Top 10 'Last Dance' seasons in Celtics history
The airing of the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” has resonated with many during this self-quarantine, stay-at-home period of time we’re in. It has struck a particular chord with Boston Celtics fans, who see the Green Team prominently talked about throughout the 10-part series by Michael Jordan as well as another longtime Celtics nemesis, the Detroit Pistons.
As much as fans are enjoying the behind-the-scenes, never-before-seen look at the last season in the Chicago Bulls-Michael Jordan era, it got us thinking ... There are plenty of Boston Celtics teams we would love to see a ‘Year in the life of” play out before our eyes, too.
But which Celtics seasons would stand out?
Well, here they are: the 10 Best “Last Dance” seasons in Celtics history.
10. 2013-14 (Brad Stevens’ first season as NBA head coach)
Winning 25 games in a season was once upon a time a good thing for Brad Stevens.
Not so in the NBA when those 25 wins he got as a rookie head coach in 2014 also involved 57 losses. The transition from being one of the brightest, on-the-rise coaches in college ranks to an NBA coach losing more games that first year than he had in the previous six seasons (49 losses) in college was a major shift for Stevens.
Reflecting on how he navigated that time, to be where he is now as one of the top coaches, is a great case study on the pivot required in order to succeed where so many coaches who have moved from the college ranks to the pros have flamed out miserably.
9. 1956-57 (Franchise’s First NBA title)
The Celtics take a tremendous amount of pride in their lineage of greatness which all began in 1957 when they won the first of their NBA-leading 17 NBA titles.
And while the season’s evolution would have been great to see chronicled, most would want to fast forward to Boston’s double overtime win in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the St. Louis Hawks which is still considered one of the greatest playoff games ever.
More than 60 years later, it remains the only NBA Finals Game 7 to end after a pair of overtime sessions.
8. 1973-74 (Tommy Heinsohn’s first title as head coach)
Tommy Heinsohn’s first team in 1970 failed to make the playoffs, but they gradually improved from one year to the next, culminating with the Celtics winning an NBA title in 1974.
But it wasn’t just that he was winning — it was how he was winning. Heinsohn went all-in on an uptempo, faster paced brand of basketball that along with the winning made Heinsohn — in the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach — stand out.
7. 2010-11 (Long on talent and comedy, comes up short in winning games)
This team was hit with injuries in a way that so few teams in recent years for Boston have had to go through.
But when you think back to the players on that squad — Shaquille O’Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson, Delonte West, and of course the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen plus Rajon Rondo — that’s a ton of personalities which, win or lose, must have been full of literal laugh-out-loud moments in the locker room, on the road and all points in between.
They didn’t go as far as they had hoped to in the playoffs — Miami needed just five games to eliminate them in the second round — but a documentary on that team would have surely won over fans for the sheer entertainment value.
6. 2000-01 (Pitino “walks through that door” one last time)
There may not have been a bigger dumpster fire of ineptitude surrounding the Boston Celtics front office than the three-plus years in which Rick Pitino ran the team and coached them simultaneously.
As bad as Pitino was at coaching the team during those years (102-146 record), he was an even worse front-office exec. Getting a better sense of “what the hell was he thinking?” with some of the roster moves he made, like trading Chauncey Billups (who would go on to be a five-time All-Star and NBA Finals MVP) in the middle of his rookie season, would make for great TV.
And what the players had to say at that time, the thinking before his “walking through that door” press conference … insert popcorn emoji right here!
5. 1980-81 (Larry Bird’s First NBA title)
Part of Larry Legend’s narrative centers around him continuing the long line of Celtic greats to win the last game of the season and hoist the only banners that matter — championship ones.
Cedric Maxwell was the Finals MVP but this season was all about Bird’s ascension. To see that play out over the course of the season and culminate with the franchise winning yet another NBA title, would indeed be very cool to see.
4. 2019-20 (Kemba arrives, Tatum emerges; COVID-19 pandemic postpones season)
Regardless of how it ends, this season will go down as one of the more memorable ones; not just for the Celtics but for the entire NBA due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus.
There were the departures of Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, followed by the arrivals of Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. Throw in Jayson Tatum’s emergence as an All-Star and Jaylen Brown’s growth … that’s more than enough to whet the appetite of Celtics fans.
But the season being postponed indefinitely and how the COVID-19 virus hit close to home with Marcus Smart testing positive adds up to a season that no one will soon forget.
3. 2007-08 (Big Three wins Banner 17)
We’ve seen bits and pieces of this season compiled by many, but there was so much more that went into this team’s rise from the basketball ashes (24-56 in 2017) to its apex in a year.
It would be great to see in real time what players thought of KG at first; as well as some of the behind-the-scenes battles in practice and time spent off the court getting to know the players from that team beyond their immense talent which ended with them fast-tracking their way towards Banner 17 sooner than most anticipated.
2. 1985-86 (Greatest Celtics team ever?)
The list of “all-or-nothing” seasons in Boston Celtics lore is long and lengthy. But few teams had the pressure to win it all like the 1986 championship team, or did so in such a dominant fashion.
That team went 15-3 in the playoffs, the fifth-highest single-postseason winning percentage in NBA history at that time. They dominated the regular season, winning a franchise-record 67 games fueled by elite play at both ends of the floor — a league-best defensive rating (102.6) and the NBA’s third-best offensive rating (111.8).
1. 2018-19 (Kyrie Irving, Al Horford’s last season)
This will remain one of the great seasons of mystery in franchise history.
There was proven All-Star talent (Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward) with more on the come-up (Jayson Tatum; Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier); a strong head coaching presence with Brad Stevens and yet they will be remembered as one of the franchise’s great underachievers.
Why? What happened? Irving was an easy scapegoat for the team’s problems, but a behind-the-scenes deeper dive would likely expose other cracks in the organization that contributed to them falling well short of their title-chasing dreams that season.