Road to the title: A Boston Celtics playoff journey

O’Maley Middle School student Cole Mosley-Wynn covers the Celtics’ playoff run as part of The Gillnetter’s Young Journalist Series

The journey to the championship is underway for the Boston Celtics. The Massachusetts basketball team is led by 2023 all stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and last year’s defensive player of the year Marcus Smart. Their coach, Joe Mazzulla, is a Coach of the Year nominee, and Malcolm Brogdon won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year. The Celtics finished the regular season with a 57-25 record and are the second seed in the Eastern Conference.  With game six against the 76ers up tonight, here is a recap of how the Celtics got here. 

The First Round

In game 1, The Celtics faced the seventh seed Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. The Celtics got the win over the Hawks 112-99, with  great performances by Jayson Tatum (25pts), Jaylen Brown (29 pts) and Derrick White (24pts), as well as Marcus Smart, who was solid across the board. Robert Williams III and his big presence also showed up to help the Celtics go up in the series 1-0. 

Game 2 was similar, with the Celtics winning 119-106 moving up to 2-0 in the series. Jayson Tatum (29pts) and Derrick White (26pts) led the Celtics to the win. Tatum ended with a double-double.There was also solid playing by Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Malcolm Brogdon. Leading 2-0, the Celtics are thriving in the playoffs right now and look like they are going back to the finals this year. In my opinion, they are looking like the strongest team at the moment, especially after the 1st seed Milwaukee Bucks got beaten in an upset by the 8th seed Miami Heat. 

The journey to the title for the Celtics took a trip to Atlanta for Game 3 in the first round. It was a struggle for the Celtics, and the Hawks won 130-122. There were good efforts by Jayson Tatum (29pts) and Marcus Smart (24pts), but it wasn’t enough to take down the Hawks for the third straight time, even with Grant Williams playing his best basketball in a while. After this game the Celtics were still up 2-1 in the series and they, for the first time in the playoffs, looked human. 

In game 4, the Celtics bounced back with another win 129-121. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown lead the way again, both with 31 points. It was a combined effort though, as Al Horford and Robert Williams controlled the boards for the entire game. Williams even ended up with a double-double, which is exactly what the Celtics will need down the stretch from their big man. Points were scored by everyone, and they were looking like a team on the court, with everyone who played over 10 minutes in the game scoring over 12 points each. And although he didn’t score a lot, Al Horford still ended up with over 10 rebounds to help the Celtics seal the win. 

In game 5, the Hawks stayed alive with a 119-117 win. Jaylen Brown led the team with 35 points. Hawks guard Trae Young had a phenomenal game and was really keeping the Hawks alive this series. He is definitely one of the best guards in the league, and earned himself a position on the 2023 All Star team. For the Celtics, it was a spread in the scoring department, as many players contributed to offensive points. Six players on the Celtics had 10 or more points, including high scorers like Jaylen Brown (35 pts).

Finally, in game 6, the Celtics took home the series with a 128-120 win. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combine for 62 points. Tatum again finishes with a double-double and Marcus Smart ended with 22 points. Al Horford also ended with a double-double this game,  going 10pts and 12 rebounds. Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White contributed off the bench with Brogdon scoring 17 points. 

Notable Players and my Thoughts on the Team

In the end of the first round, the biggest contributors were Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Other notable players were Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and Malcolm Brogdon who carried the defense while also contributing to the assists and rebounds. Grant Williams, Sam Hauser and Robert Williams lll also contributed on all cylinders, as well as other team players including Payton Prichard, Blake Griffin, and Mike Muscala. 

For the team to be as successful as last year,  Jayson Tatum needs to step up to that playoff leadership role. Although he is young and the Celtics play very good team basketball, they have lost a lot of games in the final minutes, and I think that is partially due to them not having someone they know will perform in crunch time. The thing that made them so successful last year was their defense; they had the #1 defense in the NBA, and we all know the famous saying “defense wins championships” – after all, they got to the finals last year because of it. 

It seems though, that the only players to remember are Marcus Smart and Al Horford. Don’t get me wrong, they are still one of the better defensive teams, but they don’t seem to have the lockdown defense they used to have. You can even see it – they have high scoring games now, unlike last year. I think if the Celtics want revenge this year, they’ve got to find that defensive spark again. 

The Second Round

As the second round started, the Celtics came back home to play the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers, in which the Sixers took the win 119-115, shocking the home crowd. Sixers player James Harden had a career tied 45 points in the playoffs. Efforts by Jayson Tatum (10 reb-39pts), Jaylen Brown (23 pts), and Malcom Brogdon (20 pts), just weren’t enough. They lost it in the last minutes of the game, and it felt like Tyrese Maxey and James Harden controlled the game at the end.  

Game 2 was hosted again by the Celtics on Wednesday, May 3rd. The Celtics hoped for a big win in this game, or they might’ve suffered the same fate as the Boston Bruins. In Game 2, the Celtics bounced back and made a statement, Even though the Sixers had reigning MVP Embiid, he wasn’t at 100 percent. The Celtics took the win 121-87 in a blowout. Even with Jayson Tatum racking up 3 fouls only in the first half, the Celtics showed they didn’t need him. Jaylen Brown played well with 25pts, Malcolm Brogdon with 23pts off the bench, and a lot of help from Grant Williams, Marcus Smart, Derrick White, and Payton Pritchard. 

Game 3 ended with the Celtics beating the Sixers 114-102, at their home stadium, to take a 2-1 lead in the series. The team was led by duo Jayson Tatum (27 pts and 10 reb) and Jaylen Brown (23 pts and 7 reb), great game by Al Horford (17 pts), Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon with (15pts), and Derrick White with 13 pts. This game was a team effort with Boston controlling the boards even with Joel Embiid back. Though Embiid had 30 pts, everyone else was pretty quiet for the Sixers. Embiid is still not at his best, or even close to it, and the Celtics will continue to try to move him around and test his injured knee. 

Game 4 was a win for the Sixers 116-115 at home.  Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart all had +20 points, and Tatum had 18 rebounds. The Sixers players stole the show with James Harden and Joel Embiid having over half of the team’s total points; Harden and Embiid had 76, the team had 116. Although the Celtics lost this game, they are still looking okay, and they only lost by 1 point.  

For Game 5, the Celtics definitely had to find an answer to the dominant duo of Harden and Embiid, since they have owned the Celtics so far and aren’t showing any stop nor any mercy. Although the Celtics have been faced with a dynamic duo, I still think if they play as a team they are still in this. The Celtics play as a team, while it seems the Sixers play as a mini unit, only having half the team score and the others are the workhorses. The Celtics, although not as talented as some of the players, are stronger together. 

Unfortunately, in game 5 the Celtics came back home and lost to the Sixers 115-103. This was the biggest game in the series, as the Celtics now need to win 2 games in a row, and must travel to Philly for game 6 to force a game 7  back in Boston. This can be done, and was done by the Celtics last year in the second round against a better Milwaukee Bucks team who were the Title favorites. Celtics players Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart led the team but they came up short. Even a good effort from Payton Pritchard coming off the bench wasn’t enough as the Sixers players, Tyrese Maxey 30 pts and Joel Embiid 33 pts, James Harden (2 Rebounds away from Triple-double), and Tobias Harris  had 16 pts and 11 reb. A big problem for the Celtics has been the turnovers that happen on lazy passes, weak dribbling, and overall mental mistakes. 

For the Celtics, it seems they just need to “lock in” or “dig deep” and play as hard and as enthusiastic as they can. I believe the Celtics are the most dangerous team when they are “all in” on winning. 

Game 6 is must win for the Celtics to stay alive in the playoffs and continue their journey to the title that they have been clawing for all season, looking for revenge from last year. The Celtics next game is on May 11th, 7:30 pm. This will be the biggest game this year so far. Look for Tatum and Brown to come out strong, they’ll need a huge night from Horford and the bench.