BOSTON -- There will always be an empty feeling that eats away at those who wind up on the losing end of the NBA Finals. It's simply unavoidable. But given time, that feeling will eventually lose its hunger, finding its resting place in the memory banks of players and coaches alike.
That's the special part about being who we are as people -- we will always remember the moments that hold great meaning in our lives.
For the Boston Celtics, their Game 7 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers will certainly be one of those moments, but the painful memory of that loss will be forever stored behind countless joyful memories that were gathered along the way.
Players, coaches and team personnel gathered in the visiting locker room of the Staples Center just before midnight Thursday night after a difficult loss to the Lakers in the decisive game of the NBA Finals. As you can imagine, there were no smiles to be found in any corner of the room. The emotions could be described in one word by Ray Allen.
"Tears," he said. "A lot of tears."
But those tears weren't fluidly flowing simply because the team had just lost in the NBA Finals. No, these were tears that derived from each step along the unexpected path Boston took to those Finals.
After noting that the Celtics' original goal was not only to get to the finals, but also to win it, Doc Rivers went on to say the following: "So whatever we had to go through was worth it, the injuries, the chemistry, just everything. It was worth it at the end of the day, and I think every guy would tell you that."
They actually don't have to tell us anything. Their tears already have.
"There's a lot of crying in our locker room, a lot of people who care," Rivers solemnly said after the loss. "I don't think there was a dry eye. A lot of hugs, a lot of people feeling awful. That's a good thing. You know, that means everybody cared."
The caring Rivers refers to doesn't lay solely on the back of the loss. Moreover, it's the result of everyone in that locker room caring about each other after the culmination of a difficult season that saw the team pull together like true families always do.
"You rely on a group of guys," said Kevin Garnett. "You prepare together so much that you grow to enjoy each other and at the same time you get tired of each other. You're going to call that guy your brother for life."
After nearly 10 months together -- which may have felt like a lifetime during the most inauspicious regular season this league has ever seen by an eventual conference champion -- the end of the road has finally arrived. These Celtics battled through thick and thin, through injuries and illnesses, through colliding egos and through 27 losses in the final 54 games. But all of those happenings were components to an uncommonly dense bond that developed in the most unique of ways.
"You know, it was the craziest, most emotional group I've ever coached in my life," Rivers said at the postgame podium. "I told them, they made me reach to places that I never thought I needed to go, I had to go. But through it all, we were the tightest most emotional crazy group that I've ever been with in my life.
"I just can't stress enough how crazy close this team was, you know, and that would be the word, crazy close. They're the type of group that they could scream at each other but no one pick on any of them. That's a special group."
Special is a great word to describe this team. Special can also describe the run the Celtics put together to reach the seventh game of the NBA Finals, a place nearly no one outside of the organization would have ever predicted they'd be.
"I'm extremely proud," said Ray Allen, who was somehow able to reflect on the team's season just minutes after the gut-wrenching loss. "We're a group of guys that stay within ourselves and do what we're capable of. We fought the good fight all the time. When people didn't believe in us, we stayed [true] to ourselves and made sure we came in and did our jobs every day. We don't win this final game, but we still have a lot to hold our heads high for."
Rajon Rondo, who has always been short on words, had some company in that department after the game.
"Nobody really said much," Rondo said of the postgame gathering in the locker room. "We love each other and there wasn't much to say."
Heartache can cause such a scene in the aftermath of a life-changing moment, but the memories will sweeten the story when push comes to shove.