Celtics’ NBA Finals run worth celebrating, but is it a culmination or just the start?

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BOSTON – Draymond Green delayed then interrupted his championship celebration to embrace several Celtics.

“Y’all’ll be back,” the Warriors forward told Grant Williams, a nemesis during the NBA Finals.

Boston earned respect this year. After a 16-19 start, the Celtics showed their determination and ability. Sweeping the talented Nets, toppling the defending champion Bucks, outlasting the hard-fighting Heat and challenging the champion Warriors are no small accomplishments.

But this is a city where an NBA title is the standard. No less.

The big question: Does this season put Boston on track for another banner?

With an average age of 26.3 (weighted by postseason playing time, using ages on Feb. 1), the Celtics were the youngest Finals team since the 2012 Thunder. Oklahoma City infamously never returned to that level as James Harden, Kevin Durant then Russell Westbrook exited. The next-youngest Finals team of the last 15 years was the 2015 Warriors, who began a dynasty that’s still going strong.

Which is a long way of saying anything could happen with the Celtics.

They’re an excellent team in a league where there are several excellent teams. Jayson Tatum (24) and Jaylen Brown (25) are elite building blocks. They offer a long runway. But Al Horford was a key cog and is now 36. Boston surrendered a first-rounder to get Horford (and dump Kemba Walker) and another first-round pick plus swap rights to get Derrick White and took on long-term money to re-acquire Daniel Theis. For a franchise once gushing with long-term assets, the Celtics are getting thinner on tools for upgrading.

But it wasn’t that long ago there were discussions about Boston’s clock to impress Tatum before his 2025 player option and murmurs about Brown seeking a trade. This Finals run at least quiets the noise.

Ideally for the Celtics, they also gained valuable experience. Nearly every champion goes through deep-playoff heartache before breaking through.

“It hurts,” Tatum said. “Being with this group, the things we’ve overcome throughout the season, getting to this point, just knowing how bad we wanted it and coming up short – it’s a terrible feeling.”

Boston had lessons to learn about advancing through the gauntlet of a long season and peaking in the Finals. Under first-year coach Ime Udoka, the Celtics needed time to learn how to play together offensively and defensively. Those systems are now in place. Boston can coast a little more next regular season rather than push quite as hard in the name of developing habits and even just winning enough to avoid the play-in tournament.

These Celtics might not win a championship. They might not even make another NBA Finals. But they proved to be the caliber of team that can play on this level.

“You don’t want to feel like this again, but you want to get back here,” Tatum said. “So, to answer your question, yeah, it’s going to fuel us.”

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Celtics’ NBA Finals run worth celebrating, but is it a culmination or just the start? originally appeared on NBCSports.com