BOSTON (CBS) — The expectations for the Celtics have bounced around this season, but there’s been one constant: They must win a playoff series.
With the C’s currently sitting just a game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, those expectations are shifting once again. Boston has hit their stride during the final stretch of the regular season, and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals has become the new consensus expectation for the team.
Celtics president of basketball ops. Danny Ainge didn’t sound too confident in his team’s chances of reaching the NBA finals in an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich earlier this season, and even now, he still isn’t sure what to expect from his team when the playoffs roll around.
“I’ve felt [a title] was a long shot for this team, but I’d never put a ceiling on what their potential is. These guys are really together as a team. When our team is healthy and playing well, and I don’t think Isaiah Thomas is 100 percent, I feel like we can accomplish a lot more than what they are on paper,” Ainge told Toucher & Rich on Thursday. “I don’t know what they’re capable of. I’m excited for the playoffs to start and it’s been a really fun year.”
The Celtics got somewhat of a free pass following their first-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks last season, a luxury they won’t enjoy this time around. Not getting out of the first round — and possibly the second round — won’t be accepted from the Boston fan base.
Ainge doesn’t agree with that perceived “free pass” last season, and agrees that the success and failure of this season will be based on playoff wins.
“We have our own expectations that we live up to, not based on what everyone else thinks. We expect to reach our full potential, to win playoff games. Our motto the whole season was to win playoff games,” he said. “I know that’s not easy and challenging. I’ve seen 8-seeds upset 1-seeds. When we won in 2008 we barely got out of the first round. Winning playoff series is usually based on matchups.
“I’m glad our team is living up to what the expectations are internally. Now we’re trying to get healthy and jell at the right time, to be in great shape to win a playoff series or two or three,” said Ainge.
While Ainge was criticized for not adding some depth at the trade deadline, he says if the Celtics are healthy entering the playoffs, that will trump any impact a minor addition would have made.
“I’ve been in this business a long time, I’ve seen deadline deals, contract buyouts, things that sound great on paper. Even with our run in the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen era, we did that and it really only worked out to our benefit one time, in my opinion,” he said.
“We have good team, good depth. Our problem is getting enough minutes for all the guys,” Ainge continued. “We have good players on our bench that have earned the right to play, and bringing in some guy who is out there after being released by a few teams, or making a trade that isn’t significant — we tried to make a few trades but nothing worked out. I like our team.”
While claiming the No. 1 seed in the East would be great, Ainge said nothing is more important than being healthy to start the playoffs.
“Home court advantage is an advantage, particularly in a Game 7, but if you’re not healthy it’s moot,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”
Ainge also touched on resting players down the stretch and his relationship with Ray Allen: