The sky isn't falling and it's still a pretty good time to be a Celtics fan
So Thursday night was rough. The Hawks finished off the Celtics in game 6 of the first round. After the game I may have reached for a bottle or two, and after a few drinks and my roommates, who are fair-weather-Lakers fans, telling me "the Celtics just aren't that great a team" I realized they were right.
This entire season I've been so optimistic about this years squad. When I pull up to toss something in the trash I call an "Isaiah" instead of a "Kobe." If I miss the shot, I may switch to an "Avery," and it normally falls.
But we were so outmatched this series. The Hawks have two All-Stars in Paul Millsap and Al Horford from the 15-16 season. Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver were All-Stars last season alongside Millsap and Horford. Plus, pre-Steph Curry era, Korver was the disgustingly good three point shooter in the NBA and we saw glimpses of that this series, especially in game 2. Not to mention Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk were benched due to injury, and Jae Crowder wasn't at 100% because of his high ankle sprain. But you know what happened? The heart that every Celtic brought to the floor won them two games against a clearly more talented team.
And that's the thing that I am fine with. Sure, we lost in the first round again, but damn was there a ton of passion coming from the Celtics. Game 3 felt like pure Boston. When Jonas Jerebko had that behind the back feed to Terry Rozier who swished home the deep two en route to the 37-point first quarter, I lost it.
Because we're back. To critics, we're no longer a rebuilding team. Rebuild is over. Now they have expectations for the Celtics, and losing in the first round is no longer acceptable. Check Twitter. Look at Facebook. Analyst who throughout the season praised Danny Ainge for everything he's done to set up the Celtics for success were suddenly disappointed in the first round exit. And, sure, it was disappointing. Obviously I wanted a championship, which Boston had a 1.4% chance of winning apparently. But I don't think anyone can disagree that the Celtics were probably the least talented roster among the playoff teams.
Which is why there should be so much excitement for this summer. One of the top three free agents Ainge will be chasing will likely be Al Horford, who just got a taste of Boston's basketball culture in the TD Garden. There's no way he didn't have a single thought about what it would be like to play on the parquet wearing white and green. Then the draft picks, the treasure trove of trade-able assets, and the possibility of luring Kevin Durant, should give Celtics fans tons of optimism for the start of summer and the possibilities of next season. Plus Isaiah is going to be dedicated to recruiting free agents!
I think overall, this season exceeded most expectations for C's fans. I personally didn't see Boston winning more than 45 games. I would have loved to have seen Isaiah and crew take on LeBron and the Cavaliers in round 2, but it wouldn't have been much more satisfying to lose in the second round than the first round.
In the end, there's tons of room for this team to grow, and even if nothing happens this offseason. We'll likely be seeing a better roster come free agency, and maybe after the lottery in May, we'll have an even better future in sight.
The countdown to July begins now.
Topher Lane is on Twitter, @Topher_L. Photo credit: Matthew J. Lee/Boston Globe