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What a difference a year makes for the Boston Celtics. A slow start to the year turned into an NBA Finals appearance and a learning experience. This year, they’re a much different team because of it.

Still motivated by losing to the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals, the Celtics have put it all together this season. There’s no selfish play, no blown leads, and no frustration. The Celtics are a far cry from where they were this time last year, and it was evident during Wednesday’s 125-98 win over the Phoenix Suns.

The Boston Celtics have a whole new outlook this season

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics high-fives Jaylen Brown after scoring against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on December 7, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

Last year at this time, the Boston Celtics might have been the biggest underachievers in the league. They were a team loaded with talent but couldn’t seem to figure things out. Exactly one year ago, the Celtics were a disappointing 13-13 and in the middle of a West Coast swing where they went 1-4.

The Celtics were adjusting to first-year coach Ime Udoka, who often questioned the team’s effort during the first half of the season. Last November, veteran point guard Marcus Smart publicly called out stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for not passing the ball.

Blown leads were the norm a year ago. Many questioned if Tatum and Brown could play together, and that was a legitimate question. Through 50 games, the Celtics were 25-25. The previous season, Boston finished the regular season 36-36 and earned a first-round playoff exit.

Something clicked in mid-to-late January last year. Boston caught fire and ended the season with a 26-6 record, earning the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. They reached the championship round, but the Warriors ousted them in six games. This year, they are a motivated bunch and have been that way since Day 1.

“Everybody in that locker room understands what we’re trying to do,” said Tatum after the game, per NBC Sports Boston. “We realize we got the best record, 21-5. The goal is still the same, to get back to the Finals and get over that hump.

“While we’re having fun, nobody in that locker room is celebrating or satisfied. None of this means anything if we don’t hang the banner.”

The ‘humbled’ Celtics are on a mission


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It was a tough pill to swallow at the time, but losing to the Warriors is turning out to be a blessing for the Celtics.

The Celtics have turned that heartbreak into motivation. They’ve lost just five times in 26 games and show no sign of slowing down. After Wednesday’s win over the Suns, who started the night as the top team in the Western Conference, Brown explained what the Finals loss did to the Celtics.

“Losing at the highest point in the NBA Finals, there’s nothing more humbling than that,” Brown said after Wednesday’s win. “There’s nothing that can bring forth humility than losing in the biggest moment of your career.

“Transferring to this season, we was all humbled. I think that’s a part of our makeup as well. We are playing from our experiences, from our heartbreak, from coming up short.”

Tatum is the leading candidate for MVP. Brown is having his career-best season. The Celtics, under new head coach Joe Mazzulla, are the best team in the NBA, and it all stems from a Game 6 loss at home suffered at the hands of the Warriors.