The Boston Celtics are finished. And, to be honest, a lot of us, including this writer, were tough on them. Really tough.
They made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, the NBA’s version of the Final Four, and many people complained until the bitter end.
We are tough here in Boston. You know, the “Championships or bust” mentality.
I plead guilty again.
But there are multiple reasons why when it comes to these Celtics.
They are likable. They rebuilt from scratch. They have, seemingly, nice guys – see Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker – that “seemingly” like each other.
Of course, there are the Tommy Heinsohn/Celtics tradition factors, too.
They like owner Wyc Grousbeck, president Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens. More good guys that have done a good job bringing the franchise back after the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce run.
That’s the frustration. This could’ve been “their” year.
The three young stars – Tatum, Brown and Smart – from the conference finals seven-game bout with the Cleveland Cavaliers were two years older.
Tatum elevated his game to Top 15 status. Brown isn’t that far behind. And Smart, the best defensive player these eyes have ever seen, has improved 10-fold from beyond the 3-point arc.
There are other negative places to look, as in Kemba’s weird disappearance and Gordon Hayward’s even weirder nondescript play. And I get it, it takes a village to win a championship.
But the Celtics “Big 3” – Tatum, Brown and Smart – were outplayed by the Heat’s stars.
Miami’s Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson were periodic stars throughout the series, making shots with usually one of these three Celtics in their faces.
The ultimate Celtic killer this series was forward Bam Adebayo, who is also 22, like Tatum. He increased his productivity in this series – 23 points and 11 rebounds versus 15.9 and 10.2 in regular season.
Goran Dragic, who bordered on Celtic killer status, averaged 16.2 points per game in the regular season, but topped out at 20.5 points over the last two weeks versus Boston.
The irony is that Jimmy Butler, the biggest guy to fear, really was a big factor in about four games. But he was there when he was needed most.
The worst part, though, was really the end of the close games. The Celtics played, as coaches like to call it, “Hero ball,” sort of a superstar, one-on-one thing.
There was one huge ingredient missing on the Celtics that the Heat had: A tough, veteran, defender and winner – Andre Iguodala.
While he wasn’t a game-changer every game, he was when it counted most in Game 6. He doubled his scoring output in the series in the clinching game, with 15 points.
But watching him talk to teammates on the bench and on the floor is even more meaningful.
While Kemba was a great addition, he joined the Celtics never having won a playoff series. This was new turf for him and it showed.
Blowing up the Celtics is not an option. They are very close and the core is young enough to still grow.
Does Tatum have to cut down on some consistent mental mistakes? Absolutely.
Does Brown’s role maybe have to increase from standing in the corner to touching the ball every possession? Maybe.
Does Smart have to be smarter, more careful with the ball on offense? Yup.
Those improvements probably will occur.
The Bruins gave up on two, underachieving and super-talented "kids" over the last two decades, in Joe Thornton and Tyler Seguin. It cost them dearly not hanging in there, waiting the maturity "thing" out.
But, in the end, the Celtics need some toughness, another guy in Smart’s realm. They need a veteran, maybe a former champion, who can help out in the production part, just a little bit, like Iguodala does and did.
It’s been nearly a day since the debacle in the bubble. Cooler heads have, hopefully, prevailed. Ainge and Stevens have work to do.
The Celtics really are closer to the Champion No. 18 than they appeared on Sunday night.
Most of all, patience, as painful as it is to wait, is a virtue.
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.