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Opposing fans' chants of 'We Want Boston!' backfiring in playoffs

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Episode 13: Jaylen Brown takes on a bigger leadership role to help Boston advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the 3rd straight year.

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BOSTON (AP) — Opposing fans have been begging for matchups with the Celtics this postseason.

And they are all now wishing that they hadn’t.

Miami Heat fans chanted, “We Want Boston!” after earning a first-round matchup with the Celtics last month. Boston beat them in five games.

Cleveland Cavaliers fans got into the act following their first-round win over the Orlando Magic. After they, too, walked off the court following a 4-1 series loss to the Celtics on Wednesday, Boston fans near the Cavs’ bench held up signs spelling out a question.

“Who wants Boston next?”

For now the Celtics will have to wait for that answer after wrapping up their third consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals with a 113-98 win over the the Cavaliers. Boston will face the winner of the matchup between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. New York leads that series 3-2.

While Boston won the final two games of its series over a depleted Cavs’ team that was missing injured Donovan Mitchell, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert, the East’s’ top seed did have to overcome its first dose of adversity this postseason.

The Celtics played the entire series without starting center Kristaps Porzingis, who continues to recover from the calf strain he sustained late last round against the Heat. They also had to bounce back after losing Game 2 and home-court advantage against the Cavs. Three consecutive wins later, Boston likes the trajectory it’s on just four victories shy of returning to the NBA Finals

“People might think that it’s a given that we’re supposed to be here,” said All-Star Jayson Tatum, who will be making his fifth trip to the conference finals. “I give a lot of credit to everybody in the front office, the coaching staff, the trainers, the guys that hand out the equipment, the ball boys, the cooks, the chefs, security team. We’re all in this together.”

After enduring much criticism for some lackluster performances last postseason, Tatum has been one of his team’s most consistent players, averaging 24.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. His rebounding numbers are up from 8.1 per game during the regular season.

Fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown is following suit averaging a career playoff-high 24.4 points to along with 6.9 rebounds.

It’s a recognition that this team will only go as far as they take it.

”We understand what we can do individually,” Tatum said. “Each night just kind of presents different challenges and being ready and up for the task to do whatever is needed because both of us are capable on the basketball court to do literally everything.”

They are also getting big performances from their teammates.

One of those came Wednesday from veteran center Al Horford, who connected on six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds.

Tatum said Horford’s energy chasing down loose balls and pumping up the crowd at age 37 is infectious.

Horford said he’s just responding to the energy the Boston fans are giving him.

“It’s special when you’re here at the Garden. It’s something that I don’t take for granted,” Horford said. “I just felt very connected with them tonight. … There were just a few times I wanted to be embraced by that moment.”

As much as Tatum said he appreciated Horford’s play this series stepping in for Porzingis, Horford said there’s no doubt that Tatum and Brown are the engines for this team.

“No matter what gets thrown at them, things that people want to talk about, criticize, our guys continue to work. They continue to think of what’s best for our group,” Horford said. “This year that’s been very obvious.”

Horford said he also gives a lot of the credit to their second-year coach Joe Mazzulla, who he believes has found his voice this season.

“Just as a leader of our group. We follow him,” Horford said. “He demands a lot from us. And we’re right there. We’re plugging away. And we know we still have a ways to go.”

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