Five thoughts as we say goodbye to the 2010-11 season. Thanks for the memories, Chris Johnson ...
1. I'll get it out of the way -- and Paul Flannery already hit on it in his column Thursday morning -- the Celtics would not have won this series if they hadn't made the Kendrick Perkins trade. Perkins simply is not the kind of player who turns a 4-1 series loss into a 4-3 series win. He's averaging 4.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in this postseason. Jermaine O'Neal averaged 6.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in the Miami series.
Let's put emotion on the bench and at least try to be fair: Can anyone really point to three losses in this series that would have been wins with Perkins and his 4.6 points and 6.8 rebounds instead of O'Neal and his 6.0 points and 4.4 rebounds? Come on.
But that doesn't mean the trade itself isn't still very much in question. Right now we haven't seen nearly enough from Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic (though Kristic -- who played a total of 41 minutes in the first eight games of the playoffs, including a couple of DNP-CD's -- on Wednesday looked an awful lot like the guy Danny Ainge tried to sell us on at the time of the trade) to justify dealing a top 10 center in his 20's, regardless of his flaws.
2. The Celtics didn't lose the series because they forgot what Ubuntu was all about, whatever the hell that means. I don't know how you could've watched this series and leave it questioning the mental makeup of this team. Does it seem to you that Rajon Rondo wants to win less than he did last year? How about Kevin Garnett? Ray Allen and Paul Pierce? Sure, they all had subpar games in this series, but it has nothing to do with losing a sense of team and everything to do with injury and age. Ubuntu worked as a gimmick in 2008 because Allen/Pierce/Garnett were three years younger and healthy. No reason to overthink it -- this is how it goes. We saw it with Bird/McHale/Parish. It doesn't just end one day, it's a gradual slide downhill.
3. The reality is the Pierce/Allen/Garnett group will probably never again be as close to winning another title as they were at 86-86 with 10 seconds left in Game 4. If Paul Pierce hits that shot it's a 2-2 series and I believe the Celtics find a way to win two of the last three games. But Garnett failed to execute his role in the play, forcing Pierce to fire off an off-balance 18-footer. The Celtics didn't score again until it was 92-86 Miami with 1:55 left in OT. That -- even more than the Rondo injury -- was the story of the series. When Miami needed a basket, they got it. Think of LeBron hitting a 3-pointer with the Heat down 84-81 with two minutes left in Game 4, or the James Jones three to cut the Celtics' led to 87-85 with 3:43 left in the game on Wednesday. The Celtics just didn't convert in big spots, and the Heat did.
4. Helps when you have two of the three or four best players in the world at their peak, and Wade and James were sure brilliant in this series. Wade averaged 30.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He shot 52.6 percent in the five games and carried the Heat to a Game 1 win and kept them within shouting distance in the first half last night. James averaged a 28/8/4 in the series, taking over in the fourth quarter of Game 2, the fourth quarter and OT of Game 4 and in the final five minutes of Game 5. They were terrific -- even by their high standard -- and Pierce, Allen and Garnett were just OK. Against the Knicks that's good enough, against this Heat team it means you go home after five games.
Pierce was great in Game 3, pretty good in Game 2 and shot 16-of-37 in the other three games. Allen his best game of the series in Game 1 (9-of-13, 25 points) but shot 17-of-42 in the other four games (it occurs to me that Allen missed a healthy Rondo most of all). And Garnett dominated Chris Bosh in Game 3 (leading to about 3.3 million Twitter posts that included the words "Avatar" and "testicles") and put up a 12-5 in the first quarter of Game 5. But the Celtics went away from Garnett -- who, for a great player, never seems offended when the team goes away from him -- and he finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to Garnett. I think we have enough proof by now -- over 1,200 games -- to close the books on the idea that Garnett will ever be comfortable as a post threat. But we keep wanting it to be true, because it should make sense, given how aggressive he is on the defensive end. But he wants no part of the post, he's happiest shooting 16-footers and setting picks and getting the hell out of the way down the stretch. And at age 35, I'm pretty sure that's not going to change.
5. Is Billy Hunter the key to Banner No. 18? Could be. This is a team that could really use a long lockout and shortened season. In 1999, the season didn't start until February 5. Now they packed 50 games into that season -- including some back-to-back-to-back games -- but I suspect the Celtics wouldn't push it with any of the veterans and be happy to make the playoffs at any seed and take their chances.
As to who will be on the 2011-12 Celtics, I just don't envision a massive overhaul. The Big Three will be back (Allen reportedly is going to exercise his player option and Garnett has one year left on his deal) and Rondo is locked up. Doc Rivers mentioned in his postgame press conference that the Celtics need more to win another title. I don't see a game-changer out there. Maybe a veteran can come in for short money and take the place of Troy Murphy or Carlos Arroyo, but who are we talking about? Nope, if the Celtics are going to win a championship -- and Rivers, who told his players he will be back next season, said that he doesn't "believe this team is done" -- they are going to do it with the Big Three and Rondo. OK, Krstic, Von Wafer, Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic, and Carlos Arroyo are probably goners. But that's players 10-15. That's a question of tinkering, and maybe you get lucky and hit on a guy who can step in and play a legitimate role.
I'm not even sure Shaquille O'Neal won't be back. This is a guy who has made almost $300 million on the court and at least that much off of it. There's a reason he came to Boston for $1.5 million a year for two seasons. He wants to win, and doesn't want to give it up. Once that calf starts feeling better in a couple of months, I bet he starts thinking about how he wants one more chance, wants to erase the image of him hobbling around in the Miami series. Doesn't mean it won't end just as badly, of course, but for the money, it's not a terrible risk for the Celtics next year. My guess is that you'll see both O'Neal's back next season.
Jeff Green is a RFA, and unless some team comes in and makes a huge offer -- which isn't going to happen -- he'll be coming off the bench next season. We've heard it a million times, but it happens to be true: We won't know what Green is until he has a training camp and a full season with this team. There were some positive signs in the playoffs, but at least as many negative ones.
The two real questions are Delonte West and Glen Davis. West had one of the all-time oddball seasons, could never get healthy during the regular season, played poorly in the first round against the Knicks and wound up playing huge minutes down the stretch -- and playing well -- of the most important games of the season (and, to top off the bizzaro season, sharing a hug with LeBron after Game 5). It was Derek Smith circa 1991 all over again. He's worth bringing back for a low-end deal, but there's a chance he might want to go somewhere else for more money and the chance to play more.
Big Baby is done. I think both sides are ready for a divorce. His act was (barely) tolerable when there was production, but his performance -- on and off the court -- in the postseason cemented his fate. The coaches are done with him, and I don't think there is going to be a lot of anger among the players when he's gone. His career will be an interesting one to watch. If he lands in the right spot he could be a solid starter, but if he winds up in the wrong city he could be out of the league in three years.