Celtics Insider

Blakely: This Celtics playoff exit feels a lot different

Celtics Insider

The pleasantries after Boston's season-ending Game 6 loss to Miami had a familiar ring to them. 

We need to get better next season. 

We need to do better in close games and down the stretch. 

We’re young, and the pain we feel now will be good for us in the long run, a teachable moment to build on going forward. 

Not buying it. Not this year.

If you are a Boston Celtics player or a fan of the Boston Celtics, you have every reason in the world to be pissed that their season is over following a Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat, who will go on to the NBA Finals.

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This is not to take away from the Miami Heat, of course. 

The Heat simply played harder, stronger, longer, with much greater force and sense of urgency than the Celtics did. 

Miami deserves to move on. 

The Heat earned it. 

But this season’s sooner-than-expected denouement for the Celtics is different. 

In past years, there was a clear indicator as to why Boston didn’t deserve to move on to the next round of play. 

During Brad Stevens’ first couple of years, they simply lost to LeBron James, a better team talent-wise, or in some instances, both of those realities were in play. 

In 2018 when they got to a Game 7 at home in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron James did what he has done time and time again during his career - he lifted his team to victory when they absolutely needed it, serving us all a reminder of how great a player and leader he can be when pressed into action. 

Last year Boston had the talent to get past Milwaukee, but too many egos, agendas and selfishness torpedoed their chances of getting out of the second round. 

But this year was different.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Sorting through the emotions after Celtics season ends with Game 6 loss to Heat | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Playing in the Bubble actually provided a much-needed boost for the Celtics and their quest to get to the NBA Finals.

There were certain matchups that would have been much tougher for Boston to navigate past, if this were a traditional NBA playoff season in which games were played at home and on the road versus all games on a neutral floor.

No team in the Bubble missed their home fans more than the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors.

Having covered playoff games in Toronto back in the early 2000s when I was in Detroit and those Toronto teams weren’t nearly as good as the Raptors are now, those games in T-Dot were torture chambers for opponents because of how loud their fans could be and borderline miserable for the media because often your thoughts were literally being drowned out by their crowd noise. 

After winning a championship last season with a chance to repeat, the Raptors faithful would have been a factor in the Boston series, which the Celtics were able to win in seven games in Orlando.

And when you throw in the fact that Boston didn’t have to go through Milwaukee, the one team that the Celtics really matched up poorly against this season and likely would have struggled against in the playoffs to get past, beating the Heat as the final mile-marker was the path of least resistance for the Celtics to get to the Finals.

Which is why the season coming to an end at the hands of Miami feels different.

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Boston didn’t just lose a series. 

They lost a golden opportunity to win a title, an opportunity that is far from guaranteed to present itself again next season.

Yes, the Celtics will be in the mix for sure.

But so will the Heat ... and Brooklyn ... and Indiana ... and Philly ... and likely at least one team that we're not talking about now who will make an offseason splash that'll change their title trajectory in a positive way. 

Winning championships is never easy. 

It requires some breaks along the way that teams and players have no control over.

Who knows if Miami would have disposed of Indiana with such ease if Domantas Sabonis was healthy enough to play.  

The Celtics got a few breaks, too.

  • No Ben Simmons in the first round versus Philadelphia

  • No Milwaukee in the playoffs after Miami beat them in five games

  • A healthy Kemba Walker after missing games with knee issues

  • Gordon Hayward being able to return in about four weeks after suffering a Grade 3 ankle sprain.

Of course, there’s plenty of time to pass out slices of blame pie among the players and yes, head coach Brad Stevens. 

That’s always in season when the season ends prematurely or without a championship.

But this season for the Celtics, it just feels different.

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Because for the first time since Brad Stevens arrived in 2013, there were championship aspirations without heavy drama playing in the backdrop. 

Of course, folks will remember the locker room spat that some players had following their Game 2 loss to the Heat. 

Truth is, that was the best thing that could have happened to this group which seemed on the verge of getting swept at that point. 

It was one of the few signs of how passionate they were about one another and winning and all those things that we were told that matter to teams that are dreaming of winning an NBA title. 

But the emotions of that moment soon faded to the background, replaced by the front-and-center reality that this team did not live up to the expectations that many - including themselves - had for this season. 

And that sense of coming up short, we’ve seen and felt it before around here. 

But the feeling following the season coming to an end like this, much like this season as a whole … it just felt different. 

And that feeling is not good … at all!