How did the Boston Celtics go from 10th in the Eastern Conference in January to three wins away from an NBA title in June?
For starters, they believed in themselves.
The Celtics finally got fully healthy just before the NBA trade deadline in February and started to win games. After they acquired Derrick White and Daniel Theis at the deadline while shipping out Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford, their strong play continued.
Still, almost no one thought the Celtics had any shot at reaching the NBA Finals -- except the Celtics.
On the latest episode of his podcast, "The Lowe Post," ESPN's Zach Lowe revealed Boston's mindset after adding White from the San Antonio Spurs at the deadline.
"The Celtics were 32-25 when they made that trade," Lowe began. "Their surge was beginning, but it was not super obvious that they were a juggernaut in the making. They had looked really good, but their schedule had been pretty easy. You couldn't, from the outside, just automatically conclude that this was a juggernaut waiting to happen."
"Internally, the Celtics thought, 'We've figured something out, and we think we're really, really good. And we view this Derrick White trade not like you view it in this sort of cold, calculating way. ... We view it as, we might be able to win the championship. This might be our once piece away, and if we have to overpay a little bit, we don't care, because we think we're that good.'"
Keep in mind the Celtics were seventh in the East the day after the trade deadline. While White seemed like a good fit for Boston in many ways thanks to his playmaking ability and strong defense, but the team's biggest weakness was outside shooting, and White came to Boston averaging just 31.4 percent from 3-point range.
According to Lowe, however, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and the Celtics believed White could be their "missing piece," which is why they gave up Richardson, Langford, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2028 first-round pick swap to land the veteran guard, who is under contract through 2025.
Boston's confidence was well-placed, and White reaffirmed it Thursday by playing a central role in the Celtics' NBA Finals Game 1 win over the Golden State Warriors with 21 points and a postseason career-high five 3-pointers off the bench.
Even when White's shot isn't falling, the Celtics have virtually no defensive weak links when he's on the floor, while his ball-moving ability leads to higher-quality shots on the other end. Jayson Tatum and Al Horford are the only Celtics with a better plus-minus this postseason than White (plus-5.3), a testament to his impact on both ends of the floor.
"Whether they win or lose this series, the grade on the Derrick White trade is 'A,'" Lowe added. "They had a better sense of their team than I did, and they were right."
White will look for an encore performance Sunday in Game 2 at Chase Center, with tipoff set for 8 p.m. ET.