On Sunday night, the Boston Celtics took down the Miami Heat in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the 22 NBA Finals in franchise history.
In doing so, the Celtics ensured that the 2022 edition of the Finals would have a distinctly Nashville flavor. Boston employs a pair of former Vanderbilt Commodores in Aaron Nesmith and Luke Kornet.
Nesmith, selected 14th overall by Boston in the 2020 NBA Draft, has been in and out of the Celtics rotation this year. During the regular season, he averaged 3.8 points in 11.0 minutes per game, down from the 4.7 and 14.5 numbers from his rookie campaign.
In the playoffs, the small forward took the floor in four games in the Celtics second round series against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks and in six outings in the Eastern Conference Finals against the top-seeded Miami Heat.
At Vanderbilt, Nesmith started 33 of 46 games, averaging 14.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. During his sophomore season, Nesmith was fifth in the nation in scoring at 23 points per game, the highest season average for a Vanderbilt player since Tom Hagan in 1968-69, when he was injured for the remainder of the year on January 10.
After bouncing around five teams, including a previous stint with the Celtics, since going undrafted in 2017, Kornet landed in Boston in February after spending some time with the franchise's G-League affiliate, the Maine Celtics.
He has only played in 12 games for the Celtics so far this year, none of which were playoff games, but for his career Kornet 148 games and started 35 with a career average of 5.5 points per game.
At Vanderbilt, Kornet was a four-year player, just like his dad Frank who played two years in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks. Over 128 career games, Kornet notched 8.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per outing.
Kornet was first-team All-SEC as a senior in 2017 and finished as the program's all-time leader in blocked shots. He also hit the most three-pointers for a seven-footer in NCAA history.
The pair of 'Dores aren't the only connection to Nashville on the Celtics. Former Belmont standout Evan Bradds is currently on Boston's player enhancement staff.
Bradds, a two-time OVC Player of the Year at Belmont, started out as an assistant with the Maine Celtics in 2017 following his playing days. He then quickly earned a spot on former Celtics coach Brad Stevens' staff, which transitioned to a position on the current staff under head coach Ime Udoka.
Bradds works closely with several Celtics, including former Tennessee Vol and two-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams, on video analysis and specialized skill development.
Former Belmont guard Drew Hanlen has also played a role in the Celtics NBA Finals trip. Hanlen is a prominent skills coach in the basketball world, and among his clients is Boston star forward Jayson Tatum, the Eastern Conference Finals MVP.
The Golden State Warriors also have a connection to Nashville's basketball landscape. Before moving to Memphis to finish out his high school career, the 2020 NBA Draft number one overall pick James Wiseman started out his prep days at Ensworth.
The Nashville native spent two seasons at Ensworth before moving on to East High School, where he was named Tennessee Mr. Basketball in 2019. Wiseman spent one injury-shortened season at the University of Memphis before jumping to the NBA.
After playing 39 games with 27 starts as a rookie, with averages of 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds, Wiseman has yet to play in the regular season or playoffs for the Warriors this season after suffering a torn meniscus.