The Boston Celtics Did Not Have an Easy Path to the NBA Finals

The narrative doesn't matter, plus it isn't even true.
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum signals a play during the second quarter during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum signals a play during the second quarter during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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The Boston Celtics will play in the NBA Finals. It doesn't matter how they got there but the perceived ease of their path through the Eastern Conference has been a major talking point on sports shows for a few weeks now. And it's not a completely untrue thesis.

They survived a brief scare against the Miami Heat in the opening round thanks in part to Jimmy Butler's injury. They did the same against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the semifinals while Donovan Mitchell watched from the bench. On Monday night they put the finishing touches on the Indiana Pacers who were playing without Tyrese Haliburton. There's no question that their road could have been more difficult.

But there are two things to keep in mind. One, it definitely does not matter how a team gets to a championship. No one will ever remember or care that the Celtics caught some breaks along the way if they knock off the Dallas Mavericks or a history-making Minnesota Timberwolves side. Basketball Reference and other record books will not carry an asterisk. The 24-7 debate cycle needs to be constantly fueled yet it's especially odds to discount a team's achievement as it marches through the playoffs and the full story is not completed.

The second thing to note is that Boston earned its No. 1 seed by winning seven more regular-season games than anyone else in the league. This is the draw the Celtics secured for themselves with several months of stellar play. If they're playing flawed teams than that's because they assured themselves they'd play flawed teams.

They're also far from the only team in the East to benefit from some injury luck. New York got a banged-up Joel Embiid in its series against the Philadelphia Sixers and the Pacers didn't have to deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo in an opening round matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks. Injuries are part of sports and avoiding costly ones when it matters most has been the secret sauce of countless title-winning sides.

Even if someone wanted to throw out the above thoughts and hold fast to the belief that a lack of challenge really matters, the whole idea that Boston hasn't faced a significant one isn't true anymore. Because the Pacers proved themselves extremely formidable in what has to be one of the more comeptitive four-game sweeps in a long, long time.

Indiana outplayed Boston in Game 1 and fumbled it away late, allowing Jaylen Brown to hit a clutch three and further hometeam heroics. The Pacers had seven-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 3 before being stunned and a nine-point edge in the final stanza on Monday night before imploding. One could make the argument that the Pacers should be headed back to TD Garden with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to close things out.

Maybe, just maybe, the Celtics finding a way to win all of these games against a quality opponent is something to admire. Or give them credit for. That won't happen, of course, today as the pundits throw words like bye around with total indifference to the real world.

Again, it cannot be overstated how much none of this matters. The Celtics would be within their rights to be annoyed by the narrative but winning four more games makes it disappear forever. What's vexing is that we're already living in a RINGZ culture where only one team gets to have a successful season and the groundwork is being laid to say that even that one got there by happenstances. Which is a super weird way to follow sports. Why play the season at all if no one is allowed to enjoy the view at the summit without the peanut gallery chirping about how easy the climb was from the safety of basecamp?

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Kyle K