Five thoughts on the Celtics' postseason departure while wondering if Big Baby will ever grow up . . .
1. Those of you racing to claim the Celtics' defeat validates the harebrained conventional wisdom that the Kendrick Perkins trade doomed this team can save it for your favorite shrieking semi-informed sports radio harpy today. While "The trade ruined their chemistry!" is the perfect sports radio topic, anyone who has been paying attention knows that his absence isn't among the starting five of reasons why they lost this series. Let's go through it one last time, slowly: Danny Ainge made the trade because he recognized a significant flaw on this team, one that would eventually prove fatal despite his early diagnosis. The Celtics did not have enough perimeter quickness, depth, or pure athleticism to stay with the Heat (or Bulls) for 48 minutes. That is why they lost. (And as my colleague Gary Dzen points out, no one would be talking about Perk had Big Baby not spent the entire series whimpering in the third person in his cradle.) Yes, Jeff Green was a disappointment (is he using a pair of hands Mikki Moore left behind?). And Perk's rebounding and personality were missed, albeit not nearly as much as Tony Allen's perimeter defense and speed or the version of Marquis Daniels who was so helpful at times early in the season before his injury sent some roster . But the motivation for the deal was right. If anything, the Celtics needed more perimeter help, something Rajon Rondo said during his candid postgame interview should be the priority in the offseason. It didn't work. But if you recognize why they lost, you know it wouldn't have worked with Perk, either.
2. If there's any postgame solace for Celtics fans, it came during Doc Rivers's press conference when he revealed he's leaning heavily toward coming back next year. Doc's many merits as the ideal coach of this particular team shouldn't require any rehash here, but it was encouraging to hear headstrong Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce speak so highly of him afterward. (Big Baby Davis, who lives in a world devoid of mirrors and clues, was the sullen exception.) They may not always get along, but the respect between Doc and his players is clearly mutual. If you require further explanation as to why that's important, Phil Jackson could probably provide some insight.
3. The temptation to write an epilogue on the era of this Big 3 was understandable last night. Even setting aside the Celtics' late fades in Games 2 and 4, the breathtaking series-closing 16-0 run by a hungry, younger rival last night was the "very definition," as Sean Grande might say, of the changing of the guard. Maybe the final scenes might have played out differently had Rajon Rondo been able to use his left arm as anything more than a prop. But he got hurt, the Celtics were undermanned on the perimeter anyway, and the Heat earned their moment. They're deserving of congratulations even though they are much better at doing so themselves. But I hope this core of Celtics gets one more shot at them next year. Yes, they're aging (KG turns 35 next week; this seems so long ago) and its not hard to envision them limping into the sunset like the original Big 3. But there's one interesting catch, which I first mentioned on 10.0 yesterday: What if there's an abbreviated 2011-12 season because of the lockout? Say the schedule is knocked down to 50 games. Wouldn't that benefit the Celtics more than any other team other than perhaps the Spurs? As Rondo said last night, they need an influx of youth not necessarily to replace anyone, but to take the burden off Pierce, Allen and Garnett in the regular season. A shorter schedule would certainly help keep their legs fresh. And there are sentimental reasons to hope Doc's apparent decision to stay means the top-billed stars in this cast will be back for another sequel. (And in the spirit of full disclosure, with the cap situation and the labor uncertainty, it would be pretty much impossible to blow it all it up now even if Ainge wanted to.) While they've had some tremendous disappointments -- Game 7 last year, losing to Orlando minus KG two years ago, three of the losses in this series -- I couldn't admire this team more than I already do, and once the haze from this loss wears off, Celtics fans will probably agree that anything they accomplished beyond the first title is frosting on the cake. All this talk of getting old is fair. But it doesn't mean it's time to replace them with something new just for change's sake.
4. I imagine there was some genuine emotion in LeBron James's postgame reaction.. But damned if I could recognize it. What I saw, in between when he squeezed out those queued-up tears and made sure he said all the right things about the Celtics, was Alex Rodriguez circa 2004, a superstar athlete raised in front of the cameras who thinks sincerity can be summoned with a practiced facial expression and some hollow plaudits that sounded really deep when they were rattling around in his head. LeBron was sensational in the game's final moments tonight. I've never seen anyone with his combination of strength, skill, and quickness. But I came away from this series realizing that the smartest decision he has ever made is hitching his legacy to Dwyane Wade, a competitor so relentless and talented (his crossover through traffic is straight out of a Barry Sanders highlight reel) that referees can't help but blow their whistles in awe. He may not quite be Jordan to LeBron's Pippen, but he's sure as heck nobody's sidekick. As for you, Bosh. Ever heard of Brad Sellers?
5. I imagine Celtics fans are unanimous in this sentiment: Go get 'em, Thibodeau. And you too, Scal. Chicago is suddenly Boston's kind of town.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.