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Boston Celtics fans are celebrating a league record 18th NBA championship

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Boston Celtics fans are celebrating a league record, their 18th NBA championship after a win over the Dallas Mavericks last night in the NBA Finals. Now, they were led by Jayson Tatum's 31 points and by Jaylen Brown's 21. Brown was also named NBA Finals MVP, and now Boston is getting ready for a victory parade. Joining us to talk about how the Celtics did it, I'm joined by Martenzie Johnson of ESPN's Andscape. So, Martenzie, this core group has been in the finals before. What made the difference this time around for the Celtics?

MARTENZIE JOHNSON: Being together for all those years and losing for all those years is how you can say they won this year. And in the NBA - and, I guess, in other sports - like, that old adage is you have to lose before you win. And this team has lost a lot but in a good way, right? It wasn't losing a bunch of games and not making the playoffs. It's going to the conference finals six of the last eight years when this kind of era started for them.

But obviously, this is their first time winning it. But they had to learn from those mistakes. They had to learn to not wilt under the pressure once they got to the finals or got to the conference finals. They had to play hard. They had to play together. Their two stars had to show up. So that finally happened for them, obviously, in this series, which coming into it, I thought, oh, this could go seven. This could go six. This is going to be a great series.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

JOHNSON: It's over within five.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

JOHNSON: It didn't go that way, but it just did finally prove that the Celtics could get over the hump and now, really - and we'll talk about this later - what they can do going forward.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, let's talk about it, yeah, because Tatum is 26, Brown is 27, their coach is 35 years old. I mean, they could be set up for a long run.

JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm 35, so it kind of hurts that...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter) I remember back when that happened a million years ago. Go ahead, go ahead.

JOHNSON: (Laughter) But, yeah, only two of their starters, Al Horford and Jrue Holiday, are over the age of 30. Every single one of the players who played any significant minutes in the finals or in the playoffs are coming back next year. What they do beyond that? I don't know. But next year, they basically have everyone coming back who contributed this year. I see for right now, based on how the Eastern Conference looks - obviously, not as good as the Western Conference - and what the Celtics just did to the Western Conference, I can see them winning it back-to-back just, you know, off of continuity alone.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. So OK, Martenzie, for six decades, over six decades, the Lakers and the Celtics have had a championship rivalry. The Celtics now lead 18 to 17. Magic Johnson tweeted I hate that the Celtics have won more championships than us now. I know that Magic is not kidding about that. Nothing motivates each of them more than watching the other team win. So considering NBA free agencies coming up, I mean, how much of that is going to be focused on what the Lakers do to respond to their rivals the Celtics?

JOHNSON: Oh, I mean, that's already started.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

JOHNSON: We've been talking about the Lakers during these entire playoffs...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

JOHNSON: ...And they weren't even in it. As far as this rivalry goes, I mean, again, the Celtics are bringing back most of their players. They have a young coach who now has a championship already at the same age as me. And the Lakers don't have a coach and their best player is technically a free agent right now. So I don't know exactly what's going to happen. You have to imagine that the Lakers want Lebron back. And look, Lebron moved to Los Angeles for a reason, right?

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

JOHNSON: And he could've played for the Clippers, but he didn't. So I think he's going to come back - not to mention the Lakers could draft his son, Bronny James. So there's gonna be interest as far as the Lakers. But as far as the head-to-head matchup, there's a snowball's chance in H that...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

JOHNSON: ...The Lakers will get back to the championship next year.

MARTÍNEZ: Martenzie, you're a success. You're 35. You're like the coach of the Celtics. You're a success, too. Don't, you know...

JOHNSON: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: Give yourself some props. That's Martenzie Johnson from ESPN's Andscape. Martenzie, thanks.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SESHEN SONG, "DISTANT HEART") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.