Even now, not a few quarters remain convinced that the Celtics should have walked away with the 2022 National Basketball Association championship. Notwithstanding their incapacity to extend the Finals to a winner-take-all match, pundits who can’t seem — or simply refuse — to move on continue to insist that they squandered a golden opportunity. Not that the oddsmakers thought differently while the set-to was still ongoing; at no time did they play the role of underdogs in betting circles, not even when they had lost two contests in a row and headed into Game Six with their backs to the wall.
To be sure, the voices of disappointment do have some fuel to support the contention that the Celtics grossly underachieved. They had the superior roster by far, and boasted of the league’s top defense seemingly able to keep the explosive Warriors at bay. In addition, they carried confidence borne of emphatic Game Seven victories in their last two series. And when viewed from this prism, their finish as runners-up may, indeed, be seen as a regrettable outcome.
That said, a glass half-empty is likewise a glass half-full. Considering where the Celtics stood in late January, the fact that they made it all the way to the Finals should be celebrated. With first-year head coach Ime Udoka in the sidelines, they were then dismissed as little more than middling pretenders with supposed stalwarts who needed more time to mature. And then they clicked; an impressive 26-6 slate for the remainder of the regular season, tops in the league, provided them with no small measure of momentum for a deep playoff run.
By the time Game Six of the Finals rolled around, though, the Celtics looked spent. No doubt, it was because of all the effort they hitherto expended. When the 2021-22 season drew to a close, first-team all-NBA selection Jayson Tatum had 500 more minutes on his legs than the next player in the entire league. Little wonder, then, that his forays to the basket frequently ended with errant attempts, and that he wound up with an all-time record 100 turnovers through the postseason. At a time when his leadership was needed on the court and off, he had tuned out ostensibly because of fatigue.
Forget about the naysayers, though, From the Celtics’ vantage point, there is no reason for them to hang their heads in shame. For one thing, the Warriors are no slouch, with no better proof of the fact than four titles from six Finals appearances in eight years. For another, dwelling over What Ifs is both wrong and counterproductive; all things considered, there can be no better way to get over the outcome than to learn from it. The core of the green and white continue to have a bright future. How it turns out is up to them.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.