2010-11 Season Recap: Part 2
BOSTON – The second half of the Boston Celtics’ season began in the exact fashion that the first half did, with six wins in their first seven games after the All-Star break. That record, however, wasn’t what caught the nation’s attention.
In a shocking move at the trade deadline, Danny Ainge and the Celtics decided to part ways with their starting center, Kendrick Perkins, in order to solidify their talent on the wing. Perkins was traded to Oklahoma City, along with Nate Robinson, in exchange for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and the rights to a future Los Angeles Clippers first-round pick.
The trade was scrutinized throughout the national media because it was the first time in the current Big Three era that Boston had traded away one of its core players. Perkins had been the starting center for what was now the fourth consecutive season with this group, which, when healthy, had never lost a playoff series. He was the rock that solidified the team’s interior defense.
But the damage that was left on Boston’s wing after Marquis Daniels’ spinal injury was simply too much to cover with a Band-Aid. The Celtics could have looked into the free agent market and brought in an inexperienced wing player, but that plan would not have played out well against the likes of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and the rest of the league’s elite wing players in the playoffs.
Those superstar players gave Ainge no choice but to make a splash with a trade at the deadline, and he did so be reacquiring a mega-talent that he had originally drafted with the fifth overall selection in the 2007 NBA Draft. Boston selected Green with that pick and then traded his rights to the Seattle SuperSonics as part of a deal for the now all-time 3-point king, Ray Allen.
This season’s trade involving Green was completed on Feb. 24, just minutes ahead of the deadline. When it was a done deal, everyone around the country understood that the Celtics were expecting Green to become a legitimate backup to Paul Pierce on the wing, while giving Doc Rivers a ton of versatility in terms of lineups.
The side plot, however, was that the weight of the world was placed on the shoulders of Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal to hold down the center position with Perkins out of town. Ainge and the Celtics’ medical staff were confident that the two O’Neals would be healthy for the stretch run of the season despite their mid-season injuries.
Shaq was rehabbing an injured right Achilles that had been bothering him since Feb. 1, when he left a game against the Kings in Sacramento. He had played fantastic basketball to that point, and Boston expected him to fully recover from the injury, which was originally perceived as a day-to-day setback. He would return for only five minutes of game action prior to the playoffs.
Jermaine O’Neal was even more of a question mark because he underwent a left knee arthroscopy on Feb. 5. That knee had been bothering him all season long and limited him to only 18 games prior to the surgery. Boston believed he would be back in time for the playoffs, but in the meantime the center position would be left to the incoming Krstic.
There was no other center on the active roster at the time of the trade because Ainge also dealt rookie Semih Erden, along with Luke Harangody, to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a move geared toward opening up roster spots for free agent veterans. Daniels, who would not play for the remainder of the season, was traded to Sacramento in a similar roster-clearing move.
And so a brand-new Celtics team came together on Feb. 26 in Los Angeles for the team’s third contest after the All-Star break. Veteran free agents Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic and Carlos Arroyo would also be brought on board during the ensuing week, but the first step with a new group was taken against the Clippers.
The Celtics couldn’t have asked for much more in that first game with their new teammates on board. They finished with a win over the Clips, and Green and Krstic made solid contributions. Krstic scored nine points and grabbed six boards, all of which were offensive, in his starting role, and Green chipped in seven points off of the bench.
On that night, and over the course of the next couple of weeks, the new duo would continue to show off their talents. They were able to play with comfort and confidence during that time frame, and each eclipsed the 20-point barrier in their first six games with the team.
Once the Celtics began to filter in practices during their hectic late-season schedule, all of the positives began to slowly drift away. It all began on March 9, when the lowly Clippers came to town and knocked off the C’s in the TD Garden, 108-103.
That contest coincided with the team’s onslaught of practices and cram-sessions that were aimed at teaching its new players the offensive and defensive schemes as quickly as possible. Whatever happened from that point on left Boston in a similar situation to what it experienced during the tail end of the prior season.
Beginning with that loss to the Clippers, Boston finished the regular season by winning just 10 of its final 21 games. Several of those losses were unsettling, coming at the hands of sub-.500 teams like the Clippers, Nets, Bobcats, Pacers and Wizards.
The late-season struggles dropped Boston out of the top seed in the East, where it had been perched above its competitors for nearly the entire season. With the Chicago Bulls playing red-hot down the stretch behind eventual MVP Derrick Rose, the Celtics were left in a dead heat with, coincidentally, the Miami Heat, for the second seed in the East.
Earning the second seed would hold great significance because it would result in home court advantage in the second round of the playoffs. The two teams met on April 10 in Miami with the second seed essentially on the line.
Boston entered that contest having won all three prior contests of the season against the vaunted Heat, but the two teams entered the game with identical records. Whichever team won the contest would have a one-game lead for that second seed in the playoffs, with two games remaining on each team’s schedule.
Had the Celtics won the contest, it would have essentially guaranteed them home court in the second round. They already owned the tie-breaker, which meant Miami would have needed to win both of their final two games, combined with two losses by Boston, to overcome a one-game deficit in the standings.
Everyone knew the importance of that April 10 game, as well as the fact that Boston had handled Miami consistently throughout the season. But only one team showed up to AmericanAirlines Arena that Sunday afternoon, and it wasn’t the Celtics.
Miami blew Boston out of the building and eventually won the contest by a score of 100-77. The Celtics hung around in the first half, but trailed by double-digits for nearly the entirety of the second half en route to their demoralizing loss.
That defeat at the hands of the Heat left the Celtics in a slight state of shock. How could they allow a team that they had controlled in three prior games this season to dominate them? More importantly, how could the C’s get back to their roots and turn their ship around before the playoffs began?
Doc Rivers had an answer to that question, and he made it blatantly obvious the following night when his team was back in action against the Wizards in Washington, D.C.. Rivers announced before the game that his Big Four of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo would all sit out the final two games of the regular season in order to heal themselves for the playoff push. That rest gave the group a full week off before their first playoff game.
In the meantime, lesser-known Celtics were afforded the opportunity to shine. Green delivered a monster game of 20 points and 15 rebounds against the Wizards, while Jermaine O’Neal, in just his sixth game back after knee surgery (and his first back-to-back) dropped in 15 points and 13 boards.
Boston lost that game by one point in overtime, but Rivers’ decision seemed as if it was the perfect one. Though his team missed out on the second seed with a loss that night, his stars got their rest and his secondary players were able to locate their rhythm. That trend continued two nights later when the C’s knocked off the Knicks in the regular season finale. All five of Boston’s starters, including Jermaine O’Neal, did not participate in that game.
The Celtics did not lose three consecutive games at any point during the regular season, and that allowed them to finish with a 56-26 record, a six-game increase from the prior season. That record landed them in the third seed in the Eastern Conference, which would pit them against the sixth-seeded Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.
Though Boston did not play well down the stretch, there was a fresh feeling surrounding the organization in anticipation of the playoffs. With a week off to heal their bodies and practice, the Celtics were priming themselves to make another improbable run to the NBA Finals after a disappointing end to the regular season.