1. The Celtics’ run to the Finals
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 10: Jaylen Brown #7 and Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics react during team introductions prior to Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at TD Garden on June 10, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
When 2022 began, the Celtics didn’t seem to have much going there way. They were 17-19 at New Year’s, and a few days later would fall a season-worst three games under .500. Jayson Tatum was hurt, Jaylen Brown was struggling, they kept blowing leads left and right. It seemed as though Ime Udoka’s first season would be a lost one.
As the calendar flipped though, so did the Celtics. They went 10-6 in January, with the last two wins of the month kicking off what became a nine-game winning streak. From New Year’s through the regular season, they went 34-12 and climbed all the way up to the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
During that time, they were led by their stars. Tatum averaged 27.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game during that portion of the regular season, and ended up being named First-Team All-NBA. Brown was right there with him, averaging 23.9 points per game and shooting a highly efficient 48.9 percent from the floor.
Even with all that success, there were still questions as the Celtics prepared to face their rival, the Brooklyn Nets, in the first round. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving having only played intermittently during the season, the Nets were the seven seed but still a contender. Those questions proved to be unneeded though, as the Celtics sept the Nets, boosted by Robert Williams returning from an early spring injury during the season.
Up next for the Celtics was the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. That was a back-and-forth series highlighted by questionable officiating both ways. The Bucks picked up a 12-point win in Game 1, with the Celtics responding via a 23-point blowout victory in Game 2. Games 3-5 were all close, but the Celtics dropped two of them setting up a win-or-go-home Game 6 on the road. The Celtics won both Games 6 and 7 in blowout fashion, punching their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals.
That next series, this time against the Miami Heat, again went seven games. Once again, the Celtics needed to win a crucial game on the road, with Game 7 taking place in Miami after the Celtics dropped Game 6 at home. They’d rise to the occasion again, nearly blowing a 17-point lead but hanging on to win 100-96 to clinch a return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
In the Finals, going up against the Golden State Warriors, it looked early on like the Celtics might finish the job. They split the first two games in San Francisco, then blew out the Warriors in Game 3 back in Boston. They even had an early lead in Game 4, but couldn’t hang on after a rough third quarter – something that had been a theme throughout the playoffs. The Warriors ended up winning three games in a row to close the series out in six games, lifting the Larry O’Brien at TD Garden.
While the run didn’t ultimately end with a title, it was a massive accomplishment for a team that seemed to be on the brink to start the year, with regular talk about splitting up the duo of Tatum and Brown. As the Celtics head into 2023, they’ll look to finish what they started in 2022.