Picked-up pieces after six weeks of Celtics playoffs …
▪ I had a couple of conversations with Danny Ainge over the last two weeks. We spoke after the Celtics went down, 0-3, to the Heat and again after Monday’s disastrous Game 7 at the Garden.
Ainge, who has been gone from Boston for two seasons and now is CEO of basketball for the Utah Jazz, was the principal architect of this Celtics team that has underachieved despite getting to five conference finals in seven seasons. Ainge’s son, Austin, is director of player personnel for the Celtics, and Danny still speaks regularly with Green Teamers.
“I work for another company now, but I’m trying to defend my friends,” said Ainge. “I know Joe [Mazzulla]. I hired Joe four or five years ago to work in our G League. I still cheer for my friends.
“I don’t think the team quit on Joe. There was pretty good evidence they did not quit on the coach. I just think they weren’t playing well. The team’s overall confidence struggled after the comeback wins against Philly, which was really the highlight of the season.
“No coach can go through a series and not make mistakes, just like players make mistakes, but we saw some patterns of isolation basketball and going through stretches of not making threes. That’s not just with this group; we’ve seen this throughout the NBA. Teams go on these long 3-point droughts. Their energy level is higher when they make shots, and the Celtics are not unique in that aspect.
“I understand something’s got to change, but knowing every one of the players like I do, it’s hard to identify. They need to do some imaging. You’ve got to find out what went wrong, and nobody is certain if they’re not there every day. If you asked each player and each coach, they would all have a different reason. And it’s Brad [Stevens’s] job to really find out what needs to be changed.
“This team found joy. They were inconsistent, but they were rooting for each other. They were all defending Joe in the media.
“You see Joe’s toughness and stubbornness. He’s a relentless worker. He has a passion to learn. Joe is a leader, and I think this was a difficult situation with the high expectations the team had coming in. I don’t think there’s anybody there that doesn’t believe that Joe is better than Ime [Udoka] as a coach.
“When it gets to this, fingers get pointed, but Miami played really well. You have to play really well in order to win. People forget that last year Grant Williams made eight threes to win Game 7. When we won in ‘08, [Rajon] Rondo had a horrible Final series, but he was the best player in the world in Game 6.
“Miami had guys like [Caleb] Martin and [Gabe] Vincent and Duncan Robinson that were not even getting opportunities in the course of the year and they stepped up and were the first- or second-best player on their team.
“Go back to when we came back from 0-2 against Chicago [in 2017] and they had a young Jimmy Butler. Butler was 27 and got outplayed by Avery Bradley in that series. So sometimes the matchups are not very good.”
Do the Celtics need to break up the band?
“The people that are in charge of that know what to do,” Ainge said. “I think they can do a real full-blown autopsy of what things need to be different, and it’s not always personnel or coaches or management. It’s sometimes different ways to play and breaking some patterns and habits.
“But I don’t know the answer. That will be their job of trying to figure out what were the real reasons.”
▪ Quiz: What NBA team played the most games in one postseason to win a championship? (Answer below.)
▪ Odd question: Would the Celtics, and Boston fans, have been better off without Derrick White’s Miracle In Miami? If Marcus Smart’s near-miss three had hit the back rim and bounced far from the basket, the Celtics would have lost in six and been spared a Game 7 humiliation at home that exposed all their old flaws and sent them reeling into a summer of speculation.
▪ How about that Stanley Cup Final? We get the team that eliminated the Bruins against the coach the Bruins fired because players thought he was too tough on them. Wow.
▪ Choking? The Celtics played more than 100 games this season and saved their two worst 3-point performances for Games 6 and 7 of the conference finals. When the Celtics missed their first dozen threes Monday, a relative sent me Philip Seymour Hoffman’s hilarious “Let It Rain” video from “Along Came Polly.” Jayson Tatum was virtually useless in the fourth quarter of all four losses.
▪ I have a godson/nephew named Caleb Martin. True fact. Oh, and Miami’s Caleb Martin should have been series MVP. Just like David Price should have been World Series MVP in 2018.
▪ Imagine losing Game 7 at home by 19 points when you were favored by 8.
▪ Starting April 19, the Bruins and Celtics were a combined 3-9 in playoff games at the Garden.
▪ Time to trade Jaylen Brown. He has never said he wants to stay here, and the notion of granting him the $295 million super-max extension is odious. He’s a one-dimensional player who somehow made All-NBA second team.
When Tatum turtled again in the playoffs, Brown failed to step up. Take away front-running Game 5 (the 2022-23 Celtics were great front-runners), Brown made only 4 of 38 3-point attempts in the conference finals. That’s 10.5 percent. In the playoffs, Brown had 68 assists and 66 turnovers.
Tatum’s wingman? Brown wasn’t Scottie Pippen. He wasn’t even Scott Wedman. He was Tom Thumb.
▪ Congrats to Boston College, Northeastern, Maine, UConn, and Central Connecticut State for making the NCAA baseball tournament. It feels like New England college baseball is stronger than ever.
▪ It kills me when Mendoza Line walker Triston Casas says, “Ultimately, I’m process-driven. I’m not results-based.” Hmmm. If I’m trying to lose 10 pounds and end up gaining 5, can I just say I’m happy with the progress of my process?
▪ Freddy Valdez, one of the “prospects” Chaim Bloom acquired when he gave up on Andrew Benintendi, was released by the Sox after hitting .216 in the Florida Complex League.
▪ If Marcelo Mayer is half as good as Nomar, he’ll be twice as good as what we are looking at. Face of the Franchise Kiké Hernández is on pace to commit 33 errors and is hovering close to his career .239 average.
▪ Love how the Red Sox constantly brag about “winning series.” That’s certainly a nice metric, but reporting that you are 11-6-1 in all series while you are in last place, two games over .500, conveniently masks that you were swept by the Pirates, Rays, Cardinals, and Angels.
The Sox consistently insult their smart fan base with these smokescreens. Stop treating your fans like dopes.
▪ It has to kill special-teams-obsessed Bill Belichick to see the NFL, in the interest of player safety, steering toward becoming a league without kickoffs.
▪ The Nuggets are in their 38th postseason, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, no active team in major American sports has made that many playoff trips without winning a championship.
▪ Cotton Nash, one of 13 men who played in the NBA and MLB, died May 23 at the age of 80. Nash played for the Warriors, Lakers, White Sox, and Twins.
▪ Not sure why, but a reader wanted to include Hart Lee Dykes alongside Jerry Adair and Smart as another Oklahoma State contributor to Boston sports.
▪ Hurts a little to realize that the Celtics could have signed free agent Jimmy Butler in 2017 when they went for free agent Gordon Hayward.
▪ If the Knicks retire Carmelo Anthony’s No. 7 ahead of Bernard King’s No. 30, there should be a Madison Square Garden investigation.
▪ Congrats to radio legend Joe Castiglione, who picked up an honorary doctorate from Colgate a couple of weeks back.
▪ Sad to see Channel 7 sports director Joe Amorosino hanging up his mike after 25 years on top in our town. Amorosino is going into private business. Worthy of the elite club of Don Gillis, Bob Lobel, and Mike Lynch, Ammo also is a hoop legend like his dad, Joe Sr. Wish I’d been around to see him throwing down dunks during warm-ups in his Don Bosco days.
▪ Pass Go! and collect $200 if you knew that broadcast legend Marv Albert went to Syracuse with late rocker Lou Reed.
▪ Quiz answer: The 2007-08 world champion Celtics played 26 playoff games.