Celtics can't change the past, but NBA Finals pain still guiding them forward

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Forsberg: C's can't change the past, but Finals pain still guiding them forward originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

By now you’ve probably heard the story about Jaylen Brown’s shoes from Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

In case you need a refresher, here’s the quick version: Brown wore a pair of gold Kobe V sneakers when the Warriors clinched the 2022 Finals at TD Garden. Brown then sported the same shoes at each of his (above-water) summer workouts as a reminder of how the season ended. He was going to wear them to Celtics Media Day before the start of the season but they were, in his words, "damn near in like shreds.’”

When Brown hosted his second annual 7uice Foundation gala in early December, he opted to put the shoes up for bid hoping to raise some money. It was time to let go.

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Only he couldn’t quite let go.

"I had them at my charity gala for sale but the highest offer we had was maybe a couple thousand dollars,” said Brown. "And I was like, ‘We're just gonna save these. I’m not letting these get (away).'

“I was like, 'Mom, we’re just going to save these.’ So I think they’re on my foundation website or they’re going to be there shortly for anybody who’s interested in maybe donating some money to get a pair of sneakers that will go to a good cause.”

Brown, who wore a fresh pair of the same sneakers in Golden State when the Celtics lost there last month, knows he has to let go of the past. But he also knows that those shoes will be even more valuable if the Celtics ultimately secure the championship that eluded them last season.

Therein lies the Celtics’ challenge on Thursday night when the Warriors return to Boston for the first time since celebrating their title victory on the Garden parquet. The Celtics were wound far too tight -- even if Jayson Tatum tried to suggest otherwise -- in December and turned in one of their biggest duds of the season on a major stage.

It sent the team into a December spiral that required some serious digging to pull themselves out of.

"That whole [Finals] was intense. And then to lose obviously leaves a stain on everybody’s memory," said Brown. "So you go into a new year and you’re reminded of all the pain that you might have (experienced), the disappointment. So you come out and want to overcome all of that.

"But the reality is you remember it, you learn from it, and you grow from it. But you let it go at the same time. And you move forward.”

Thursday night is a new chance for a new team to showcase how it has built the best record in basketball, all while using last year’s failures to help drive them.

"We’re not the same team as last year," said Brown. "[The Warriors are] not the same team as last year. Some of us are not the same players we were last year. I’m not the same player I was last year. So you just see and read the game that’s in front of you.

"You don’t need to go in there with anything from behind in the past. You watched it, you learned from it. You take what you learned, you be ready, you be aware, you be prepared, and you apply your work ethic and what you worked on to the game.”

The reality is you remember it, you learn from it, and you grow from it. But you let it go at the same time. And you move forward.

Jaylen Brown on the 2022 NBA Finals

Now, with all that said, there is undeniably some extra heft to Thursday’s matchup. Brown, who has missed the last three games due to a groin strain, admitted there’s extra motivation for him to be out there and keep the team’s positive vibes flowing.

Boston was rolling in December after a lopsided win in Phoenix moved the team to an NBA-best 21-5. Then they hit the Golden State speed bump. The Celtics dropped five of their next six overall.

They’ve righted the ship in the aftermath. Boston has won seven straight and 11 of its last 13. The Celtics are yet again atop the NBA at 33-12 and have built a comfortable cushion atop the Eastern Conference.

The Warriors have issues far grander than a Finals rematch, including some serious struggles on the road this season. But the Celtics have to expect their best shot.

Nothing Boston can do on Thursday night will change what happened last June. No matter how well they play on Thursday, it’s unlikely to matter this June (though, it could help diminish any real estate the Warriors currently own in Boston’s brains, in the event of a Finals rematch).

Boston has to find a sweet spot between inspiration to show the Warriors their progress and keeping a focus on what they’re building towards.

It’s kinda like Brown’s shoes. They represent a painful moment that has motivated this team in a new quest. Those shoes will have the much grander value that Brown anticipates if the Celtics ultimately accomplish everything Brown dreamed of while wearing holes in those shoes this summer.