By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
In the simplest terms, here’s what this was: a good, old-fashioned, playground ass-kicking.
And as the next generation of Celtics continues to grow, it might have been the most important win of their careers to this point.
Here’s the truth, Celtics fans: championships don’t come easily. They never have and never will, no matter how much you want them to. On the verge of a 3-0 series lead against the Toronto Raptors last week, the Celtics got punched in the nether regions last week when Toronto’s OG Anunoby made a game-winner off an inbound pass when just 0.5 seconds remained on the clock. They were never really in control of Game 4. So there they were, facing a Game 5 tied at 2-2, when they could have wilted.
Instead, they absolutely grabbed the Raptors and this series by the throat, choking the life out of Toronto in a 111-89 victory that wasn’t remotely that close.
“We were playing with great purpose,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “You could feel that from the get-go.”
That’s what good teams do, particularly when they’re better than the opposition. And make no mistake: the Celtics are better than the Raptors. The question was whether they were experienced or tough enough, and many of us believed they were. That hardly means we don’t need to see it.
Until yesterday, the biggest game the youngest Celtics had played was Game 7 against the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago, without an injured Kyrie Irving. But that was different.
Jayson Tatum was a rookie then. The Cavs had LeBron James. And regardless of whether the game was played in Boston – and it was – the outcome (a Cleveland win) – proved that the Celtics weren’t ready for the moment or the stage, which many of us suspected.
But this? This was different. Tatum is in his third year now, an All-Star, a budding phenom. The insufferable Irving is gone and the tough-as-nails Kemba Walker is here. Jaylen Brown is signed to a long-term contract. The Celtics are better than the Raptors, on any court, and they had a commanding 2-0 series lead. To fold after the Anunoby make would have been borderline disastrous.
And the Celtics knew it.
Instead, what the Celtics have now is a 3-2 series lead and a renewed mindset, an experience to draw from. They are one win from the Eastern Conference championship series. The are five wins from the NBA Finals. Both of those things are now very realistic goals and the Celtics know it, and winning when you are expected to is far, far different than winning when you are not.
A statement win?
“It don’t say nothing. We gotta get ready to play (Game 6),” Brown said. “The job’s not finished yet.”
No it isn’t.
And the Celtics are now talking like there’s far more work ahead.