Following the Celtics’ loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge jumped on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich” for his final weekly interview of the season.
Ainge was equally optimistic about the future as he was disappointed with the loss to Miami over six games.
“We’re in a pretty good place,” Ainge said on Thursday of the team’s position looking ahead. “But yeah that was a tough loss, no doubt about it. It was not good, not good play in that series because it was so promising in those first two series. We could’ve played better in that last series.”
“I think that we felt it was a series that we should win,” Ainge added. “I think in hindsight, we still look at it as a series that we should’ve won, and could’ve won, without disrespecting Miami because they were playing really well, and they were all healthy, and fresh. There are a lot of reasons, you can go back and try to figure it out, but I think that we didn’t play well down the stretch in games, and that had been something that we’d done all year and during the playoffs.”
Ainge, who also conducted a season-ending press conference shortly after his radio interview, cited team injuries as part of the issue.
“The bottom line is I’m not going to get too stressed about it,” Ainge explained. “We for sure were not 100 percent. We have guys banged up.”
In his press conference, Ainge said that guard Kemba Walker was “definitely not himself,” and had been playing hurt.
During the radio interview, Ainge praised Gordon Hayward for persevering despite his own injury.
“He really wanted to help our team, but you could tell that he was not the player that he had been most of the year,” Ainge said of Hayward. “He had a terrific season.”
Hayward, 30, has a player option on his contract that he can either choose to exercise (and remain with Boston) or opt out, in which case he’d become a free agent.
Asked when the team might have an idea about when Hayward would decide on the option, Ainge said the unprecedented offseason timing — due to COVID-19 — means Boston is unsure.
“It’s a good question, I don’t know the answer to that,” Ainge admitted. “The league is trying to figure out when free agency starts, we don’t know for sure. We think we have a pretty good idea of when the draft is going to be, but it’s not set in stone either.”
“It is strange, no question,” Ainge said of the offseason.
One critique of Boston in the playoffs was a lack of depth. Boston Globe Celtics beat writer Gary Washburn faulted Ainge for not adding to the team’s bench during the season.
Asked about it the lack of a midseason addition, Ainge noted that injuries hurt the team’s depth.
“First and foremost is health,” Ainge said, though he agreed with Washburn’s take. “I think it’s a fair assessment. I think part of the reason we didn’t have different players on the bench was, first of all, we worked very diligently to upgrade our bench going into the playoffs, but the price was too high or they were silly acquisitions where we weren’t even sure they were that much better.
“We started to get [Romeo Langford] back healthy,” Ainge noted of the team’s top pick in the 2019 draft. “And we really like him. He is a good player, and I know that nobody knows that yet in Boston. They haven’t seen him. The two games that we played against Miami that we won, we scored 56 points in the paint in the last three quarters and we scored 60 points in the paint in another one. That’s [Romeo’s] strength, scoring in the paint. He didn’t even get a chance to show much of that this year.”
“Going into the season, we liked our bench,” Ainge continued. “We were always going to have three of five main players on the court at all times. We were going to play the center by committee, and so we liked our core players opposite them. But because we had injuries with Kemba and Gordon, and [Romeo], that hurt us. And that exposed our bench a little bit at that point.”
With the Celtics’ 2019-2020 season officially closed, Ainge thinks the league deserves credit for putting together a bubble system that held together.
“I think the league has done an amazing job. I think the product has been great,” he summarized. Still, he wasn’t a fan of the first game of the NBA Finals.
“I didn’t think last night’s game was great,” Ainge added of Wednesday’s clash between the Lakers and Heat. “I’m not sure which was worse between last night’s game and the presidential debate from the night before.”
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