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The Eastern Conference Finals isn’t unknown territory for many of these Boston Celtics players. For Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, this is their fourth appearance. Three-time NBA All-Star Jayson Tatum has been one series away from the NBA Finals three times in his five-year career.

Not only have these Celtics been to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they also have been up 3-2 in the series. The ECF has been a nightmare for the Celtics and their fans for the last six years. Tonight is their golden opportunity to change that.

The Boston Celtics suddenly flipped a switch to become the NBA’s hottest team

Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics reacts against the Miami Heat during the fourth quarter in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at FTX Arena on May 25, 2022, in Miami, Florida. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

Four times in the last six years, the Celtics have gotten this far. They’ve never gotten past the ECF during that stretch. Playing at home in a clinching game against a banged-up Miami Heat team is the perfect chance to fulfill a dream nobody thought was possible earlier this season.

The Celtics of 2021 were underachievers. They were a frustrated group that couldn’t find a way to maintain a second-half lead. Doubt crept in about the hiring of head coach Ime Udoka, who had never been a head coach in the NBA before.

The Celtics went 36-36 during the 2020-21 season. The Brooklyn Nets tossed them aside in five games in the opening round of the playoffs. With young stars in Tatum and Brown, it was unacceptable to finish a full season at .500.

They opened the 2021-22 season the same way. Once the calendar turned to 2022, the Celtics turned a switch. Something clicked. Udoka questioned the team’s mental toughness after another blown 20-point lead in the second half, this time against the New York Knicks.

The Celtics responded. In the last 32 games of the regular season, they went 26-6. They were the best team in the league, and they never looked back.

Boston got its revenge against the Nets, sweeping them in the opening round. The Celtics then outlasted the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. Now they lead the top-seeded Miami Heat 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.

The Celtics need to show they can close things out

It’s right there for the taking for the Celtics. Many have already made their plans to see the Celtics face Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors for the NBA championship. Not so fast. This team has been there before and couldn’t get it done.

Back in 2017, the Celtics faced LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tatum wasn’t in the league yet. Brown was a rookie. It may have been the classic case of just being happy to be there, but the Cavaliers cruised in five games.

The teams met again the following year. Prior to the season, the Celtics acquired Irving and signed Gordon Hayward, making them a favorite to return to the NBA Finals. They did, but Irving and Hayward weren’t available because of injury. Boston had homecourt advantage and held serve, holding a 3-2 series lead before heading back to Cleveland.


When Is the Last Time the Boston Celtics Reached the NBA Finals?

The Cavs, led by James’ 46 points, extended the series with a 109-99 victory. Game 7 headed back to Boston with the Celtics a slight favorite. Boston had a double-digit lead in the first half, but the Cavs chipped away and trailed 43-39 at the break. The Celtics wilted in the second half, scoring 13 third-quarter points, as Cleveland posted an 87-79 victory.

The third-seeded Celtics faced the Heat (No. 5) in the 2020 NBA Finals played in a Disney bubble during the pandemic. The Heat took control early, winning the first two games, before Boston took Game 3. The Heat won the series in six games.

This time, Boston is clearly the better team as the Celtics look to eliminate the Heat. There is no reason for the Celtics to come up short this time around. This is when Tatum and Brown need to show the NBA world they can close out a meaningful series and take their team to the next level. Expectations are high in Boston, and they should be.

Tatum and Brown are no longer the young guys with potential. They are the leaders of a talented team. It’s time for them to step up and get Boston back in the Finals for a shot at Banner 18.

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