After long, seven-year road filled with excruciating losses, Celtics’ coast to NBA title felt ‘surreal’

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics can celebrate the franchise's first NBA title since 2008. (AP Photo)

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics can celebrate the franchise’s first NBA title since 2008. (AP Photo)

BOSTON– When it was over, the Celtics were just too much for the Mavericks. Too many 3-point shooters to guard, too many athletic, wing defenders who could lock down Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic, too many role players who knew exactly how to impact winning, and too much passion from the crowd, which exploded with every made 3 and Kyrie transgression.

The Celtics made it look almost as easy as the UConn men did, coasting to this title wire-to-wire and mauling the Mavs, 106-88 in Game 5.

Their path to the trophy was virtually painless in these playoffs, with bumps paved over along the way and the rest of the NBA’s true titans having already fallen.

But the seven years that led up to it? They were anything but, with one playoff heartbreak after another, excruciating losses and introspective summers coming courtesy of the likes of LeBron James, Steph Curry and Jimmy Butler.

So as the green and white confetti came raining down like 3s from all angles of the court, you could forgive the Celtics for taking a moment to make sure their title romp was real.

“It’s a surreal feeling. Still has not really kicked in yet,” Jayson Tatum said in his postgame press conference. “These last seven years have been a roller coaster, up and down. I had to listen to all the s— that people said about me, and tonight, it was worth it. Oh, my God.”

“It still kind of feels unreal. It feels like there’s another game or something tomorrow,” Jaylen Brown said.

Kristaps Porzingis echoed that feeling.

“When I was on stage and stuff, like it still felt surreal. Like, I couldn’t — and us as a team, I think we couldn’t really, like, settle into that,” he said. “But then once we got back to the locker room and started celebrating, I think that’s when everybody realized we actually did it. We did it.”

It all felt a little too straightforward, like it shouldn’t have been so easy. But injuries and upsets aside, there’s no doubt that the C’s were a deserving champion.

The Celtics won 64 regular-season games, the most by any champ since Steph, Kevin Durant and the Warriors in 2017. They went 16-3 in the playoffs, also the best postseason record since that Dubs team. They had the league’s No. 1 offense, its No. 2 defense, and top three-point shooting team, taking floor spacing to a level almost never before seen.

Head coach Joe Mazzulla’s brilliance shone through, a year after so many blamed him for the Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat. (Some dubbed him ‘Second-Row Joe’). So did President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens’, and his foresight to take a chance on the youngest coach in the league (now 35) with a ready-made championship contender after Ime Udoka was unceremoniously ousted a year and a half ago.

For as good as the Celtics have been since Stevens left Butler to ship up to Boston in 2013, they’ve deserved a night like this.

No, Giannis, Embiid, Brunson, Jokic … those guys weren’t standing in the way. Instead, it was Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic hanging their heads as every made 3 came raining down, every explosion from the crowd demoralizing them even further. It was an onslaught, a thorough thrashing fitting of a champion.

Irving was awful again, making it three duds in front of the Boston fans and former teammates he once tried to lead, before bailing for that ill-fated Brooklyn experiment no one will ever forget. He finished 5-for-16 and 3 of 9 from 3-point range, and it often seemed like the leprechaun he once stomped was sitting on the rim, kicking every one of his shots out.

Things weren’t much better for Doncic on Monday night, as the superstar guard finished 2 of 9 from deep and 12 of 25 from the field, scoring a mostly meaningless 28 points.

Both were thoroughly outplayed by Tatum (31 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds) and Brown (21 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists). Brown took home Finals MVP, and immediately shared credit with the rest of his teammates and his fellow superstar Tatum.

Even Payton Pritchard rained down a half-court buzzer-beater again, as if that was his job. Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla confirmed he was put in there for exactly that reason.

“Man, that was beautiful. That was beautiful,” Al Horford said of Pritchard’s shot, which turned out to be the highlight of the night. ‘He did that, and you take a glance at the other team, and it’s one of those that breaks your spirit, and then it just kind of fueled us.”

And with that, the long, smart build that began with Danny Ainge and has continued under Stevens has finally paid off with a title, and the Celtics can hang that elusive 18th banner, the one that pushes them past their arch rivals from L.A. once again, as the NBA’s undisputed greatest-ever franchise.

In the end, it seemed easy. But as the Celtics will tell you, for the last seven years, it’s been anything but.

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