NBA

Scenes from a Celtics Eastern Conference Championship Celebration

INDIANAPOLIS — Richard White watched Derrick White’s legendary put-back from 2,000 miles away in Colorado last year. Richard texted him, but while Derrick became a Boston icon in one rush to the offensive boards, he tried to say in the moment. All that mattered, the Whites repeated, was winning Game 7 back in Boston. They didn’t, and a return to the NBA Finals that felt inevitable didn’t occur. A legendary moment would now fade in time.

That’s what led to the jubilation of Monday. The Celtics’ run mostly lacked drama to that point, as the process toward winning a title became a greater focus coming into this season. When that formula faded and Boston turned into figuring it out on the fly to win back-to-back games late at Indiana, that provided some of the trademark playoff excitement many looked for previously.

Yet as Richard and other Celtics players, executives and family filled the floor at Gainbridge Fieldhouse after White did it again, burying a last-minute three to complete a late comeback win to sweep the Pacers in Game 4, the Celtics released the work that went into making sure they returned to the Finals this time. For White, that involved gaining the weight and mindset required to play the point guard position after Marcus Smart left, and the confidence to overcome a 1-for-8 start from deep and hit the game-winner in the corner.

“We saw that the ball, if they swung it, he was going to be open, you just have to trust your form,” Richard told CLNS Media/CelticsBlog. “During warmups, he was making all sorts of threes. Right corner is usually one of his better spots. Once they swung it, you gotta go up there confidently and knock it down … he loves playing basketball. He’ll do whatever it takes to win a game. If he didn’t make any shots and he won the game, he’d be happy. If they need him to step up and make a winning basket, he can do that. He was flying around on the defensive end, five steals, three blocks. He wanted to make sure this was a win, there was no reason to keep going.”

White stepped to the podium first after Al Horford started the locker room celebration by spraying two beers after asking the team whether he should do that or chug. Tito Horford stood outside the door, while Ean looked on. By the time Al reached the back of the press room for his conference, he received reaction videos that started playing loudly out of his phone with Ean next to him filled with screams and reaction to the win in Spanish.

After Jaylen Brown described his genuine shock over winning east finals MVP, Horford sat down while Ean watched from the front row, Al beginning to describe how good it felt to watch White hit his shot and noting how important it is that the Celtics can rest now, unlike in 2022 when Boston traveled almost immediately from Boston to Miami to San Francisco between the final three rounds. Meanwhile, on the floor, Celtics owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steph Pagliuca spoke toward TV cameras about the team changes that set up in the run, Brown having acknowledged them as well.

“We had some guys leave, so I wanted to make sure that void was filled,” Brown said when asked by CLNS/CelticsBlog about his leadership growth. “Marcus Smart, one of my brothers, got traded. He was one of the voices of our team and when he wasn’t here, I wanted to make sure I stepped in and make sure that everybody felt me and everybody knew what the standard was, and we didn’t skip steps all season. I think we played the right way every single game, I held everybody accountable and this is the byproduct.”

As the locker room cleared and Jrue Holiday began speaking, Sam Hauser remained with trainer Drew Moore, poking holes in cans of beer and shotgunning them while assistant coaches Charles Lee and Blaine Mueller took a photo with the Larry Bird trophy. Luke Kornet, who had stood in the hallway phoning family, returned with a cold one in his hand.

The big man hadn’t played over the last two games due in part to a left wrist sprain, though he logged important minutes through the last two series with Kristaps Porzingis out. Porzingis savored his moment with the trophy and chatted on the phone too despite his relative absence from the run, while Kornet reflected on actually playing in this one unlike 2022. As he did so, Jayson Tatum, who had just gotten dressed, passed by Luke, turned and yelled: Willis Reed. Tell ‘em what that means Luke!

Tatum, who delivered the final commentary on the win, breathed in the moment longer, remaining on the floor with White after taking photos with a group of friends that included assistant and former teammate Amile Jefferson. Tatum’s father Justin stood among the group celebrating on the floor after the win, awaiting photos for his side of the family.

“I remember when I first came into my career, I felt like I could be an NBA player and contribute, I was just wondering if I would be able to play a role on a real playoff team,” Kornet told CLNS/CelticsBlog while Tatum exited the locker room. “I think for that to come true in the way it has so far, to be contending for a championship but also not having it be in the way I anticipated it to, with the time in the G-League and all the stuff between, praise God. I’m really appreciative of it.”

Kornet, of course, only took to the floor after the final buzzer on this night to deliver a chest bump to Tatum, who instead leveled him to the floor. He’ll be ready for the Finals in case Porzingis, who’s making progress, lifting weights and doing more work on the floor tries to use the one week Boston earned off to make his imprint on this championship chase.

“Having felt being more of a part of it,” Kornet said. “It being two years from that time and just having a lot of experience with this group of guys. Especially with the continuity we’ve been able to have, it’s just cool to have grown together and see the growth of so many people who have contributed to us being able to make it back. It’s just an honor to do my part in that and to have a little bit more of a role is awesome and I’m trying to do that to the best of my ability, but you know it’s a little piece of the greater whole and it’s been great to be able to serve in the part that I have.”

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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