Celtics stomp Mavs, clinch record 18th NBA title

NBA

BOSTON — Behind 31 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists from Jayson Tatum and 21 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists from Finals MVP Jaylen Brown, the Boston Celtics blew out the Dallas Mavericks 106-88 to win the 2024 NBA Finals, winning a record-setting 18th NBA title on the 16th anniversary of when they won their 17th championship in this same building.

In doing so, the Celtics passed their forever rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, for the most titles in NBA history.

Boston, after having its worst game of the season in its first chance to close this series out Friday night, responded with a wire-to-wire victory Monday. Big games from both Tatum and Brown allowed Boston to put the game away early — much like it did back in 2008, when Boston routed the Lakers in Game 6 at TD Garden to win their most recent championship.

That allowed the Celtics to build a 21-point lead at halftime — with a second Payton Pritchard halfcourt heave of the series emphatically sending Boston into the break with a comfortable lead, and sending the sellout crowd here at TD Garden into an absolute frenzy.

The crowd had been in a fervent state since before the game even began, but particularly when Kristaps Porzingis — who had missed Games 3 and 4 with a torn medial retinaculum allowing dislocation of the posterior tibialis tendon in his left leg that he suffered in Game 2 — checked into the game midway through the first quarter. Porzingis finished with just 5 points in 16 minutes but gave Boston some valuable minutes spelling Al Horford off the bench.

Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, continued to struggle in Boston, after admitting Sunday that he’s had trouble playing against his former team here. After going a combined 13-for-37 here in Games 1 and 2, including 0-for-8 from 3, he finished with 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting in Game 5.

Brown earned his MVP award behind averages of 20.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5 assists across the five-game series, while also consistently guarding Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic.

“It was a full team effort and I share this with my brothers and my partner in crime Jayson Tatum, he was with me the whole way, so we share this s— together,” Brown said upon receiving the award named after Celtics legend Bill Russell.

With the win, the Celtics finished the playoffs 16-3, second only to the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors (16-1) since the NBA went to four best-of-7 rounds of the playoffs in 2003 in what was an emphatic repudiation of Boston’s recent playoff disappointments. The Celtics — up until their Game 5 victory — had played more postseason games over an eight-season span without winning a title than any team in the history of the NBA.

That run included six trips to the Eastern Conference finals, including last year’s loss in seven games to the Miami Heat, after becoming just the fourth team ever to force a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0. There was also the loss to the Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals after winning two of the first three games and holding a lead in the fourth quarter of Game 4, before seeing the Warriors celebrate their fourth title of the Stephen Curry Era on Boston’s famed parquet.

As a result, the title checked off boxes for a bunch of Boston’s top players. For Tatum and Brown, the 107 games they played together before winning the title are the most by a duo prior to winning their first championship in NBA history. Al Horford, meanwhile, had played in 186 playoff games before his first title — the most in NBA history for a single player before winning their first title.

Tatum, meanwhile, had the fifth-most career playoff points at the time of his first championship — trailing only the late Jerry West, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant.

“All year long we’ve been hearing about the Celtics of the past,” Brown said after Game 3. “For the last six to eight months, that’s all we’ve been hearing is all the different shortcomings we’ve had in the past.

“This is a new team. We’ve learned from those experiences. And in these moments, you can see that we learned from it. We stepped up to the plate, and we found a way to win.”

They found it at the end of a journey that began 11 years ago this month at Barclays Center when the Brooklyn Nets spun a blockbuster trade with Boston to acquire Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for a bevy of draft picks, two of which eventually became Brown and Tatum in the 2016 and 2017 NBA drafts.

Soon after the draft, Boston came to an agreement to hire Brad Stevens away from Butler University to be the team’s head coach, a job he served in for the next eight seasons before replacing Danny Ainge, the man who hired Stevens, as the team’s president of basketball operations in 2021.

At that point, Boston was coming off a .500 season in 2020-21 and had lost in five games to the Nets in the first round of the playoffs. Since then, Stevens has methodically rebuilt the roster around Brown and Tatum via trades — bringing back Horford that summer and Derrick White at the ensuing trade deadline — moves that helped get Boston to the 2022 Finals. After the loss to the Heat last spring, Stevens restructured the roster again, trading away fan favorite and former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart in a deal to add Porzingis, then pouncing to acquire Jrue Holiday after the Milwaukee Bucks traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Holiday, who won a title with Milwaukee in 2021, came up with multiple big performances during this postseason run, including Game 2 of the Finals when he scored 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting while the rest of the team went cold from 3-point range. Injuries forced Porzingis to miss all but six of Boston’s postseason games, but he scored 20 points off the bench in Game 1 of the Finals, helping the Celtics get off to a strong start against the Mavericks, before providing an emotional boost with his return Monday night.

Stevens also made the bold decision to promote Joe Mazzulla from the back of the bench to be the team’s head coach in the wake of Ime Udoka being suspended for the season, and later being fired, for violations of team rules shortly before training camp. Mazzulla has gone on to post a 121-43 record in the regular season over the last two years and Monday became the youngest coach to win an NBA title since Russell did it for Boston 55 years ago.

The Celtics had largely controlled the first three games of this series before the Mavericks responded with an absolute demolition of Boston in Dallas Friday, winning by 38 points in the third-largest blowout in NBA Finals history, and the largest loss for the Celtics in any game since the 2017 Eastern Conference finals.

But Boston responded to that performance with one of its most complete ones of the season in Game 5 — and, as a result, set a new standard for winning in NBA history.

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