Celtics season ends in Game 6 of Finals; Where does Boston go from here?

Associated PressWarriors guard Stephen Curry holds up the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy with his Golden State teammates after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the NBA Finals Thursday night.

BOSTON – Not quite yet.

The burning question at the moment is, if not now, then when?

The Boston Celtics; championship dreams came to a bitter conclusion Thursday evening at TD Garden as they fell to a smarter, more experienced Golden State Warriors team by a 103-90 score in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Looking back at the season that was, Boston undoubtedly made incredible strides to get back to the title round after 12 strenuous years. They beat a trio of talented Eastern Conference squads to get there and seized an early 2-1 lead over the Warriors on the final stage.

But after showing so much resiliency, so much fight throughout the postseason, the Celtics finally ran out of gas. They ran out of gas mentally, they ran out of gas physically, and for whatever unfathomable reason they lost hold of all the enviable attributes that made them such a great basketball team.

Boston suffered some bad losses during the playoffs; Thursday night's funeral of sorts was right up there with the worst of them.

Things looked incredibly optimistic early as the Celtics shot out to a 14-2 lead in front of an anxious and raucous home crowd. But that fiery start was nothing but a mirage.

Golden State proceeded to rip off a 21-0 run – the largest such spree in any NBA Finals game over the last 50 years – to all but seal the deal by halftime.

The Warriors led by 15 at the break (54-39), and while Al Horford and Jaylen Brown – both were admirably terrific in defeat – helped their team climb back within single digits on more than one occasion, the proverbial mountain was simply too steep to climb.

For the past 48-plus hours leading up to Game 6, all anyone could talk about was how Boston had beaten themselves with careless turnovers and otherwise boneheaded decisions offensively. For many, the thought process was, "They won't let that happen in a do-or-die game on their home court."

Guess what? That's exactly what they did.

The Celtics turned the ball over 22 times Thursday, and what's most infuriating is the majority of them were completely avoidable. Lackadaisical entry passes, disorganized dribbling into heavy traffic, unintelligent cross-court heaves ... all of it.

Jayson Tatum, the same player who was named to his first All-NBA First Team last month, was the leader in that category with five cough-ups in the biggest game of his life. At one point in the fourth quarter, he passed up an open shot before dribbling it off his own foot out of bounds.

Tatum scored just 13 points on 6-for-18 shooting and offered virtually nothing on either end of the court in the second half. It's not far fetched to say the 24-year-old star was unplayable at times down the stretch; it's almost as if he was stuck inside his own head.

On the other end, Finals MVP Steph Curry ran circles around the Celtics vaunted defense, raining triples with a simplistic flick of the wrist and weaving his way to the rim for feathery finishes. He put up 34 points, seven rebounds and seven assists and turned the ball over just twice.

Boston had no answer. Tatum, Brown and the rest of the squad witnessed greatness on their home floor and are now left with nothing but a "what could've been" reality.

Were the Celtics the more talented team in this championship finale? Perhaps. But they certainly weren't the more intelligent or complete team.

As Boston's disappointing ending slowly fades into the offseason, the franchise will swiftly turn their attention to what can be done to avoid this same fate next spring.

Will there be major changes to the roster? Probably not. But at this moment, it's extraordinarily transparent that they weren't ready for the moment.

Tatum is a generational talent, but his underwhelming Finals performance proves he still has a substantial step to take. Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart does so many praiseworthy things on the court, but he's not a true point guard and it became increasingly glaring as the series went on that Boston would benefit from such.

For all intents and purposes, Golden State is what Boston should strive to be: balanced, poised, composed and tenacious.

The Celtics will be an early favorite to come out of the East once again next season. But as we've seen so many times from so many talented teams that appeared to be a lock for consecutive Finals berths, nothing is ever guaranteed.

So if not now, then when? 

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Nick Giannino covers the Boston Celtics for the North of Boston Media Group. Contact him at ngiannino@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN

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