BOSTON – Forward. Comfort the Boston Celtics in sweet, soothing tones, not to be ashamed to lose to LeBron James: the game's best player, a gigantic icon who played 48 minutes and demoralized his old familiar playoff foe in every way possible imaginable. Dagger of 3 points, ruthless defense, excellent view of the field and, above all, a Hall of Fame braggart that nobody else on the court – or maybe on this earth – could begin to duplicate.
Feel free to remind the Celtics that nobody, absolutely nobody, expected them to advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a payroll decimated from the start due to the paralyzing injuries of Gordon Hayward, then Kyrie Irving, then Daniel Theis, and then Shane Larkin.
It's all true, of course, but do not expect them to back a bit of that. The Sons of Brad Stevens, even after a crushing defeat in Game 7 in their own building, the only one of their unlikely career in the playoffs, left TD Garden believing it was a game they should have won, even after throwing a 34 by cent for the game and an inconceivable 17.9 percent (7 of 39) from behind the three-point line.
They will rise on Monday morning fervently arguing that they belonged to this great stage, not as underdogs, but as legitimate contenders.
"None of this was unlikely for us," said Marcus Morris. "As I said from the beginning, once I saw the playoff draw, I was hoping we were in the position we were in right now.
" But we took off our hats against Cleveland. They came back from a 2-0 deficit [series] They had LeBron. We lost shots that we usually do. "
Oh, those lost shots, where did we start? There were many, so many. Terry Rozier, who missed 12 of his 14 offers, including 0 of 10 goose eggs behind the 3-point line Just two nights earlier in Cleveland, in a much more hostile environment, Rozier set the Cleveland Cavaliers on fire by 28 points with 6 of 10 shots from behind the 3-point arc.
" It's a bitter pill to swallow, "said a visibly shaken Rozier in the quiet of the loser's locker room.
Later, when he approached ESPN in the hallway, Rozier was asked about the idea that this game was too much. overwhelming for a list that averaged 25.6 a What they would have been the youngest seconds since the era of the shot clock had it advanced to the NBA Finals.
"It has nothing to do with that," Rozier said. "I would definitely take all those shots again, my confidence is still with me, it will be extended to summer and also to next season."
One of the most endearing qualities of this Celtics team was when one player failed, another stepped forward to cover his tracks. That symbiotic relationship was not transferred to Game 7. Boston, Rozier's trio, 21-year-old Jaylen Brown (5 of 18) and Marcus Smart (1 of 10) combined to shoot an amazing 19 percent from the floor, and a numbing 11 percent (3 of 26) from the 3-point line.
The Celtics will have all summer to bite the criticism that they played "young" in this Game 7, that the enormity of the moment made them press, force bridges of low percentage, make hasty decisions. The figures suggest that there is a lot of truth in that, with the exception of Jayson Tatum, 20 years old. , who, two years ago was fighting against St. Louis University High School (MS) for a state school children's championship and on Sunday night I was phatically dunking on James, his childhood idol.
Tatum checked with 24 points and seven rebounds, adding another page to an emerging dossier that could suggest he was the best rookie in this talented 2018 clbad after all.
"I love everything about the child," James said. "The way he plays the game, his behavior, where he comes from, I know his parents, he's made for stardom."
Jayson Tatum reacts to his posterization mate LeBron James and reflects on the moment he shared with James after the game.
But Tatum's set of statements was not enough, nor the resurgence of Al Horford as the fearsome facilitator on both sides of the court, the Yoda for young Celtics & # 39; Jedi
Much of that had to do with the strong Cavs defense and a career game by former Celtic player Jeff Green. And, of course, LeBron's fingerprints were everywhere, especially in the middle of the second quarter, when Boston squandered its hard earned 35-23 lead with 8:52 remaining in the period through a flurry of errant shots, losses of ball and free throws failed. James made them pay dearly for each mistake, either with a smart pbad or an offensive aggressive offensive in the paint. By halftime, that 12-point lead had been reduced to f our points It was a wasted opportunity, and everyone in the noisy Garden knew it.
"We moved a little away from what we did in the first quarter," admitted Rozier. "When we do that, we always pay for it."
"We were in very good shape, really well-formed," Boston coach Brad Stevens lamented, "and we could not extend the lead, he thought the rest of the game was probably added to the shoot."
Sometimes, when the punches do not decrease, there is a tendency to try to recover those points at once, especially if you are young and you continue to learn. Rozier was guilty of that, Brown, too.
"In the points, you could say that [young guys] played young," admitted Morris. "Cleveland has veteran guys, including the best guy, there, but I love how we never stop fighting."
In many ways, Smart, who has long been identified as the heart and soul of this ball club, personified The Boston Struggles. His brave belief in himself is both his greatest strength and his most obvious weakness. He is a brave defender, an underrated pbader, a hustler and an agitator, but not a shooter. And, nevertheless, he continues to take them. or later, he was forced to catch up with him and his team. Despite all his shooting problems, Smart still absorbed two big charges in LeBron, handed out seven badists and had no turnovers in 30 minutes of play. It was a +1 for the game, a typical night at the parquet for the mercurial leader of Boston.
"This was difficult," Smart said. "Very hard, I left everything on the court, but my [performance] was unacceptable, I lost free throws, I lost shots that I usually do, I try not to make excuses but my thumb is in bad shape, my whole right hand is a problem. & # 39; & # 39;
Do you sound familiar? A hit player whose shot appears and leaves, whose defense is his calling card.That was the 2017-18 Boston Celtics in a nutshell.
"I can not say that," Baynes replied. "Seventy a hundred of those shots that we missed were excellent shots. "
Baynes said his teammates will take advantage of this disappointment in ways they still do not understand.
" It's a great learning tool. "he said. year in the league we [the San Antonio Spurs] lost in the final, and came back with a different momentum entity, a different energy level. "
Did you share this piece of wisdom with the team on Sunday night?  "Not yet," said Baynes. "It's a little early."
It is not necessary to review the exciting victory of the series over the Milwaukee Bucks and the dismantling of the favored Philadelphia 76ers. It is not necessary to pat them on the back because of their ability to recover and their ability to perfect the "next man" mantra. These Boston Celtics have no pleasure in any of that. They planned to continue all the way, even if they did not think they would.