Timeline: How the Celtics are back in the NBA Finals

Boston relies on 2017 draft pick Jayson Tatum and a slew of new players to return to the NBA Finals.

Full Coverage: 2022 NBA Finals

Much has been written and reported about the dramatic ups and downs of the Golden State Warriors from perennial NBA Finals to the lottery and back again. Of course, it’s a fascinating story where several star players — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant — suffered serious injuries and the entire organization had to recalibrate its vision and goals.

The Warriors’ comeback — from the final Finals game of 2019 to Game 1 on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC) — will take 1,085 days (11 days less than three years) ) to complete. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics will have 4,368 days between Finals appearances, dating back to their Game 7 loss to the Lakers in 2010.

Part of what makes Golden State so concerned is that the team still has the same core — Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, head coach Steve Kerr — from their first championship in 2015 start. The Celtics’ return to glory will require more resourcefulness, creativity, gambling and unwitting accomplices to put together a roster that can once again challenge the league’s highest level.

It took Boston 12 years, three coaches, two different chief basketball executives, and two or three turnovers of players—yet, just a year of missing the playoffs—to get Boston one point away from its 18th NBA championship. The champion has only four wins.

Here’s a timeline of the Celtics’ long road back, a marathon compared to the Warriors’ sprint:


June 9, 2012: Celtics lose to Miami in Eastern Conference finals

Boston’s last appearance in the Finals was two years ago in a Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, which still haunts Celtics fans. At the time, the core of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and head coach Doc Rivers still wanted them to have a championship. But being knocked out by Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games the following season and then eliminated in seven games by a LeBron James superteam in 2012 sent a more sobering message.

As beloved as they were, it felt like the finish line for that group. Pierce is 34, Garnett is 36 and Allen is 37. It didn’t help when Allen took a two-year, $12 million offer from Boston a few weeks later, but declined to sign with the Heat anyway.


June 25, 2013: Dr. Rivers takes over Clippers

After nine seasons, a 416-305 record and a championship in 2008, Rivers oversaw the build or rebuild in Orlando and Boston. He wasn’t quite sure if he was ready to do it again. Then owner Danny Ainge helped him make up his mind, arranging a 2015 first-round pick as compensation for the Clippers, who signed Rivers to a three-year, $21 million contract. Serve as coach and general manager.

To replace Rivers, Ainge hired Brad Stevens, 36, who led pipsqueak Butler to back-to-back collegiate national championships.


July 2, 2013: Ainge triggers Pierce Garnett trade

With Rivers gone, Angie’s blockbuster was empty. He sent Pierce and Garnett and teammate Jason Terry to Brooklyn for a slew of role players and draft picks in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Keep an eye on the ’16 and ’17 draft picks — these will go to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, respectively, the current Celtics’ All-Star mainstays.

While Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and a few others remain around as their skills and/or health erode, Ainge sees the Celtics’ decline. He was driven not to let sentimentality stop him.


June 26, 2014: Draft pick Marcus Smart at No. 6

After posting a 25-57 record, the third-worst record in franchise history, Boston secured its highest draft pick since the former Big Three.

Whatever early hindsight speculation may have been, for the likes of Julius Randall, Zach LaVine, or Clint Capela, it has largely died down. Smart withstood a string of Celtics point guards playing in front of him, becoming a driving force for this 2022 team while becoming the first to be named since 1996 Hall of Famer Gary Payton. Pure linebacker for Defensive Player of the Year.

Gary Payton surprises Marcus Smart with Kia’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

“You have to go through a storm to see the last rainbow and a pot of gold,” Smart said somewhere on the trip.


July 8, 2016: Al Horford signs multi-year contract

Horford, a four-time All-Star when he came to Boston, had a phenomenal record with the Celtics: a 157-89 record in three seasons, two Eastern Conference finals and one Eastern Conference semifinal. But he opted out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent, and he did: a four-year deal from Philadelphia worth a whopping $109 million. Boston is simply not competitive at this point.

The only problem is that Horford didn’t fit in with the Sixers as many expected. He and center Joel Embiid got in each other’s way on the court, and the newcomer made too much money to be a full-time backup. A year later, Philadelphia traded Horford to Oklahoma City, where he will remain until reunited with Boston in 2022.


June 19, 2017: Celtics trade No. 1 overall pick for Jayson Tatum

That said, they traded the chance to draft Markelle Fultz and still managed to sign Duke freshman Tatum with the third overall pick. Fultz’s physical and mental challenges left him so disappointed with the 76ers that he was traded after playing just 33 games in 1.5 seasons. After an encouraging season in Orlando, Fultz is out again, making just 26 appearances over the past two years.

Tatum is a three-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA draft pick, newly named MVP of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the No. 1 follower of the Golden State Warriors’ Finals defensive plan. At 24, he is one of the brightest players in the NBA. faces for the rest of the decade. Yes, a bit of a pivotal move.

Check out Jayson Tatum’s best performances and moments from the 2021-22 season and playoffs.


July 14, 2017: Celtics sign Gordon Hayward

A false alarm here. The Hayward signing, a big deal at the time, never made much sense in the grand scheme of things. He seriously injured his ankle in the first quarter of his first game of the 2017-18 season and didn’t really return to his pre-injury form until the 2019-20 season. By then, Brown and Tatum had established themselves as the Celtics’ future on the wing. In hindsight, this appears to be a move by Steven to serve that, in its own small arc, could have affected the young coach’s subsequent career path.


August 30, 2017: Goodbye Isaiah, hello Carey

For clarity, we’ve broken down the comings and goings of the Celtics’ backcourt stars into three distinct dates. Back in February 2015, Ainge brought undersized Gunner Isaiah Thomas in a three-team trade from Phoenix and Detroit. Thomas averaged 24.7 points over two seasons, was an Eastern Conference All-Star in 2016 and 2017, and even finished fifth in MVP voting in 2017.

But his ceiling barely shouted “NBA Finals!” So that August, he was bundled to Cleveland for an unhappy All-Star Kyrie Irving.


July 6, 2019: Goodbye Carey, hello Kemba

The second of three guard swaps was Boston’s Terry Rozier for Kemba Walker. Irving was allowed/encouraged to leave Brooklyn through free agency, and his two seasons with the Celtics were good enough for him, but regrettable for the team. For example, Irving was injured in March of his first Boston season and didn’t play again, not even on the bench to support the team in the seven-game elimination by Cleveland.

Walker was an All-Star in his first season with the Celtics, but played in exhibition games despite the injury. He missed 45 of Boston’s 144 possible games before being traded for a familiar face.


June 2, 2021: Angie resigns, Stevens goes upstairs

Ainge, now with the Utah Jazz, remains the only person in Celtics history to win a championship as both a player and general manager. During his 18 seasons in charge, Boston made 15 playoff appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals seven times and the NBA Finals two times. He was the man who called up the championship team in the summer of 2007, bringing both Garnett and Allen to Pierce for an instant championship. It was Boston’s first in 22 years and the 17th in franchise history.

Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said in a radio interview this week:[Ainge] Come and suddenly resign, no matter what, [in February or March 2021]. He came to me and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” So it was unexpected and unpopular. “

Stevens was promoted to replace Ainge after eight seasons as coach, who put together a 354-282 record, seven straight playoff berths and three trips to the Eastern Conference finals. His role change came amid reports of him being out of action in the locker room, with some arguing that he wasn’t tough enough with certain players. It’s no secret that front office bosses have far better job security than coaches.

“I know we couldn’t be in a better position with Brad leading the way,” Ainge said on the way out.

“Brad and I talked this morning and promised we would win Flag 18 or die,” Grossbeck said at the time.


June 18, 2021: Goodbye Kemba and welcome back to Big Al

Al Horford’s seasoned leadership has been key in Boston’s Finals.

Stevens rolled up his sleeves and, a few weeks later, traded Walker and two draft picks to the Thunder for Horford and others. From a dry dock with an uncertain future at age 35, the skilled, intelligent 6-foot-9 man is getting a new lease of life.

On Sunday, Horford shrugged off his status as an active NBA player who played the most games in the playoffs without reaching the Finals. In his 15 seasons, it took him 141 playoff games to make it to the championship game. Horford turned 36 on Friday.

“Nobody deserves it more than this guy on my right,” Brown said, sitting next to Horford on the podium after Game 7. “I’m proud to share this moment with a veteran, a mentor, a brother.”


June 28, 2021: Udoka named new Celtics coach

Celtics head coach Ime Udoka describes his first season in Boston.

Twenty-six days after the job officially opened, Imeudoka was hired as the 18th head coach in Celtics history. Like Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer, Phoenix’s Monty Williams and others, Udoka is said to come from Gregg Popovich’s coaching “tree” in San Antonio, but his origins are much more than this.

The 6-foot-6 Udoka, 44, has spent seven years as an NBA role player for five teams, as well as in the D-League (now G-League) and teams in France and Spain Pass. He broke into coaching with the Spurs and spent seven years there, before serving as an assistant coach for Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

Udoka actually heard public rumors that he might be fired as the Celtics improved their record to 16-19 in late December and there was chatter that Tatum and Brown could overlap and would need to be traded separate. But the coach’s emphasis on defense first began to pay off in January, finishing with a 35-12 record and rising to the top of the NBA defensive rankings.

Celtics players spoke enthusiastically about Udoka’s impact, thanks to his coaching and game perspective.

“You have a coach who embodies everything we embody,” Smart said, “and he’ll let you know, ‘Hey, I’m not going to slack off, and if you don’t like it, then you can get out of here, ‘ That’s the type of team we are. We don’t want to be babies. We’re adults, we’re professionals, and we want to be treated that way.”


February 10, 2022: Derrick White joins for 4-for-1

By the trade deadline, Boston acquired White, who also trained in San Antonio’s system, with Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2028 first-round pick. He got a solid two-way guard when ankle issues limited his game against Miami.

White, by his own admission, was slow to adapt after the midseason trade. But as he became more comfortable, so did his participation and production, going from 5.3 in the first round to 8.0 against Milwaukee to 10.0 against the Heat. Now he’s considered a big factor against the Golden State bulls’ offense.

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Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his profile here, follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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