Boston Celtics fans say team could win it all, as playoffs start this weekend

Karl Volker’s shop in Downtown Crossing sells t-shirts, mugs and other memorabilia featuring some of Boston’s best-known brands: Harvard University, Patriots, Red Sox and Bruins.

But these days, the hottest items are green and white – the colors of the Boston Celtics. “The bigger one is the Boston jersey with the trefoil on it,” Volker said.

Celtics memorabilia at Underground Express in downtown Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The Celtics head to the playoffs Sunday against the Nets as one of the hottest teams in basketball. They finished the season in second place in the Eastern Conference. And some analysts and fans believe they could win their first championship since 2008.

The enthusiasm is hard to miss. Presence at TD Garden, where the Celtics play, has exceeded pre-pandemic levels. And everyone, from local residents to foreign tourists, is buying Celtics gear, Volker said, giving local merchants a big boost.

“I think it’s psychology,” Volker said. “If the team wins, then the tide lifts all the boats.”

The Celtics are among the most legendary franchises in professional sports. Seventeen banners hang from the rafters of the Garden.

But since Larry Bird and the Big Three in the mid-’80s, the Cs haven’t yet matched the kind of dominance of the Patriots or the Red Sox. They have only won one NBA title in the past 35 years.

Lucky the Leprechaun, the Boston Celtics team logo, peers out between Celtics championship banners hung at the team's new training facility.  (Elise Amendola/AP)
Lucky the Leprechaun, the Boston Celtics team logo, peers out between Celtics championship banners hung at the team’s new training facility. (Elise Amendola/AP)

But after a slow start to the season, the team rose to the front of the pack with the best defense in the league, led by guard Marcus Smart and stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

The second-half turnaround was so good – taking the team from 11th to second place – it ranked as the the best of any team in NBA history.

“Beating teams on the road – and dominating wire to wire – which they’ve done nearly 20 times this season,” Boston reporter Dart Adams said as he stood in front of the TD Garden. “These are things teams that win championships do.”

Celtics guard Jaylen Brown dunks past Memphis Grizzlies guard John Konchar in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday April 10, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee.  (Brandon Dill/AP)
Celtics guard Jaylen Brown dunks past Memphis Grizzlies guard John Konchar in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday April 10, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Brandon Dill/AP)

But for Boston to fully embrace the Celtics, some say they’ll have to beat the rival Brooklyn Nets this weekend.

Nets fans chanted “we want Boston” after the team beat Cleveland earlier this week, securing their first-round playoff game with Boston.

“Well, be careful what you wish for,” replied a TNT announcer.

Boston is considered a four-point favorite in early betting, which means they will need to win by more than four points for bettors to cash in.

And some believe the two teams could be in the early stages of building a new basketball rivalry.

That’s because the Nets feature former Celtics star Kyrie Irving, who has become Boston’s nemesis since moving to Brooklyn as a free agent in 2019.

Adams, the sports analyst, recalled Irving insulting home fans by stomping on the Celtics’ leprechaun logo after the Nets beat Boston in a playoff game last year. Irving and the Nets ended the C season that year.

“Because after Kyrie Irving stepped on the logo, a lot of people who don’t live in his area don’t understand the meaning of it,” Adams said. “I think it’s important for the fandom to see the Celtics humiliate – maybe eradicate – the Brooklyn Nets.”

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving scratches his foot at the Boston Celtics logo at midfield after defeating the Celtics in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, the Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Boston.  (Elise Amendola/AP)
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving scratches his foot at the Boston Celtics logo at midfield after defeating the Celtics in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, the Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Boston. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Now many Bostonians, like Sebastian Atryzek, think it’s time for the Celtics to win another title. Atryzek is already counting on the players to match slugger David Ortiz’s triumphs for the Red Sox against the hated New York Yankees.

“We are three behind. Grand Slam!” Atryzek said. “I’m just giving this as an example of what we’re about to do.”

Another Celtics stalwart is South Boston native Mike Greenwood. Sitting on a bench at Boston Common in a green and white Celtics hat, Greenwood said he wasn’t sure these Celtics could still beat the best in the NBA.

But he has hope.

“Boston fans are tired of not winning at basketball,” he said. “We really are. I don’t see how they’re not going to get us to the championships.”

Greenwood said he quit drinking, so he no longer watches basketball games in bars like he once did.

But at his daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, he says, everyone is talking about the Celtics.