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After completing first quest by reaching NBA Finals, Celtics can begin thinking about championship

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Boston Celtics completed one quest Monday night by returning to the NBA Finals.

Now, they'll chase an even bigger goal, the one that's eluded this team for more than a decade — capturing the franchise’s 18th championship.

Yes, despite playing for six conference titles in eight seasons, this marks only the second time Boston has advanced to The Finals during that span. And since winning their first NBA title in 1957, the Celtics' current 16-year drought is the second-longest in franchise history.

It would be the crowning achievement to what has already been a remarkable season.

“Boston has a great team. They led the league from wire to wire,” Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said after his team was swept 4-0 in its first conference finals appearance since 2014. “They didn't want this thing to go on any longer. They blocked shots, they got offensive rebounds, they made key shots.”

Boston has excelled in seemingly every possible way in this year's playoffs.

The Celtics have won seven straight games overall, they improved to 6-0 on the road with yet another comeback victory, 105-102 in Game 4 against Indiana, and they are 3-0 in elimination games. They beat Indiana three times down the stretch, rallying in the last two games with decisive 13-2 and 7-0 closing spurts to end the Pacers' perfect 2024 playoff run at home — and their season.

Next up will be the Dallas Mavericks or Minnesota Timberwolves. Dallas leads the Western Conference finals 3-0 and can clinch the series on its home court Tuesday night.

And Boston has been finding help in all corners.

While Jayson Tatum garnered the usual headlines for two 36-point outings and a near triple-double in Game 4, 37-year-old Al Horford defied the odds by making seven 3-pointers in Game 3, Jrue Holiday overcame an illness to deftly pick Andrew Nembhard's pocket, and Derrick White delivered the go-ahead 3-pointer in Game 4, everyone seemed genuinely happy it was Jaylen Brown who was chosen series MVP.

“I didn't expect that at all," Brown said before explaining the emotions of being left off the all-NBA teams. “But as time has gone by and I got to this point, I just stopped caring and I don't care who sees what as long as my team knows my value, my city knows my value, my family knows my value. That's all I really care about.”

There's little doubt the Celtics understand where they would be — and where they wouldn't be — without Brown.

He scored 29 points and grabbed six rebounds to help Boston erase an eight-point deficit in the final six minutes Monday night. And after the defense forced two late turnovers, Brown helped close it out with a brilliant block of Nembhard just before White's big shot.

The reaction was telling for Holiday, who won an NBA title with the 2020-21 Milwaukee Bucks.

“I think it's even better that he didn't expect it. That really means that didn't matter to him,” Holiday said. “It was about winning and whatever it took, however long it took. That's what was important to him and I think when you have that mentality and that mindset, you see great people rewarded for the things they do.”

Holiday understands.

When the Bucks traded him to Portland in September to acquire Damian Lillard, he wasn't sure what would happen next. Four days later, the Celtics made another deal with the Trail Blazers to get the two-time All-Star and defensive whiz, hoping he could help them complete their championship quest.

So far, the Celtics' investment in Holiday has delivered big dividends. And now everyone's about to find out if the addition of Holiday and the possible return of starting center Kristaps Porzingis from a strained right calf that has kept him out since April 29 just might help Boston earn another crowning achievement.

“Obviously, we fell short of our ultimate goal last year, lost in the conference finals,” Tatum said. “So I think we've just applied everything we learned to this season and this postseason and it's been working really well."

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