Celtics fans made wrong Yankees comparison before near comeback, epic choke

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Turns out, this year's Boston Celtics weren't the 2004 Red Sox at all. They were the 2010-2022 Yankees, just as they have been for the past 15 years.

The Celtics are an historic franchise that commands respect. The Celtics are viewed, nationally, as the big bad bully ... but no one citing their villainy can really remember when, exactly, their last title was. The Celtics are always in the playoffs, but are never thought to be the title favorite -- and, when they are, and everything is falling their way, seem to uncover a spectacular new way to be upended.

Derrick White's miracle putback nearly brought this year's Celtics team all the way back from 3-0 down by winning Game 6 in Miami. Now, three days later? It's as irrelevant to the rest of the country as the DJ LeMahieu game-tying shot in Houston, right before Aroldis Chapman put a smile on his own face.

When this year's Celtics team went down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, they were labeled an "embarrassment" with a "clueless head coach". But, even before Game 4 tipped off, their fans had begun believing again, remembering the pre-series odds, as well as how "natural" the comeback ideology has felt in Boston since 2004. "Remember 28-3? This is that!" Then, somehow, both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez showed up for Game 4 in Miami, Boston won Game 5 at home, took Game 6 on a miracle, and the Yankees got roped into a narrative they had no interest in joining. The comeback was no longer a longshot; it was a certainty, all because of a 20-year-old baseball team.

But, as soon as the whistle sounded on Game 7's extremely powerful loss, you, the reader, were the fool for even dreaming up that comparison. Boston denied they'd ever said it as quickly as they'd propagated the myth in the first place. Because, deep down, they know: this Celtics team is more old-fashioned pomp than modern glory. One title since 1986, zero since 2008, and they're still detested throughout the game as annual victors. Remind you of anyone?

Boston Celtics and New York Yankees have been playoff mirror images since most recent titles

If it was so "insulting," then why did you all keep doing it?

O'Connor is right, but not for the reasons he thinks. Comparing the 2004 Red Sox to the 2022-23 Celtics seemed apt, briefly. Despite what KOC says, both teams were favorites entering the series; the Sox won 98 regular-season games, while the 101-win Yankees' pythagorean record was a pathetic 89-73. The Yankees were No. 1 in payroll; the Sox were No. 2 (and the entire payroll gap was basically A-Rod's contract, plus chum like Kevin Brown/Javy Vazquez/Steve Karsay/Jose Contreras). They weren't expected to overwhelm the Yankees, but they were expected to win. Going down 3-0 and shrugging it off against your historic tormentor is impressive enough (and they had the benefit of back-to-back home Games 4 and 5). We don't have to lie about it.

But the '04 Red Sox had more 2022-23 Miami Heat DNA than Celtics blood. They were led by two highly-paid superstars (Curt Schilling/Manny Ramirez, Jimmy Butler/Bam Adebayo). Their role players came up huge, from Caleb Martin to Bill Mueller. And, most importantly, they were two of the league's most respected franchises -- not historically, but of the modern era. Theo Epstein and Erik Spoelstra run bigger, faster, stronger than their counterparts. This was Red Sox-Yankees, not Marlins-Yankees. This was Heat-Celtics, not Hornets-Celtics. Each time, the team with more momentum knocked off the historic dinosaur without as much clout as they believed themselves to have.

This year's Celtics team fizzled out in the most satisfying possible fashion: a faux-Boston comeback, a week's worth of narrative pushing, all resulting in a nonsensical clattering on their home floor. In the end, the only 2004 parallel that mattered was that the Yankees lost when they refused to test Curt Schilling's ankle in Game 6, and the Heat had no problem testing Jayson Tatum's in Game 7.

Perhaps someday, the Celtics and Yankees will both break their periods of stagnancy, of being close to the mountaintop without any outsiders really believing they have a chance to scale the peak. For now, though, the Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown Era looks a lot like the Baby Bombers Era -- something that was supposed to be an escape hatch from the doldrums, but has instead left everyone scratching their chins, going, "Wait, this group won no titles? Who'd have thought that after 2017?"

It feels oh so nice to welcome Celtics fans back to the same difficult boat we've been residing in since 2009. Hopefully, their journey in stasis continues longer than ours.