Boston’s Jaylen Brown, center, celebrates with his teammates after the Celtics won Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana on Monday in Indianapolis. The Celtics won 105-102 and Brown was named series MVP. Darron Cummings/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — The gleaming silver and gold Larry Bird Trophy looked like a chalice in Jaylen Brown’s left hand.

When Brown was announced as the Eastern Conference finals MVP and the adoring Boston Celtics’ fans who now filled the lower bowl of Gainbridge Fieldhouse roared in approval, Brown didn’t need both mitts to raise that little thing. Still, Brown grabbed it near its cylindrical base, sideways, holding it high while teammates palmed his head and slapped him silly.

Consider it practice. Just a trial run celebration before the real thing, following their four-game sweep over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. Because come the sixth of June, top-seeded Boston will return to the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons, and Brown and his mates would much rather close that series by dancing in a champagne-soaked mosh pit and raising the league’s ultimate prize, which measures 25.5 inches and weighs 29 pounds.

For now, Brown seemed happy with his latest keepsake. Following Boston’s 105-102 win to close out the series, Brown carried his tiny souvenir when he sat down to speak with reporters, resting it atop a stat sheet that showed he recorded a game-high 29 points, along with six rebounds and three steals. With his newest award close by, Brown distanced himself, and his team, from former days.

“I know everybody wants to continue to pigeonhole us to what has happened in the past …” he said.

That recent history reads like a script for a basketball soap opera. In 2021, Brad Stevens, who coached the Celtics to a conference finals appearance one year earlier, waved goodbye to the sideline so he could take over the team’s basketball operations. By 2022, Ime Udoka had transitioned to the main seat on the Celtics bench and led them to the Finals, where they were bullied by Golden State. Then, after Boston suspended Udoka for the entire 2022-23 season due to an improper relationship with a female staffer, another first-timer, Joe Mazzulla took over. Success continued, all the way into another conference finals, until the eighth-seeded Miami Heat shocked Boston on its home floor in Game 7.


During this winning stretch, Boston has endured more tumult than you might expect from a franchise tied for the most championship banners in league history, with the 17th coming after the 2007-08 season. The anchoring presence of two homegrown superstars, Brown and Jayson Tatum, has helped matters, and yet these Celtics have remained a game or two, or a series short, of winning the big prize. This June could be different, simply because so many other things have changed.

“We’ve had a different team every single year, different coaches. We’ve had like three coaches in the last five years,” Brown said. “Still, people want to make it seem like it’s the same, it’s the same, it’s the same. Time has gone by, experience has been gained and I think we are ready to put our best foot forward.”

Celtics Pacers Basketball

The Celtics acquired Jrue Holiday on the eve of training camp and he proved his worth with clutch play after clutch play in the Eastern Conference finals. Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The road to this year’s Finals started last summer. Stevens and the front office made the difficult decision to part ways with Marcus Smart, the team’s heartbeat. The trade shifted the locker room so that other players, particularly Brown, were determined to step in and fill the void in vocal leadership, and yet it also brought in a versatile big in Kristaps Porzingis. Though Porzingis hasn’t played since the first round of the playoffs due to a calf injury, he averaged 20.1 points per game this season.

Just before the start of training camp, Boston traded Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams III, a pair of key contributors, for Jrue Holiday’s defensive skills and championship presence. Through the conference finals, Holiday posted postseason averages of 12.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists. More importantly, he repeatedly showed his worth in the clutch, stripping the ball from Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard late in Game 3, then securing the final offensive rebound in Game 4.

Winning moments like Holiday’s hustle defined the end of the deciding game as Boston handcuffed Indiana through the final 3 minutes and 32 seconds, not allowing a single point. After Holiday’s offensive rebound let Tatum dribble out of the last few seconds, he launched the ball toward the rafters. The relief on Tatum’s face revealed how close this matchup truly was, even when the Pacers were without their best player, Tyrese Haliburton, in Games 3 and 4. Let’s just say, the Celtics should be glad that there’s no such thing as a nine-game series. And they should be overjoyed that they don’t have to mess with T.J. McConnell anymore.

Whatever secret stuff McConnell has, he needs to bottle it and sell it to reserve players everywhere. He might be the least assuming player on the Pacers’ roster – while no less than 14 pairs of shoes clutter Haliburton’s stall in the locker room, McConnell displays just one, the Ja Morants he plays in – and he’s typically the smallest man on the floor. Yet McConnell has a knack for being everywhere: driving and getting two feet into the lane, pulling up for midrange jumpers, being an absolute pest on defense. By doing so, McConnell made himself the most consequential player at times during this series, and respected as a favorite of LeBron James.


If Boston needs to fix anything before its latest championship round, McConnell highlighted one glaring problem: the play from the Celtics’ reserves. In Game 4, McConnell single-handedly outscored Boston’s bench with his 15 points and showed toughness after taking a hard foul by Brown, crashing to the court but getting up to run the next play.

“I was just going for the ball. The game is so fast, you know, just trying to make a play on the ball and I think I got him in the face a little bit. T.J.’s my guy, I’ve got nothing but respect for T.J. McConnell,” Brown said. “Man, T.J.’s a dog. When I said (earlier in the series) that some of those guys are turning into Michael Jordan, T.J. McConnell’s who I was talking about, man. He was one of the more unstoppable players on that team.”

But not even “M.J.” McConnell couldn’t beat back the mighty Celtics. Though Boston was the favorite, Brown didn’t think he’d be leaving Indiana with an individual honor.

“I wasn’t expecting it all, I don’t ever win (expletive),” Brown deadpanned, likely with his all-NBA snub still top of mind.

Winning a trophy named after Larry Bird should be a decent consolation prize from missing out on all-NBA honors. Securing the Larry O’Brien would be even better.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story