Top 5 Celtics moments of overcoming adversity

By Mateo Aycardi

To state that the Celtics have faced adversity this season would be an understatement.

Boston’s re-integration of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving caused more disarray than expected early in the year. But with the C’s turning a new page and recovering nicely in leu of the playoffs, it’s time to start believing in this team once again.

With that in mind, let’s look back at the top five Celtics moments overcoming adversity.

5. Paul Pierce stabbed and returned for all games in 2000-01

When Paul Pierce was selected No. 10 overall in the 1998 NBA Draft, expectations were that he would help pull the Celtics back from NBA purgatory.

Boston had just come off a 36-win season that saw few improvements aside from the play of Antoine Walker and Chauncey Billups. Billups, a young but talented guard, did not have the best relationship with the at the time coach Rick Pitino. Because of this, he was subsequently traded to the Raptors after less than a year with the team. Pierce, however, was set on changing the narrative. He quickly shined as a focal point of the Boston offense early on, until a fateful night outside of a Boston nightclub in 2000 sent shockwaves through the city.

Pierce, who had been visiting the city’s local theatre district for a private event, had been stabbed 11 times.

"I felt like I was trapped in a box,” Pierce told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. “I couldn't go nowhere. The only thing that saved me was basketball."

While he could have succumbed to depression and anxiety just two years into his NBA career, his quest for a safe haven which he found in basketball propelled him to a stunning season where he averaged 25.3 points and 6.4 rebounds.

"I think that's the reason I got back on the court so fast,” Pierce noted. “Me sitting at home thinking about [the stabbing> didn't work. I went to every practice, sat on the sideline for hours, because that's where I felt safe. I didn't want those practices to end because then I had to go back out there in this world that really scared me."

4. 2001-02 Celtics get over the hump

Despite a positive end to the 2000 campaign, expectations for the Celtics were low in the ensuing season.

With Pierce and Walker still perceived as nothing but youths with great potential, the media instead focused on a Philadelphia 76ers team that featured All-NBA guard Allen Iverson. Iverson was revered as a scoring machine with his eyes set on a second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

The Celtics suffered some early struggles, starting off their regular season campaign with a 5-6 record. The critics, it seemed, had gotten to a young Celtics team.

But Pierce, tired of getting overlooked, would wind up having his best statistical season yet. The Kansas product averaged 26.1 points and shoot 40 percent from beyond the arc that season.

Walker also managed a remarkable offensive output, allowing the Celtics a run at the playoffs once more.

At the time, the NBA playoff format was a best of five series in the opening round. Boston took advantage and knocked out Iverson and company in shocking fashion.

“When we got it to double figures, we weren’t going to be denied,” Celtics guard Kenny Anderson had told reporters after clinching the series. “Not here (at home) . . . We’ve got a young team, and when you’re young, sometimes you’re naive and just go out and play. Paul and them are just playing right now. They’re just playing.”

That insurmountable confidence was a driving force in the Celtics’ two ensuing series. After routing the heavily favored Detroit Pistons in a 4-1 semifinals battle, the team focused on a Nets team that had come out of nowhere to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

Behind Pierce’s brilliant play, Boston jumped out to a quick 2-1 series lead. They were, however, unable to capitalize and lost the ensuing three contests.

While disappointing, Pierce and his Celtics proved they belonged and had the talent to be relevant sooner rather than later.

3. The 2012 Battle of the East

Boston’s rebuilt finally came to an end with the acquisitions of Ray Allen and Garnett in the summer of 2007.

The combining of three Hall of Fame talents brought Boston their long-awaited return to immortality with a championship banner in 2008. The 2012 season though, brought about a great deal of questions.

With Pierce out with a heel injury and Jeff Green diagnosed with a season ending medical condition, the Celtics quickly fell in the standings, managing a mere 15-17 record at the All-Star break.

With a championship caliber roster in danger of yet another wasted year due to injuries, the Celtics had many doubters wondering if they would be able to climb back into a meaningful playoff seeding.

The Celtics, to their credit, bounced back in tremendous fashion.

Boston fought back and eventually retook control of the Atlantic Division, going 24-10 to close out the regular season. Garnering significant momentum, the Celtics overpowered the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, followed by a gritty series victory against a talented young 76ers team.

However, the Celtics were unable to capitalize and punch their ticket to yet another NBA Finals due to the newly formed Big Three in Miami – headlined by LeBron James.

2. The Heart of Isaiah Thomas

With the departure of Pierce and Garnett, the C’s once again found themselves as bottom feeders of the NBA.

With only a handful of serviceable players, the Celtics rode the wave to a rebuild until the arrival of Isaiah Thomas in a trade with the Phoenix Suns onFebruary 19, 2015. Thomas was, at the time, a sixth man candidate with great scoring potential.

The acquisition of Thomas would give Boston a few more looks at the playoffs, but none turned out to be enough to get Boston close to the promise land. Their success, however, garnered the attention of Atlanta’s Al Horford after the Celtics’ incredibly hard-fought battle with Atlanta in the playoffs.

Upon the arrival of Horford, the Celtics were a force to be reckoned with. Boston would wind up as the first seed in the Eastern Conference and had plans to ride that momentum to a first-round victory against the Chicago Bulls.

And then, tragedy struck.

Thomas’s sister, 22-year-old Chyna Thomas, had passed away in a devastating car accident one afternoon. Her car had veered off the road and struck a metal pole, killing her and leaving behind numerous mourning family members.

Thomas would wind up using Chyna’s memory as fuel for the fire, leading the Celtics to two straight playoff series victories against the Bulls and the Wizards. In Game Two in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Washington, Thomas would go on to score 53 points, just one-point shy of John Havlicek’s team record.

While the Celtics would not win a title that season, Thomas certainly demonstrated the power of unity and the power of playing for something bigger than oneself. And all of Boston could appreciate his efforts.

1. 2017: The loss of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving

After acquiring Brad Stevens’ prized Butler jewel in Gordon Hayward as a free agent in the 2017 offseason, the Celtics turned their attention to another pivotal piece of the puzzle: Kyrie Irving.

Irving’s arrival from Cleveland signaled the Celtics’ pursuit of a championship sooner rather than later, and with three All-Star caliber stars to accompany a young and surging pair of forwards, Boston looked like a prominent threat to the Warriors’ success in 2018.

And then, Gordon Hayward went down.

Suffering a gruesome injury that kept him out of the entire 2018 campaign, Hayward’s loss was a shocking development that left the Celtics with a debilitating feeling.

Be sad. Be mad. Be frustrated. Scream. Cry. Sulk. When you wake up you will think it was just a nightmare only to realize it’s all too real. You will be angry and wish for the day back, the game back THAT play back. But reality gives nothing back and nor should you. Time to move on and focus on doing everything in your power to prepare for surgery, ask all the questions to be sure you understand fully the procedure so that you may visualize it in your subconscious while being operated on and better the chance of it’s success. Then focus on the recovery process day by day by day. It’s a long journey but if you focus on the mini milestones along the way you will find beauty in the struggle of doing simple things that prior to this injury were taken for granted. This will also mean that when you return you will have a new perspective. You will be so appreciative of being able to stand, walk, run that you will train harder than you ever have. You see the belief within you grow with each mini milestone and you will come back a better player for it. Best of luck to you on this journey my brother #mambamentality always.

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With one of their premiere franchise-altering talents sidelined for a whole season, whispers around the league centered around the fact that Boston was doomed from the start. Media members claimed the Celtics were in for a rude awakening against a LeBron-led Cavaliers team.

The Hayward-less Celtics, though, instead managed to ride that motivation to 16 straight victories – the franchise’s fourth best win streak in history.

And while the Celtics were unable to capitalize and force a trip to the NBA Finals in 2018, they did manage to turn some heads and develop young talent en route to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.