Boston Celtics make history with 18th NBA championship title

Led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics beat the Mavericks to win a first title since 2008 and move ahead in the perennial rivalry with the Lakers, who have 17 trophies

Jaylen Brown
Jaylen Brown during Monday's game.AMANDA SABGA (EFE)
Miguel Jiménez

A green burst of happiness has enveloped Boston. The Celtics will raise one more banner at the TD Garden to accompany the other 17 proclaiming them “champions of the world” for having claimed the NBA title on so many occasions. Joe Mazzulla’s team won (106-88) the fifth and final game of the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, closing the series at 4-1. The Celtics are back on top for the first time since 2008, drawing the curtain on a period of failures and disappointments in a city with a particular passion for basketball. With their 18th title, the Celtics have now pipped the Lakers (17) in the historic race between the two eternal rivals. They are the sixth different champion in six years, which gives an idea of the equality that has settled on the NBA. For the Mavericks and Luka Doncic, it was a great missed opportunity.

Monday’s game was over by halftime. On the buzzer, Payton Pritchard hit a three-pointer from his own court to open a 67-46 lead, to the delirium of the green tide that packed the TD Garden. Euphoria thundered through the pavilion. At halftime, a collective shudder ran through the arena in anticipation of the imminent title. Never in the 157 previous occasions when a team has led 3-0 in a seven-game NBA Playoffs or Finals series had they let it slip away. After that stratospheric three-pointer, the players continued to pass, shoot, and grab rebounds, with varying degrees of success, but the game was over. The NBA Finals were over.

Since Larry Bird won his third ring in 1986, the Celtics had only won the title in 2008, while the Lakers claimed eight in the same period. Although many of Boston’s NBA titles were won in black and white, they are champions again. They also aspire to a period of hegemony with a solid, settled group of players.

Only their previous title, the 2008 Finals series against the Lakers of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, had been held in the current pavilion. All the others were won in the era of the old Boston Garden, adjacent to the current TD Garden, on whose site today stands a skyscraper with a shopping mall, offices, and housing.

The Celtics rebounded from the disappointment of two years ago, when Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors won the title in Game 6 of the series in Boston. The backbone of that team remains, with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White, and Al Horford, plus reserves Sam Hauser, Pritchard, and Luke Kornet. Tatum, Brown, and White are in their prime and Horford remains in surprisingly good shape at 38, but the team has also been bolstered this season by two key pieces: Jrue Holiday, who has tightened up the defense and was already a champion with the Bucks, and Kristaps Porziņģis, who when injuries permit gives the Celtics power under the hoops and versatility on offense. The Celtics were the best team in the regular season and the playoffs. Joe Mazzulla now becomes the youngest coach to be crowned champion since the legendary Bill Russell in 1969.

Boston Celtics center Al Horford, center, and forward Jayson Tatum, front center left, celebrate with teammates after winning the NBA championship with a Game 5 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston.
Boston Celtics center Al Horford, center, and forward Jayson Tatum, front center left, celebrate with teammates after winning the NBA championship with a Game 5 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston. Charles Krupa (AP/ LaPresse)

Clear superiority

Despite the drubbing they suffered in Dallas in Game 4, the Celtics were clearly superior in the Finals. They started with an authoritative blowout at home, followed by two other slightly tighter wins, before the debacle in Dallas last Friday. Whether or not the Mavericks played a great game that day, given what happened on Monday, you get the feeling that the subconscious was telling the Celtics to save themselves to win in Boston in front of their own passionate fans. Game 5 was, in fact, the green reverse of the previous game, with the home side outplaying their opponents in every facet of the contest.

It was a Finals won under both hoops, but particularly on defense. Every time the Celtics have managed to hold the Mavericks to under 100 on the scoreboard, they have won the game. Mazzulla insists that the game is connected, that defense and offense are more interrelated than they appear, a lesson he says he learned from Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. What is certain, however, is that beyond the transitions, Boston’s static defense, with a collective physical display led by Jrue Holiday and Jaylen Brown, was key to victory.

That defense held the NBA’s most prolific duo of Doncic and Kyrie Irving to just 14 points between them by the end of the first half of Monday’s game. It took the Mavericks three minutes to get on the scoreboard and another two to add to it. The Celtics took the lead in the opening 60 seconds, went on a 9-2 run, and never relinquished the lead for the entire 48 minutes of the game.

Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown hangs on the rim after a dunk during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston.
Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown hangs on the rim after a dunk during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston.Peter Casey (AP/ LaPresse)

Jaylen Brown, MVP

The Celtics were crowned champions, moreover, with a more collective game than ever. Tatum and Brown are their two biggest stars, but it is not clear who is the bigger star of the two. Both names were chanted by the fans on Monday as M-V-P, a title that can only be awarded to one. The decision rightfully went Brown’s way, deserved for his contributions on both offense and defense. Tatum and Brown were accompanied by two other All-Star-level players: the Latvian center Porziņģis and Holiday, a champion point guard with the Bucks.

On offense, Tatum, Brown, Holiday, and White shared the scoring role on Monday. The game was defined by rebounds, steals, and three-pointers, which the Celtics had found hard to come by in the first three games of the series.

There was a moment when what was the final game of the series could have become something else. With less than two minutes left in the first quarter, Dallas pulled back to 19-18 and it looked as though the quarter would end even, but a late sprint by the Celtics allowed them to build a 10-point lead (28-18) before heading into the second quarter, where the tone remained the same.

With a basket and free throw from Tatum making the score 46-31 with seven minutes remaining until halftime, a sense of inevitability began to set in, especially after Doncic, who was having an off-night, missed two free throws on the ensuing play. The Slovenian and Irving had only scored five points each with 17 minutes on the clock, thanks in large part to the aggressive defense of Holiday and Brown. Dallas staged a mini-comeback that brought them to within nine points with four and a half minutes to go in the first half, but it was an illusion. The Celtics stepped on the gas and went into halftime with a 21-point lead thanks to Pritchard’s three-pointer.

The second half followed a similar pattern and, with the inevitable confirmed, Mazzulla replaced his starters one by one as a tribute. Later came the confetti shower, the trophy presentation, the party, and the celebration. Although the final score was 106-88, the game had ended with Pritchard’s flash of brilliance.

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