By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics had an incredible regular season, winning 55 games to earn the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. They had an incredible postseason, overcoming all the odds to make it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
All of that came despite losing a pair of All-Stars during the year, which many fans will hang their hat on as they cope with Sunday night’s season-ending loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But that isn’t the case for Celtics players, who know they lost an extremely winnable Game 7 on their home floor. Coming up one win short of the NBA Finals has left a sour taste in their mouth, and will provide them with plenty of motivation this offseason.
“There are always two ways you can go,” explained guard Jaylen Brown, who struggled Sunday night and finished 5-for-18 from the floor. “You can make an excuse and complain about it, or use it and make yourself better. Right now it stings, it hurts. But it’s going to make me better.”
Asked how long it will take to get over this defeat, Brown said he didn’t know, which was common throughout the Boston locker room Sunday night.
“I think it motivates all of us,” said guard Terry Rozier, who had just four points on 2-for-14 shooting in Game 7. “We fought all season, fought through adversity. … It was a fun run. Obviously it’s a great group. We didn’t want it to end like this, but just building for the years to come.”
“I’m disappointed we couldn’t reach that next level. We all need to look at the work we did this season and realize there’s a lot more work to do to reach the next level,” said veteran Al Horford. “I will work even harder on my body, taking care of myself, to help my team be in these types of positions again.”
After losing Gordon Hayward on opening night and then Kyrie Irving just before the playoffs, the Celtics were counted out every step of the way this postseason. While disappointed the run is over, the fact they made it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals is not lost on them.
“The odds were against us all season. We were always the underdogs, everyone counted us out. I’m proud of these guys and proud of this team, the way that we fought,” said guard Marcus Smart, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason. “It’s just that fight; you find out who has that fight and who doesn’t. This team is special. We have a lot of young guys and they have a lot of fight in them, so that’s good.”
“I’ll go to war with these guys any day of the week,” said Brown. “We fought all season, came down to one game and we fell short. No reason to hang our head, we had a great season. We were trying to take down the one of the best players of all time and we just fell a little bit short. That will always be in the back of my mind, but we’ll get it back next year.”
“It’s hard to believe that it’s over. I wish I would have done a little more tonight,” added Brown.
Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum was one of the lone bright spots in Sunday night’s loss, leading the way with 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting. No moment was too big for the 20-year-old during the his rookie year or in the bright lights of the postseason, and he gained some valuable experience going forward — including the agony of defeat.
“I would have gone to war with any of those guys, any day. I knew we would give it our all every single night, no matter the circumstances,” said Tatum. “The entire season we showed that. As Al said, we have nothing to hang our heads about; we left it all out on the floor. It was a lot of fun.”
Brad Stevens told his players after the game that the pain is part of the path, a message that will resonate with his young team throughout the summer.
“It was a pretty incredible run by an incredible group of guys,” Stevens said. “An absolute privilege to be around them every day.”
It won’t be long until Stevens is already planning ahead for next season.
“I can take a couple of days to get away from it, but training camp can’t come soon enough,” he said.
It’s unfortunate that a fun and unpredictable postseason run has come to an end, but the future remains bright for Boston. Coming up just short of a trip to the finals will just inspire them more as we wait for next season to tip-off, when they’ll get to add Hayward and Irving to this young mix.
“We’ve been really fortunate to continuously get better the last couple of years and put ourselves in better positions. But when it ends it’s painful, and that is part of the path,” Stevens echoed. “And so we have to let it motivate us.”