BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics are the top seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs, but until they prove they can win a postseason series, there are still some concerns surrounding the team.
Celtics president of basketball ops. Danny Ainge joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Thursday to discuss the expectations heading into the playoffs, which start Sunday night when the C’s begin their first-round matchup with the 8-seeded Chicago Bulls. Ainge said if Boston doesn’t respect their opponents and give a full effort for 48 minutes every night, they’re in for an early end to the season.
“We’re a better team than we played at the end of the season. This team has always been one that has played as good as they needed to play, which is always scary,” he said. “We had games, even early in the season when we were rolling, we were down going into the fourth and had miraculous comebacks. We had big leads that we lost throughout the course of the year. I’m very concerned with how we go about it and aren’t able to sustain 48 minutes and respect our opponents the way we need to regardless of the score.
“I want to see consistent effort and constant respect,” added Ainge. “The Chicago Bulls are a terrific opponent, and they beat more good teams at one time in the season than we had. They just had a consistency issue as well. They have three fantastic players on their team and really good role players. They’re going to give everything they have.”
Ainge said it’s not uncommon for teams to struggle in the first round, even if they are the No. 1 seed.
“When I played on the 1986 Celtics and when we were around the 2008 Celtics — two championship teams that were better than this team today, of course — those teams struggled in the first round. The playoffs are a bear, and having the No. 1 seed is a target with the expectations. Chicago is going to come in as an underdog and come in with people not respecting them as much as they should,” he said. “My biggest fear with this team is they try to win the easy was, as if they are the 1986 Celtics or the 1985 Lakers, and they’re not. If they don’t play with max effort for 48 minutes a night, Chicago will beat us.”
Ainge said the Celtics really can’t sleep on any team in the East.
“There is a lot more parity in the East. I do think Cleveland is the most talented, and we are a team who can hold our own against anybody. But I believe any one of those teams (Chicago, Toronto, Washington, Atlanta), we have to play at maximum effort in any series.”
Ainge said admitting that the Cavaliers remain the class of the Eastern Conference is not him conceding to the defending champs.
“That’s not the case. Heck, when I go golfing with Phil Mickelson I think I have a chance to beat him, but I won’t.”
Asked if Mickelson was a jerk, Ainge denied those allegations against his friend. He also wouldn’t say if Mickelson is a bit of a swindler on the course.
“I don’t gamble with him on the golf course; I’m not that stupid,” he said.
Ainge also touched on the C’s being called “the worst 1-seed,” the NBA’s problem with teams resting players, and if he had any regrets standing pat at the trade deadline: