The season's over.
The emotion of Friday's thrilling comeback has faded.
As much fun as the Celtics created by putting a scare into the Knicks, one of the many sullen (as opposed to Sullinger) facts from this brief playoff flirtation was the Boston lost two home games and fell behind by 26 points in an elimination game on the famed TD Garden parquet. For an NBA playoff team that carried such historic cache into the postseason, that's inexcusable.
Grit and balls, for sure. But next time, bring a point guard just to be safe.
The Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce-led Boston Celtics of the past seven seasons have given fans some memorable moments. They had a tendency to overachieve when it came to entertainment, the raw end of a six-game series never looked this good.
This team, with all of its Hall of Fame talent all of its expectation, all of its Celtic Pride, drama, passion and Tommy Points, with all of Doc Rivers' masterful coaching and Danny Ainge's contortions, still under performed when it comes to history.
Six seasons with Garnett, Pierce, five of which included Ray Allen.
A Springfield trio.
The Big Three, or Big Four, or Big Three-and-a-half.
However you want to break it down, the only number that really mattered was won, er one.
The original Big Three, the NBA's model for the Heatles, netted one championship.
Coulda/should/woulda been more? Likely. The one that got away came in 2010, when the Celtics had a comfy 3-2 lead over the Lakers heading West. The Celtics got blown out in game six, scoring just 67 points in a 22-point loss. Kendrick Perkins went down with an injury in the first quarter that night, and the Celtics were out-rebounded 30-13 in the first half. Kobe Bryant ripped them apart from all over the place, and Pao Gasol finished them off inside, with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
How bad was it? Bill Russell walked out in the fourth quarter.
Boston ran out of gas inside in Game 7. Celtics fans watching that night began to get a little queasy at the start of the fourth quarter, even though the Celtics had a 13-point lead during the second half.
Slipping away. Even Bryant, who hit just six of his 24 shots that night, managed to get off nine free throws in the fourth quarter as Banner 18 became shredded at Staples Center.
The Perkins trade in February 2011 was Ainge's Watergate. It continues to dog his administration to this day. The Perkins trade forever solidified the starting five of Perkins, Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Allen as being undefeated in the postseason.
There's no doubt the Perkins trade wiped out whatever shot the Celtics - still the clear favorites in the East at that time - had at winning another title.
Even Rivers admitted after the season the timing of the Perkins trade was a mistake, mainly because it ruined the Cetlics' on-court continuity. Rivers also vetoed an earlier deal involving the moody center.
At that time, the Celtics still held a distinct advantage over Miami because LeBron and Friends had not played together for a full season. A factor handily exploited by the Mavericks.
That team, the Big Three's last, best shot at the title, was never in sync again, even during Shaq's 12 postseason minutes against the Heat.
It's doubtful a healthy Perkins, or a healthy Robert Parish and Kevin McHale in their prime would have been enough to stop LeBron's rampage in Games 6 and 7 in 2012. Although McHale would have been good for at least one clothesline in the second half of game six.
Jeff Green was not the answer then, nor is he the problem now. Green had some moments of brilliance in the playoffs. And J.D. Drew hit a grand slam in the 2007 ALCS.
The reasons for the Perkins trade remain in the eye of the beholder.
It was either a shrewd salary move to free-up space to avoid paying an injury-prone big man or Ainge's way to get the high-scoring Green back into Celtic green after his momentary time with the Celtics on draft night in 2007. Or both. Or neither.
Green might be a key factor in whatever success Boston has in 2014. But the cost of getting him here took away the best shot the Big Three ever had at their next championship.
The biggest question about Boston's future is whether or not Rivers will be back for another run at all this. He's got a great spread in Winter Park, Fla., the opportunity for year-round golf and any TV analyst job for the asking. My bias (Rivers and I attended Marquette University simultaneously for a year) toward the Celtics' coach somewhat distorts any analysis of his shortcomings.
This year's team went about as far as reasonable people thought it would. Although a point guard, any point guard, would have proven beneficial in helping Boston break the 100-point barrier at least once against the Knicks. Danny and Doc can arm wrestle over the blame on that one.
When your team is built around Rajon Rondo and he gets hurt for the season, the season is pretty much lost at that moment. The loss of Sullinger should have been a slap in the face to anyone who still pondered thoughts of deep spring run post-Rondo-loss.
Rivers' best work during his term in Boston has been his ability to keep order among among all those monstrous egos in the Celtics locker room. Sure, the 2008 Celtics were loaded with talent, but being able to massage and coddle the likes of Perkins, Rondo and Allen and keep the team focused on winning for so long is a tremendous skill. No one can set up a play off a timeout better than Doc. He, also, most importantly commands the respect of his players and those elsewhere in the league.
The only coach in the NBA who has longer tenure with his current team is Gregg Popovich of the Spurs. And he's probably the only coach you'd pick ahead of Doc in your fantasy coaching league draft.
If Doc does retire/take a break, that means the team will jettison Pierce. That will trigger Garnett's departure for points west. As it stands, Boston is hardly a destination of choice for NBA free agents, thanks to weather and high state income taxes, among other factors. Without Rivers, Boston will lose its best drawing card. Danny will have a bridge year on his hands spanning the 2012 Red Sox.
After the game, play-by-play announcer Sean Grande told his listeners that next year's Celtics' team will be "built around" Rondo and Green. That's the problem, Celtics Nation. Pierce and Garnett, even if they are back, will lead much more in spirit than they will statistically. On their best days, Rondo and Green scream "eighth playoff seed."
The worse place to be in the NBA is to be in the middle, mediocre or just plain average. You have no real hope of a title, or, if your miss the playoffs, not enough Ping Pong balls to make the draft worthwhile.
That appears to be just where the Celtics are headed.
Especially once Doc leaves town.
The author is solely responsible for the content.