Boston Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown during a game Boston Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown; Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

If not now, when for the Boston Celtics? This is their best opportunity to win a championship in over a decade.

The stars seem to be aligning in their favor, especially after Jaylen Brown’s miracle three-pointer to force overtime in the Celtics’ Game 1 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Call it lucky. Call it an omen. Boston doesn’t care what you call it as long as the mojo ends a drought.

Winning a title isn’t easy, but this should be the easiest path to one that this storied franchise has had in recent memory. In the first round, the Celtics knocked off a Miami Heat team with no Jimmy Butler (sprained knee ligament). In the second round, they beat a Cleveland Cavaliers team without Donovan Mitchell (calf injury) for the final two games.

Now a team with the NBA’s best record (64-18) will try to go up 2-0 tonight against the No. 6-seed Indiana Pacers (47-35) for the right to the NBA Finals. There’s no juggernaut standing in the Celtics’ way. In the West, the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets are gone. So is the conference’s top seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder. If experience counts for anything, Boston is the only team that has recently been to the NBA Finals, losing in 2022 to the Golden State Warriors.

Bill Simmons couldn’t write a better dream scenario. The Celtics are heavily favored to win their first title since 2008. Also, this means that Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Joe Mazzulla are officially out of excuses.

Tatum and Brown are the faces of Boston hopes. They have enjoyed regular-season success and reached the conference finals five out of the past seven seasons, including three straight. In most cities, that would be something to celebrate. Not in Boston, where the championship ghosts of Bill Russell, Larry Bird, and Paul Pierce still linger. Before the New England Patriots, the Celtics were the biggest source of pride.

Tatum will always have his 51-point outburst against the Philadelphia 76ers in last year’s Game 7 of the conference semifinals. Brown will always be remembered for that three-point bucket against the Pacers. They’ve had other moments of excellence. It’s silly how we measure these things, but their careers might be defined by what happens over the next month.

And yet, for all the expectations they face, imagine being Mazzulla.

Job security for NBA coaches these days is tenuous. In recent years, championship coaches Frank Vogel and Mike Budenholzer have been fired. So, Mazzulla may not be safe. He was promoted to Celtics coach only after Ime Udoka was suspended for multiple policy violations involving a workplace relationship with a staff member. Because of those circumstances, Mazzulla has had to fight unfair perceptions of him and his team.

The pressure on Mazzulla reached its highest this time last year when the scrappy underdog Miami Heat took a 3-0 lead in the conference finals. To the Celtics’ credit, they rallied to force a Game 7 but were blown out at home to end their season. Management stood behind Mazzulla and improved his roster, adding Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porziņģis (out since late April with a calf injury but could return in this series). As a result, the Celtics finished the regular season with the fifth-highest scoring margin in league history (+11.34). All of the teams ahead of them on that list won it all.

It’s time for the Celtics to win their championship. There are no more excuses.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.