.

“They did it. And they’ve done it at a young age. They led our group. I’m just very proud of those guys and to put everything aside and focus on winning.”

Monday was the culmination of a journey that began 11 years ago this month at Barclays Center when the Brooklyn Nets spun a blockbuster trade with Boston to acquire Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for a bevy of draft picks, two of which would become Brown and Tatum in 2016 and 2017.

Soon after the 2013 draft, Boston hired Brad Stevens away from Butler University to be head coach, the job he performed for the next eight seasons before replacing Danny Ainge — the man who hired him — as president of basketball operations in 2021.

At that point, Boston was coming off a .500 season and had lost in five games to the Nets in the first round of the playoffs. Since then, Stevens has methodically rebuilt the roster around Brown and Tatum via trades — bringing back Horford that summer and Derrick White at the ensuing trade deadline — which helped get Boston to the 2022 Finals. After the conference finals loss last spring, Stevens restructured the roster again, trading away fan favorite and former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart to add Porzingis, then pouncing to acquire Jrue Holiday after the Milwaukee Bucks traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Holiday, who won a title with Milwaukee in 2021, had multiple big performances during this postseason, including Game 2 of the Finals when he scored 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting while the rest of the team went cold from 3-point range. Injuries forced Porzingis to miss all but six of Boston’s postseason games, but he scored 20 points off the bench in Game 1 of the Finals, helping the Celtics get off to a strong start against the Mavericks, before providing an emotional boost with his return Monday night.

Stevens also made the bold decision to promote Joe Mazzulla from the back of the bench to be the team’s head coach in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension and eventual firing for violations of team rules shortly before training camp. Mazzulla, 35, has posted a 121-43 record in the regular season over the past two years and became the youngest coach to win an NBA title since Russell did it for the same franchise 55 years ago.

The Celtics had largely controlled the first three games of this series before the Mavericks responded with a demolition of Boston in Dallas on Friday, winning by 38 points in the third-biggest blowout in NBA Finals history and the largest loss for the Celtics in any game since the 2017 conference finals.

But Boston responded with one of its most complete ones of the season in Game 5 — and, as a result, set a new standard for winning in NBA history.

“This is unreal. I don’t think it really has hit and settled in,” White said. “This is a special group of guys, a special coaching staff that I’m just thankful to be a part of. Yeah, it’s unreal. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and not get too lit.”



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