The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)
Celtics complete improbable run back to East finals
BOSTON — The Boston Celtics have been mining possibility out of improbable odds throughout the 2017-2018 season.
A season filled with so much promise was jolted just five minutes into their season opener back in October when Gordon Hayward was lost for the year to a fractured ankle.
It looked to be derailed for sure when Marcus Smart suffered a torn ligament in his thumb in March, followed by Kyrie Irving being sidelined for the season a month later following a pair of knee surgeries.
Yet, after completing a 4-1 series win with their 114-112 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, the Celtics are somehow back where no one — except maybe only them — believed they could be: headed to a second straight Eastern Conference final.
A rematch with Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James awaits them, but for a Celtics team that has had to trudge uphill throughout the season, still playing at this point of the postseason feels like reason to celebrate.
Coach Brad Stevens said this group has never stopped playing together despite all the challenges they’ve faced. It’s a testament to a program they’ve been nurturing since he took over as coach five years ago.
“I always hoped we would get to a point where if things don’t go our way, we’re still extremely competitive because we have a kind of foundation in place,” he said. “Things haven’t always gone our way, but these guys are really talented, they’re really tough, they fit Boston. And hopefully we keep playing well.”
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Celtics are the first team in NBA history to reach the conference finals in back-to-back seasons, while returning only four players from one year to the next (Smart, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Terry Rozier). That are advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in consecutive sea-
sons for the first time since doing so five straight times from 1984 to 1988.
Brown was reinserted back into the starting lineup Wednesday for the first time since he injured his right hamstring last round in Boston’s Game 7 win over Milwaukee.
He made the most of it, combining with rookie Jayson Tatum to score 49 points on 18 of 28 shooting.
Brown said he was treating Wednesday’s game like another Game 7.
“We didn’t want to go back to Philly,” he said. “We didn’t want to keep building their momentum and it was good to get a close out game here on our floor.”