The 2022 Boston Celtics Broke NBA Playoff History

A funny thing happened in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Boston Celtics, a team that has perennially been not quite good enough to win a title but good enough to make a serious run at one since 2017, a team right out of the 1980s in the sense of “every Western Conference team other than the Rockets that couldn’t beat Magic Johnson in the conference finals”, finally broke through.

And when they beat the Miami Heat in Game 7, the team that had thwarted them in the COVID bubble in 2020, they absolutely turned on its head everything we all thought we knew about seven-game series in the NBA playoffs.

The Celtics took a 1-1 tied series home for Game 3. They lost. Since 2013, teams that lost that pivotal game were 3-25 in playoff series, which means the Celtics overcame 8-to-1 odds against them to pull the series out of the fire.

Then they had a chance to eliminate the Heat in Boston in Game 6. They lost that game. So they went into Game 7 with about a 30 percent chance to win the series and overcame that roughly 2-to-1 shot against them.

And sure, injuries played a role—Miami was a MASH unit for most of the series—but injuries play a role in every playoffs, and it’s not like Marcus Smart is the picture of health in his own right.

So here the Celtics are, in the Finals for the first time since 2010. The city of Boston has seen all four of its major sports teams playing in the championship round in just the past three and a half years or so—the 2018 World Series, Super Bowl LIII, the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals, and now the 2022 NBA Finals.

And while the Bruins’ loss in 2019 means the city can’t break its own record for shortest interval to win a title in all four sports—6 years, 4 months, including Super Bowl XXXIX, the 2007 World Series, the 2008 NBA Finals, and the 2011 Stanley Cup between February of 2005 and June of 2011—the city has in its own right reclaimed a few other notable sports accomplishments.

For one thing, while no city has ever competed for a title in all four sports in a “Tiger Slam”, never mind the same calendar year, Boston has competed in three on more than one occasion.

In 1986, the Patriots made it to Super Bowl XX (and got stomped by the Chicago Bears 46-10, but at least they got there), the Celtics won the title, and the Red Sox…let’s just not talk about Game 6 of the ’86 World Series, huh? Nine-year-old me is still shell-shocked, since I’d lost my father just a week prior. Gut punch. Biggest gut punch sports have ever given me in all of my years—and I grew up in Boston.

Similarly, the 2007-08 sports calendar featured the Sox winning the 2007 World Series, the Patriots…ugh, let’s not talk about the Helmet Catch, the second-biggest gut punch sports have ever given me in all my years…and the Celtics winning that title in ’08. Only the Bruins falling short (again, as in ’86) kept that one from being a grand slam.

Sometimes you see this in cities that are just so awash with teams that they get two cracks at glory in multiple sports. The 2000 Subway Series between the Yankees and Mets comes to mind, as New York went 2-for-2 on its baseball teams. The same could happen for its other sports—the Giants and Jets in football, Knicks and Nets in the NBA, and if we want to be extra-generous toward counting northern New Jersey as the New York City market—and we must, if we’re to consider the Giants and Jets—even the NHL’s New Jersey Devils could join the Rangers and Islanders.

If we’re going by that metric, New York has a fast interval to win titles in three sports—between Super Bowl III, the ’69 World Series, and the ’70 Knicks title, that’s less than 18 months, so they’ve got Boston dead to rights on that one.

But you’d have to include a hockey team to get to four titles, and that means the Islanders—who won the Stanley Cup in 1980—give New York a four-sport run at 11 years and five months, over five years longer than Boston’s glory run between 2005 and 2011.

The Celtics have a chance in 2022 to not only put the Bruins on the clock to shrink the interval for all four sports (the Bruins would have until 2024 to win one, totaling out the intervals and assuming the Red Sox don’t win a World Series in 2022 or ’23) but to give Boston not one but two championship windows shorter than the next-fastest city (New York) to pull off the feat—a Celtics win would put the interval for the city’s four most recent titles at 11 years since that Bruins win in 2011.

But you know what? New York’s cheating. They get a bunch of teams—nine in total across four sports.

Who’s the next-best contender in a fair fight? Glad you asked.

Philadelphia clocks in at 19 years and 10 months—the 1960 Eagles (pre-Super Bowl era, but a title’s a title), 1967 76ers, 1975 Flyers, and 1980 Phillies grabbed titles in their sports, and their interval for all four teams participating but not winning is shorter still. Between the 1975 Flyers, 1980 Eagles and Phillies, and 1983 76ers, they went to four league championships in eight years, winning titles in three of the sports. Likewise, their three-sport championship interval sits at that same eight years, behind New York and Boston.

But all this is a huge digression, thanks mainly to the fact that the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals was too short for an article but I wanted to drop a piece to let y’all know I hadn’t died.

Enjoy the Finals, and thanks for reading!

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