Chris Forsberg

Celtics have more to do, but this playoff run is worth savoring

The season will be over before you know it. Blink and you might miss it.

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Boston Celtics are one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals. They’ve ripped off six consecutive postseason wins and are 11-2 overall in the playoffs. They’ve produced two signature postseason wins while building a 3-0 series lead over a feisty Pacers squad.

And yet the discussion around the team invariably reverts back to familiar themes: They’ve had an easy path. Their superstar hasn’t played like one enough. The season is a failure if they don’t raise Banner 18.

So leave it to Oshae Brissett to provide some much-needed levity after Boston’s tantalizing 18-point comeback in Game 3 on Saturday night in Indiana. Brissett noted how, in each of his past three seasons, he had an offseason vacation planned two months before the end of the regular season.

This year? Travel plans beyond June will just have to wait.

“I can’t even put it into words how fun it is, this run that we’re on right now,” said Brissett.

Maybe it’s because we’re in the Midwest, but the team’s afterglow Sunday left us thinking about Ferris Bueller and that last bit of advice we’re left with in the movie: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

The Celtics have produced two absurd postseason victories this round. First, Jaylen Brown rescued them from almost certain defeat in a Game 1 overtime triumph, then an illness-battling Jrue Holiday worked some wizardry in Indiana as part of a Game 3 win.

The Celtics are now 75-20 over 95 games since the NBA season tipped in late October. Ever since Brad Stevens constructed a so-called super team — despite what award voting might tell you — the expectation has been Banner 18 or bust.

Now, there's undeniably a burden of expectation that comes with being a decorated franchise like the Celtics. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stop to savor some moments along the way.

The Pacers didn’t make the playoffs in any of Brissett’s three seasons here. He spent the start of the 2019-20 season with the Toronto Raptors but was released in December long before the Celtics bounced the defending champions in a seven-game series inside the bubble.

While the Celtics seem to make the Eastern Conference finals an annual visit during the Jays Era, you can sense the appreciation that Brissett has with this team knocking on the door of a trip to the Finals.

What the Celtics did on Saturday night was special. They dusted themselves off after digging an 18-point hole, and by the end of the night, Holiday was ripping out Indiana’s heart with a series of big-time plays down the stretch of a 114-111 triumph.

Inside the Celtics’ locker room, there was a deep appreciation for a triumph that kept Boston undefeated on the road this postseason. At one point, most of the bodies in the Celtics’ locker room had cleared out and Derrick White, gleefully scrolling through the messages on his phone, looked up and playfully announced to no one in particular that it was about time he got moving.

But even though the Celtics have plenty left on their to-do list, it was clear they wanted to savor this checkbox.

The Celtics took a haymaker from the Pacers, refused to go down, and instead put Indiana on the ropes. Boston cranked up the defensive intensity — highlighted by Holiday’s late-game strip to prevent Indiana from getting a potential go-ahead shot — and made a series of big-time plays down the stretch to cap a rally that felt like it might short-circuit at any time.

The emotions were clear: Jayson Tatum swung his fist in celebration as Holiday muscled home the and-one bucket that would push the Celtics out front late. Coach Joe Mazzulla had an obvious energy while detailing his team’s comeback after the game.

“Once we just embraced the situation that we were in, it was fun,” Mazzulla said on Sunday morning at the team hotel. "It was fun watching the guys stick together, fun watching them figure it out, fun watching them chip away, fun watching a struggle. And I really enjoy kind of moments like that.”

We should appreciate those moments this team overcomes adversity, even in a playoffs where it feels like much has come easy. It would be easy to dismiss the Pacers as the latest tomato can in Boston’s playoff cupboard, but Indiana has pushed this team harder than previous opponents and the Celtics have simply found unique ways to avoid the losses that occurred in the previous rounds.

Tatum produced one of the finest postseason performances of his career on Saturday night. While maybe not quite to the level of Game 7 against Philadelphia last year, or Game 6 in Milwaukee the year before that, Tatum’s fingerprints were all over Boston’s rally in Indiana. He finished with 36 points on 12-of-23 shooting with 10 rebounds, eight assists, and 2 blocks.

More importantly: He had zero turnovers, including when he threaded a behind-the-back dime to Al Horford for a key late-game 3-pointer that left Jaylen Brown suggesting the play should be hanging in the Louvre.

Add into that the fact that the Pacers were a mere 4-of-12 shooting (33.3 percent) when Tatum was the primary defender and Tatum produced an absolute gem -- all while national talking heads spent the previous 48 hours shouting about his status as a superstar in the league, and on his own Celtics team.

Like the Celtics as a whole, we hold Tatum to such lofty standards that we sometimes forget to appreciate the gems produced.

Jaylen Brown is stream-rolling towards a conference finals MVP nod. Holiday, quiet at times to start the postseason, has injected himself into that conversation with how good he’s been on both ends this round, but really for the past couple weeks. Boston is doing all this while still waiting for 7-foot-3 big man Kristaps Porzingis to return from a calf injury with hopes he can add another weapon if the Celtics are lucky enough to reach the championship stage.

The conversation invariably will shift to what might soon lie ahead. The possibility of seeing Kyrie Irving on the other side in the Finals is a sexier topic than pondering just how quickly Boston might get to the finish line of this Pacers series.

This weekend in Indy is all about speed. The Indianapolis 500 has taken center stage, helping to distract from the tough position the local basketball team finds itself in.

But instead of the gas, the Celtics should pump the brakes. It’s OK to pause and appreciate just how dominant this team has been. And if you want to obsess about the strength of opponent, just remember that this is the reason you push for the No. 1 seed during the regular season. Too often, the storyline with the Celtics in recent years has been the amount of energy expended just trying to get to the title round.

The Celtics are on the doorstep. Mazzulla undoubtedly will remind his team how, down 3-0 a year ago against Miami, the Celtics made things quite interesting by ripping off three straight wins. This team must focus on Game 4 and not anything that might come beyond it.

But those players should also take a minute to appreciate how they got here. Everyone else should, too. There’s plenty of work to do but getting to this point is never promised.

Brissett offered a nice reminder of that.

We’ll all scream and yell about what happens next. But these Celtics have shown a lot of growth this postseason. There’s been the two Game 2 slip-ups, but they’ve taken care of business otherwise. They dominate on the road. They find ways to win games that would have most certainly slipped away in years past.

This team has put itself in position to best compete for a title. The health of Porzingis looms over everything — the team already ruled him out for Game 4 — but the Celtics can buy him another 10 days to recover by closing out this series on Monday night.

The NBA Finals tip off June 6.

The season will be over before you know it. Blink and you might miss it.

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