The Celtics departed the playoffs in the second round, falling in five games to Miami. It was far earlier that they figured to go in the postseason, a feeling voiced by general manager Danny Ainge.
He believes his team underachieved.
"That's the hardest thing about this, that I think we're a better team than we played," he said. "I'm not taking anything away from Miami, who I think is an excellent team, but I felt like we should be up 3-2 instead of going home. ... I thought we should have been ahead of the series 3-2. I just really thought Game 4 and Game 5 were for our taking, and it's always hard to lose those games.
"I did not think we played well in Game 1 and Game 2, and I think you've got to give credit to Miami. And also the fact that we lost games down the stretch (in the regular season) to lose home court. That hurt us. Last year we got away with it; this year we didn't."
Ainge has received criticism for the deadline trade that cost the Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. The move was made with the expectation that Shaquille O'Neal would return from his Achilles tendon injury, but O'Neal played in just three games after Feb. 1.
Not surprisingly, Ainge is defending the trade.
"At the All-Star break, I think we were one of a handful of teams that were projected to win," Ainge said. "Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks, Chicago, I think were probably the teams that were expected to win an NBA championship. Three of those teams are out. We made a trade that we thought would help us this year and help us in the future, and we got beat by a very good Miami team.
"I mean, everybody might have their own opinion as to why we fizzled or why we didn't play well. I have my theories, and I won't share those with you because that would be talking about some of my players that didn't play as well as they were capable of playing. But I don't think we played as well as we were capable of playing."
As for what the Celtics will do now, circumstances will almost assuredly dictate that they build around the aging veteran core. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still under contract, and Ray Allen has a player option for $10 million that he says he plans to exercise.
The Celtics are thus waiting to see what the new collective bargaining rules will be so they can decide what free agents may be within their reach.
"We just need to get talent -- more talent," Ainge said. "Scoring droughts have been a problem that we've had the last couple of years. I think our defense has been consistently good over the last few years, but for whatever reason, we've had too many scoring droughts at crucial times of games, and that's hurt us."
Speaking directly about the veteran three, Ainge said, "My objective is to put people around them that are better."
With the team's goals unfulfilled, the highlight of the year came Feb. 10 when Ray Allen hit two early 3-pointers to tie and pass Reggie Miller for first place on the all-time list for made 3-pointers. It was made even more special by the fact Miller was broadcasting the game, which happened to be against the Lakers. When Allen made No. 2,561 and there was a timeout, he went over to the broadcast position and hugged Miller.
Though most people will point to the trade of Kendrick Perkins as the turning point for the Celtics, it's important to note that the club won five straight games (three of them on the road) after Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic joined the group. That would leave Feb. 1, when Shaquille O'Neal injured his right Achilles tendon, as the point that altered the Celtics' fortunes. O'Neal played in just three games thereafter, and the Celtics desperately needed his inside presence.
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