And the Boston Celtics are champions once again! The Celtics are world champions for an 18th time!
Cheers and countless screams echo in the TD Garden, as Isaiah Thomas smiles and lifts the Larry O’Brien trophy high above his head. It’s been a moment he’s only dreamed of as a kid, and it’s finally come true with the franchise that saw his brilliance before even he could.
” I always knew this day would come man,” he declares to reporters swarming the court. “I knew coming here was the best decision I ever made.”
And it certainly was, as Thomas had seemingly carried the Celtics to their 18th championship banner during the 2017-2018 season. After having a breakout year the year before, and an unlikely MVP win as well, Isaiah had his sights set on a much bigger fish.
That very offseason, Isaiah discussed the future plans for the Celtics before the draft rolled around with General Manager Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens. Imploring Danny Ainge to place his trust in him, Isaiah told Danny to flip his most coveted possession, the 2017 Brooklyn Nets pick, for a proven scorer: Paul George.
And although Danny was sure George was set to bolt that very offseason, he indeed acquired the Indiana swingman from his old friend Larry Bird, for a package centered around rookie phenom Markelle Fultz, big man Tyler Zeller, and defensive stopper Jae Crowder.
“It was a tough decision because we love those guys, and we knew what this kid [Fultz] could turn into,” Danny Ainge had said in his first press conference after dealing the pick on draft night. “At the end of the day though, I have the utmost confidence in him [Thomas] to lead this team to where we know we can get. So getting him some help was definitely a priority this offseason.”
And lead them he did, as Thomas and Horford gelled with George almost immediately, the trio combining for over 60 points a game during the regular season. With Horford not bothered to be the second scoring option on the team, he really embraced the facilitating role that was asked of him once George came along, leading to a more natural flow of points from the big man. Isaiah, averaging a career high 33 points a game along with his first all-star starting nod, had finally understood how to win a playoff series as the Celtics had reached the Eastern Conference Finals after being tested by the Pacers and the Raptors during the 2016 playoffs.
As for the Celtics’ newest toy, George embraced the tradition that is Boston, and quickly adjusted his playing style to what the team asked of him: scoring.
Reaching a pivotal game 7 in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics looked poised to make some noise against a Cavaliers team that had proven they were no fluke. The Cavaliers, opting to double team Isaiah Thomas and play physical with Horford in the post, had essentially taken Boston’s primary source of offense out of the equation. This, combined with the fact that LeBron James was putting up historic numbers, made things difficult for the Celtics in the early going. But this was the reason George was in town, as he took the reigns offensively and made several clutch plays to win the game, giving Boston fans hope for a legendary 18th championship banner.
When asked what brought about his utter dominance on the offensive end, George offered his insight to the media. “They brought me here for a reason man. I know what my game is about, and I knew what I could do to help this team. At the end of the day, all I care about is winning a championship, and if scoring is the key to that then I’ll do my best in that aspect.”
After a spectacular series against the Cavaliers, the Celtics were once again going back to the NBA Finals. Stephen Curry, along with his accompanying All-stars, had swept the first two rounds before winning a 6 game series against the San Antonio Spurs. Durant, meanwhile, was averaging a historic 38.5 points per game during this stretch, and was confident heading into the match-up.
“We knew they were going to be trouble, especially with the additions they had during the offseason.” he said before the finals match-up. “But we know we match up, so I’m confident the better team will win come gametime.”
The series was a heated exchange from the beginning, as the Celtics came storming out of the gate to take the first game in Golden State. Playing a defense-heavy lineup from the get go, and telling his players to play physical from the start in order to set the tone, coach Brad Stevens ensured there would be no sweep of his Boston Celtics team.
However, trouble quickly ensued as there was no-one that could realistically slow down Kevin Durant during the second game in Golden State. Putting up a 30 point triple double, Durant was seemingly all over the floor, and he provided the scoring punch that took down the Celtics for the first victory of the game.
The next three games went more Boston’s way, as the Celtics employed a familiar tactic to the Warriors, replacing Amir Johnson with Jaylen Brown at the 4 spot, and the sophomore forward proved to be the perfect blend of athleticism and length, (*cough Iguodala*) as he slowed down Kevin Durant’s progress on the offensive end. With a 3 and 1 lead in the series, the Celtics were a game away from an unheard of 18th title.
In what turned out to be a transcendent game for the NBA and the development of the game, the Celtics and the Warriors combined for a record setting 40 three pointers in Game 6 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
The Warriors, built to the core on the idea of the three-pointer, lit it up all over the floor during the first three quarters, rising to a 88-75 lead. But the Celtics were close behind, and a fourth quarter rally from “The Little Guy” proved to be just what this franchise needed. The Celtics outscored the Warriors by 18 points in the 4th, 16 of them coming from the 5’9 guard. This, combined with the defensive presence of Paul George and Jaylen Brown, proved to be too much for the Warriors.
Isaiah’s journey had just begun.