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Boston Celtics Eye Redemption with Shot at 18th NBA Title

Last year, the Boston Celtics found themselves on the verge of becoming the first team in NBA history to recover from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs — only to fall short against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

Jaylen Brown shot 6-for-43 from 3-point range in that series against the Heat, while Jayson Tatum sprained an ankle in a Game 7 that Miami won in a rout.

This time, however, Boston holds a 3-0 lead of its own and could claim a record-setting 18th NBA title with a sweep of the Dallas Mavericks on Friday at American Airlines Center (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

Brown and Tatum said last year’s failures fueled their individual — and Boston’s collective — pursuit of history.

“I mean, last year, just falling short on your home floor, it definitely hurt,” Brown said Thursday. “It was embarrassing, in my opinion. I felt like the team was relying on me. JT got hurt in Game 7 and I dropped the ball.

“To me, it was embarrassing. It drove me all summer. Drove me crazy.”

All the Celtics have done in response to last season’s failure is go on a season-long romp through the league. Boston had the league’s best regular-season record (64-18) and net rating (plus-11.7) by significant margins. The addition of key players, such as Jrue Holiday, has significantly bolstered their roster, providing the depth and experience needed to navigate high-pressure situations.

With a win Friday, Boston would finish this postseason with a 16-2 record, which would be the second-best record of any team since the NBA went to four best-of-7 playoff rounds. Only the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors (16-1) were better, and these Celtics would join the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams to go 8-0 on the road.

Brown and Tatum said the Celtics wouldn’t be where they are this year without last year’s frustrations.

“I credited last year a lot to the success that we’re having this season,” Tatum said. “We were so consumed with getting back to the Finals, in a good way. But I think especially when we got to the playoffs, we were just ready to get back to June. In some ways skipping steps.

“… You’re never promised to make it back to the Finals. I think each and every person this year came into the season with a different mindset. I think it has truly shown that we don’t take things for granted, and we approach every single day the same. We’re trying to get better, and we’re as hungry as we’ve ever been.”

It’s hard to be much better than Boston has been in these playoffs, but even with the Celtics on the brink of a title, there is still plenty of attention on the status of Kristaps Porzingis, who has officially been listed as questionable for Friday’s game. He missed Game 3 after suffering a torn medial retinaculum allowing dislocation of the posterior tibialis tendon in his left leg in Game 2.

When asked whether Boston’s commanding position in the series would impact whether Porzingis would play, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla quickly swatted away that notion.

“I think that’s a rather passive way to look at things,” Mazzulla said. “I think at the end of the day, we have to continue to do what we do. Kristaps has gotten better from yesterday to today. He’s fighting like hell to play, but it’s going to be up to us to protect him and to make sure that it’s in the best interest for him as a player and as a person.

“Going into what’s best for a player and a person has nothing to do with where we’re at from a basketball standpoint.”

Well aware the Celtics are just one win from finally raising banner No. 18 to the rafters after so many near misses, Al Horford said there won’t be any issues when it comes to focusing on winning another game as opposed to thinking about what winning that game would mean.

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty easy, because what we’re focusing on is on our day-to-day, and today we had a good film session before coming here,” Horford said. “We’re going to practice right after this. It’s really just focusing on the work.

“We’ve continued to do this. We’ve been doing this all season. This is just the point of the season that we’re at. We’re not allowing ourselves to think ahead. We’re just trying to lock in on what we have to do. The job is not done yet.”


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