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Airing some Celtics grievances to Danny Ainge, and other thoughts

Danny Ainge's Celtics will have to get through the "play-in" round to get into the NBA playoffs.
Danny Ainge's Celtics will have to get through the "play-in" round to get into the NBA playoffs.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Picked-up pieces while hoping Ed Davis can crack the case at Churchill Downs …

▪ I had an awkward conversation with Danny Ainge Friday morning. In an effort to represent what I consider a large segment of the Celtics fan base, I started our interview by telling Ainge that I hate the way his team plays. I can’t stand the way they come out flat, fall behind, rally to make it close, then ultimately capitulate.

I told him I don’t believe his players are doing what Brad Stevens asks them to do. Apologizing for my rudeness, I asked him if he felt we’d been too rough on the underachieving 2020-21 Celtics.

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“I wish we competed out of the gate more,” the president of basketball operations acknowledged. “I wish our defensive efforts were more consistent. Absolutely. I understand all of those critiques, absolutely. So I think it’s a fair critique.”

What is his level of disappointment in this .500 team that will now have to participate in the “play-in” round just to get into the NBA playoffs?

“A lot of disappointment,” he said. “There’s been so many times this year when we’ve been just a day or two from being whole and fresh, and it’s been disappointing in every one of those cases when something creeps in and happens.

“That’s not an excuse. That’s just a fact. I’m not making an excuse for how poorly we have played at times or how we have not shown up with urgency. And when we have shown up with urgency didn’t have the resolve to fight through the poor start when we were not making shots.”

What is he going to do about it? Every time Ainge is asked about changes, he talks like a man who isn’t going to do anything big in the offseason.

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“I never said that,” Ainge countered. “I don’t know. We’ll make some changes. I don’t know what changes we’ll make. That’s what makes the offseason fun.”

OK. Is there any possibility of big changes?

“I won’t comment on that,” Ainge said. “That’s a headline we don’t need. That’s a distraction.”

Are you coming back?

“Of course.”

Is Stevens coming back?

“Of course.”

Are Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown coming back?

“Yes.”

Well then, nothing big, I concluded.

“I don’t know what you expect,” said Ainge. “You can’t think that any of those things are the reason for what this year has been.”

Acknowledging that I don’t enjoy the NBA in 2021 compared with the golden 1980s, I explained to Ainge, “I’m fed up with your team and can’t stand watching them. I don’t know how you do it. They just should be better, and it doesn’t feel like it’s going in the right direction. But I’m not out there playing. So what do I know?”

“OK, well, let me ask you a question,” Ainge offered. “Do you think if we had Kemba [Walker] and Jaylen and Jayson and [Evan] Fournier and Robert Williams and Marcus Smart — do you think that that team would be more fun to watch?”

Maybe. But nobody in the NBA is at full strength every day anymore.

“Well, all I am saying is that there is hope,” said Ainge. “I can’t dispute anything you said and I’m not trying to defend it. I’m just saying that there are good things that are happening.

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“It’s hard to see those things sometimes, and I get it. I’m not expecting anybody else to see them, but that’s my job, to do an autopsy of the whole team and what are the causes and how can we get better?”

“Autopsy” is a good word to use with this group. But brace yourselves, Celtics fans. It sounds like Danny plans to bring the whole band back and give it another try next season.

▪ NESN’s finest moment came before last Monday’s finale in Baltimore when Tom Caron interviewed Jim Rice, Ellis Burks, and Mo Vaughn regarding what it was like to often be a solo Black star on Red Sox teams of prior decades. Rice and Burks were in studio with Caron while Vaughn joined via Zoom from his Florida home.

After talking about redistricting that enabled him to play at a “white high school” in South Carolina, Rice cited conversations he had with Bill Russell when he first came to Boston. Rice showed Burks the way, and Burks was a mentor for Vaughn. Burks explained what it was like to be a Black athlete in Boston during the horrible Charles Stuart episode.

It was important, great television.

▪ Quiz: Name three Worcester natives who became MLB All-Stars (answer below).

▪ Sometimes the punch lines are just too easy — like when we go back and look at NBC’s pre-Kentucky Derby interview featuring Bill Belichick and disgraced horse trainer Bob Baffert.

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“What we have in common,” Baffert said, “is that we do get good players, but we know what to do with them when we get them.”

The only thing missing was, “Did we break a few rules and take a few liberties … ?”

▪ Maybe Kyrie Irving was onto something. And Al Horford. And Gordon Hayward.

▪ Fool’s gold? After 36 games, the Red Sox had the best record in baseball (22-14) and were No. 1 in ESPN’s power rankings. Swell. But 10 of their first 36 games were against the last-place Orioles, while another seven were against the Tigers (worst team in baseball) and the 12-23 Twins. Another eight were against the Mariners and Rangers, who went a combined 49-71 last year.

That’s 25 of 36 games against bottom-feeders. The Red Sox will play 18 games against only the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Rays after the All-Star break.

▪ The Northeastern Huskies are enjoying a great baseball season thus far. Under coach Mike Glavine, NU carried a 28-6 record and an 18-game winning streak into this weekend’s four-game series at Delaware.

▪ Pablo Sandoval has been sneaky good for the Braves, hitting four pinch-hit home runs already. The MLB record for one season is seven.

▪ With the Stanley Cup playoffs getting underway, it’s time to remind everybody that the last team from Canada to win the Cup was the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.

▪ USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that it was ugly for Albert Pujols at the end in Anaheim. According to Nightengale, Pujols “blasted Joe Maddon’s managerial skills” on the way out the door.

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▪ Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who could be NBA Coach of the Year, played at Salem State, coached under Peter Roby at Harvard in the 1980s, and won a ring with the Doc Rivers Celtics in 2008.

Tom Thibodeau has the Knicks back in the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Tom Thibodeau has the Knicks back in the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2013.Brad Penner/Associated Press

▪ Curt Schilling has taken his tinfoil hat to Tennessee but still haunts New England. When the WooSox opened spanking-new Polar Park Tuesday, Pawtucket mayor Donald Grebien spoke to the Globe, and, according to the story, “he acknowledged that it was unwise to have later called for $38 million in taxpayer support for a new stadium, a figure that raised the specter of 38 Studios, Curt Schilling’s ill-fated video game venture that received state backing.”

▪ In case you missed it, J.D. Martinez declined to answer when the Globe’s Peter Abraham asked him if he’d been vaccinated. “That’s one of those personal things for me,” said the DH. True. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are not one of the MLB teams considered fully vaccinated, and according to Abraham’s reporting, they “won’t be for quite some time, if ever.”

▪ Honk your horn if you think Patrice Bergeron should win the Selke Trophy. Honk twice if you think Xander Bogaerts is to the Red Sox what Bergeron has been to the Bruins.

▪ Former Mets ace Matt Harvey, now an Oriole, received multiple standing ovations from the Citi Field crowd when he was battered by the Mets Wednesday. Nice gesture by New York fans who remember Harvey leading the Mets to the World Series in 2015.

▪ The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell announced his retirement May 7 after covering Major League Baseball for 52 years. Pound for pound the best and most lyrical baseball writer this side of Roger Angell, Boz never lost his fastball. He was still cranking out gold on deadline when the Nationals won the World Series in Houston in 2019. The Baseball Writers of America need to put this man in Cooperstown.

▪ Bobby Valentine running for mayor of Stamford, Conn., reminds me of a favorite line from “Back to the Future,” when Marty tells Doc that Ronald Reagan is president in 1985 and Doc says, “Ronald Reagan? The actor? Then who’s vice president — Jerry Lewis?”

▪ Quiz answer: Mark Fidrych (Tigers, 1976, ’77), Rich Gedman (Red Sox, 1985, ’86), Bryan LaHair (Cubs, 2012).


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.