THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

‘Celtics are old’ is a story with legs

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 3, 2011

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Maybe they are just too darn old to win another championship.

OK, this is not a stop-the-presses observation. We’ve been talking about The Old Men and the C’s since Danny Ainge started his fossil collection four years ago.

It’s always a mistake to put too much emphasis on one playoff game, but I think the Morgan Freeman Celtics ultimately will lose to a team with young legs. If it’s not the Heat (ever ready to choke if you can get them in a close game), it’ll be the Bulls. Or the Thunder. The Celtics are simply lined up to play too many teams whose best players are in their athletic primes.

It is the nature of the game. It happened to Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish in the late 1980s. It happened to the Bad Boy Pistons when they finally were overtaken by the Bulls. It happens to everybody.

I ran the theory by Ainge before the Celtics practiced yesterday at the University of Miami (just a tape-measure shot away from Alex Rodriguez Park).

What about it, Danny? Is this the end for your old guys?

“Did Ray [Allen] look too old on Sunday?’’ Ainge asked. “Did Paul [Pierce] look too old in the New York series?’’

No and no. But Kevin Garnett scored only 6 points in Game 1.

“I don’t think we force-fed KG enough,’’ Ainge said.

If you say so, Danny. But I fear the end is coming. Every team on the horizon is more athletic than the Celtics.

“Sure, LeBron [James] and [Dwyane] Wade and Derrick Rose and [Russell] Westbrook are great athletes,’’ Ainge said. “They are some of the best athletes in the world.’’

That’s why the window is about to close. With the exception of Rajon Rondo, the Celtics’ stars are deep into their golden years. The Heat’s best players are all in their athletic primes. Wade affectionately calls the Celtics, “our big brothers.’’

Here’s Boston coach Doc Rivers on the topic:

“The first day when we met to get ready for this series, I asked our guys a question. I said, ‘OK, if we have an Olympics, who’s going to win? Everybody said, ‘Miami’. Except for Rondo, of course, because if he could run in all the events, we may have a chance. So we have to play the way we play. We can’t get into that and we did.’’

The Celtics should be smart enough to avoid getting into a transition game with the Heat, but what’s realistic for a team with four starters (Pierce, Allen, Garnett, and Jermaine O’Neal) who have played an aggregate 59 NBA seasons? NBA seasons are like dog years and years in the Oval Office. They take an extra toll.

And who’s coming to the rescue?

Thirty-nine-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, of course.

Perfect. The Celtics are older than dirt, and their secret weapon is an always injured Diesel who has played five minutes of one game since Feb. 1. Who are we kidding, people?

“Shaq’s old,’’ Ainge said. “News flash.’’

Shaq looked like he had a Steinway on his back as he got ready for practice yesterday. The myth/notion that this man is going to help them in the playoffs is truly preposterous.

“I’m hopeful,’’ Ainge said. “But if he doesn’t play I’m not going to be shocked.’’

Ainge readily admits that the Celtics already are playing on borrowed time with this crew. When he assembled Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, he did not envision them still playing for a championship four years later.

“They’re able to still do this because of the way they go about their jobs,’’ Ainge said. “It’s been pretty special watching them go about their work. I don’t remember any team having its stars work the way they work or practice the way they practice. Larry had injuries, but he didn’t practice as much as these guys or work as hard in practice as these guys. They’ve played a lot of games.’’

Too many games. Experience is great. Athletic prime is greater.

This group won a championship the first year it was together. The next year they didn’t have Garnett for the playoffs. Last year they got back to the Finals and had a 13-point lead in Game 7 before losing. They gave us a great gift after a pedestrian season.

Celtics fans have been hoping that 2011 could be just like 2010, that we could watch the Celtics pace themselves after the All-Star break, then turn it on for the postseason. Everybody knows that the playoff pace helps old teams; no back-to-back games, lots of days off, plenty of TV timeouts.

But the Celtics had a week off before they took the floor Sunday and they did not look rested. They did not look like crafty, playoff-tested veterans. They looked like old guys trying to keep up with young guys.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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