Charting the Demise of the Boston Celtics

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Charting the Demise of the Boston Celtics
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

They're old. They're slow. They've fallen behind the rest of the teams in their conference. They refreshed their roster this past summer in a desperate attempt to maximize the remaining years of a franchise legend on the wing and an aging Hall of Famer in the middle.

The situation has deteriorated so quickly that there's now talk about trading the one young star with the chops to serve as a cornerstone going forward. They're slipping out of the playoff picture, and the historic weight of their logo has done little (if anything) to ward off the competition this season.

And all this disappointment? It's been a long time coming; the inevitable result of smashing through the glass while trying to pry open a championship window.

No, I'm not talking about the Los Angeles Lakers, though I very easily could be. I'm referring, instead, to the Boston Celtics

Yes, those same Celtics who are 20-22, who've dropped their last five in a row and who, somehow, still hold a three-game lead in the race for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. What had been a "three-tear plan" when general manager Danny Ainge first brought Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Beantown seemed destined to double in length after the C's came surprisingly close to a third trip to the NBA Finals in five seasons in 2012.

But the seeds of today's decline were present in the near-triumphs of yesteryear. A run of five straight Atlantic Division titles may not seem like the most obvious breeding ground for the current failures, but missteps paved the way for the panic of the present.

 

June 15th, 2010

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

That's the night when the C's current tailspin first begins, thanks in no small part to the Lakers.

The two longtime rivals meet at the Staples Center for Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Boston has a 3-2 series lead, needing only to win one of two in LA to claim its 18th title in franchise history and second since Paul Pierce, Allen and Garnett became a trio.

The contest proves disastrous for the C's. They're crushed by the Lakers, 89-67. Kobe Bryant leads all scorers with 26 points, Pau Gasol falls  one assist shy of a triple-double and LA holds Boston to 33.3 percent shooting from the field.

But the bigger (and more damning) story is written in the first quarter. Kendrick Perkins, a sturdy center with few (if any) offensive skills but a commanding presence on the defensive end, goes down with what turned out to be a pair of torn ligaments in his right knee.

 

June 17th, 2010

The injury sidelines Perkins for Game 7. Gasol (19 points, 18 rebounds, four assists, two blocks) and Ron Artest (20 points, five rebounds, five steals, one assist) rescue the Lakers from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter on the way to an 83-79 win to secure their second championship in as many seasons.

(Celtics fans crow about how the Lakers didn't beat them at their best, ignoring that Andrew Bynum missed the entirety of the 2008 Finals—a series that Boston won in six games.)

 

June 24th, 2010

 A week removed from their stinging collapse, the C's spend their first pick (19th overall) in the 2010 NBA Draft on a teen-aged guard from the University of Texas by the name of Avery Bradley. His arrival gives Boston a solid excuse for parting ways with Tony Allen, a defensive stopper on the perimeter who'd been a pivotal part of their run to two Finals appearances in three years.

They also draft Luke Harangody, a three-time All-American out of Notre Dame. In a related story, a tree fell in the woods, but was anybody around to hear it?

 

July 10th, 2010

The Celtics sign free-agent forward/center Jermaine O'Neal to a two-year contract as a sort of "insurance policy" in the event that Perkins' knee doesn't  heal properly. 

Which is ironic, because O'Neal has missed more than 19 games on average over the previous 14 seasons of his pro career. O'Neal misses 58 regular-season games with injuries to his left knee and left wrist, but returns in time to start during the 2011 playoffs.

 

August 4th, 2010

Danny Ainge signs another washed-up O'Neal just in case Perkins doesn't work. This time, it is Shaquille O'Neal, who signs what turns out to be the final contract of his Hall-of-Fame career.  

Nagging injuries to his right leg limit Shaq (a.k.a. "The Big Shamrock") to just 37 games during his last regular season.

 

September 1st, 2010

The C's bring back former role player Delonte West to serve as Rajon Rondo's backup and, presumably, to restore some of the crazy that left town when Tony Allen did.

 

October 26th, 2010

The Miami Heat, fresh off a summer in which they signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade, make their season debut in Boston. The Celtics speed past the Heatles early before hanging on for an 88-80 victory. Boston's own Big Three combine for 49 points, Rajon Rondo drops 17 dimes and all seems well for Gang Green.

 

December 25th, 2010

The Orlando Magic erase a 12-point deficit to upend the Celtics on Christmas Day, 86-78. The loss is just the fifth of the season for the C's and snaps a 14-game losing streak.

Shaq goes head-to-head with long-time rival Dwight Howard and fouls out for the third time as a Celtic.

 

January 25th, 2011

Kendrick Perkins makes his season debut for the C's after a seven-month recovery from knee surgery. The surly center contributes seven points, six rebounds and three assists as Boston sends the post-LeBron Cleveland Cavaliers to their 18th straight loss, 112-95.

 

February 24th, 2011

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Still infatuated with Jeff Green and perhaps convinced that the C's can win a title with Shaq at center, Danny Ainge trades Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Green, Nenad Krstic and a first-round pick.

That night, the short-handed C's get spanked by the Denver Nuggets, who'd finally freed themselves of Carmelo Anthony two days earlier. The Nuggets close the game on a 16-0 run over the final six minutes on the way to an 89-75 result.

 

March 13th, 2011

The Celtics move a season-high 31 games above the .500 mark with an 87-56 drubbing of the bumbling Milwaukee Bucks. Those 56 points allowed sets a Celtics franchise record for fewest given up in the shot-clock era. It's also the fewest Boston has surrendered since February 27th, 1955, when the C's beat another team from Milwaukee—the Hawks—62-57 in Providence, Rhode Island.

 

March 20th, 2011

Boston clinches its fourth Atlantic Division title in a row—on an off day, no less. A 100-95 loss to the Bucks by the New York Knicks ensures that the C's will go into the Eastern Conference playoffs as a top-four seed, despite a shocking midseason roster shakeup.

 

April 13th, 2011

The C's finish their season with a middling record of 10-11 over their last 21 games. Boston's second-stringers bully the New York Knicks in a 112-102 win. The result precedes a rematch between the Atlantic Division rivals in the first round of the 2011 postseason.

 

April 24th, 2011

Nick Laham/Getty Images

Boston sweeps Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and the Knicks out of the playoffs with a 101-89 win at Madison Square Garden in Game 4 of their postseason series. Anthony and Stoudemire combine for 51 points, but it's not enough to overcome double-doubles by Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo.

The victory is Boston's eighth in a row over New York, including regular season and playoff meetings. Also, Jermaine O'Neal starts all four games at center...miraculously enough.

 

May 11th, 2011

The Heat, the eventual Eastern Conference champions, send the C's packing from the postseason by way of a 97-87 result in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Boston's bullying defense struggles to stifle LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who combine for 67 points on just 39 shots.

 

December 12th, 2011

Immediately after the 2011 lockout is lifted, Danny Ainge exchanges one LSU-groomed big man for another when he trades Glen Davis, a productive sixth man, to the Orlando Magic for Brandon Bass. This, after the C's restock their frontcourt with the likes of Chris Wilcox and Greg Stiemsma, still leaves Boston in a rather precarious position as far as depth is concerned.

 

December 17th, 2011

Just seven days after re-signing with the Celtics on a one-year, $9 million pact, Jeff Green is ruled out for the season because of an aortic aneurysm. Green undergoes successful surgery to fix the problem, but sees his contract voided as a result. The loss of Green is the first of many blows to Boston's frontcourt.

Green spends his time away from the court rehabbing and finishing up his undergraduate coursework at Georgetown, from which he graduates with a degree in English in May of 2012.

 

December 30th, 2011

Paul Pierce returns from a heel injury to help the Celtics avoid an 0-4 start to the season. Boston beats the Detroit Pistons, 96-85, just two days after getting creamed by the Chris Paul-less New Orleans Hornets. Crisis averted...for now.

 

January 16th, 2012

Kendrick Perkins returns to the TD Garden for the first time as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The game turns out to be an emotional one for Perk and his old teammates. It ends in a 97-88 loss for the Celtics—their fifth straight.

 

January 20th, 2012

Boston falls to 5-9 after losing to the Phoenix Suns at home, 79-71. Suns center Marcin Gortat pounds the C's inside, scoring 24 points and grabbing12 rebounds, while Rondo watches from the bench, two days after spraining his wrist during a win over the Toronto Raptors.

The loss is Boston's sixth in seven games and comes just four days after a previous five-game skid.

 

January 22nd, 2012

The Celtics pick up a win in their second game without Rondo, defeating the 2-14 Washington Wizards 100-94. Paul Pierce leads the way with 34 points and falls two rebounds shy of a triple-double.

Unfortunately for the C's, Ray Allen leaves the game in the second quarter after jamming his ankle on a foul by Wizards rookie Jan Vesely. The injury rules out Allen for Boston's next three games and proves to be a hindrance later on in the campaign.

 

February 3rd, 2012

Rondo returns from his wrist injury to help the Celtics upend the struggling Knicks, 91-89. New York leads for most of the game before Ray Allen puts Boston ahead for good with nine points in a span of less than two-and-a-half minutes in the fourth quarter.

 

February 20th, 2012

Jermaine O'Neal suffers an injury to his left wrist during an 89-73 smackdown at the hands of the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks. A month later, the Celtics announce that O'Neal will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair his wrist. O'Neal had attempted to fight through the injury, albeit unsuccessfully.

O'Neal's absence leaves the C's with a front-court rotation of Garnett, Bass and rookie JaJuan Johnson...and that's it.

 

February 22nd, 2012

Richard Rowe-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder crush the older, slower Celtics at Chesapeake Energy Arena, 119-104. The loss is Boston's fifth in a row, dropping the C's to 15-17 heading into the All-Star break. The Celtics fall behind by as many as 26 points in the third quarter before making a game of it in the fourth, but can't quite overcome the spectacular efforts of Kevin Durant (28 points, nine rebounds, six assists, four steals) and Russell Westbrook (31 points, five rebounds, six assists, one steal).

All the while, Bostonians are reminded of how close they came to getting Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft. The Celtics had the second-best odds of nabbing the No. 1 pick, but wound up with the fifth selection "thanks" to the lottery. They used that pick on Jeff Green, who was subsequently shipped to the then-Seattle SuperSonics in a blockbuster trade for Ray Allen.

 

March 14th, 2012

The Celtics announce that Chris Wilcox will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing aortic surgery. Nine days later, Boston officially cuts Wilcox from the roster.

 

March 15th, 2012

The 2012 trade deadline comes and goes without Boston making a single move. This, despite a rash of injuries and rumblings regarding Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo being shipped out of town as part of Danny Ainge's plan to blow up the team.

Months later, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reveals that the C's had told Allen he was headed to the Memphis Grizzlies via trade, only for head coach Doc Rivers to inform him otherwise thereafter.

 

March 23rd, 2012

The Celtics sign free-agent big man Ryan Hollins to fill out their depleted frontcourt. Hollins plays 15 games during the regular season for Boston before finding his way into 17 postseason contests.

That same day, the C's lose to the Philadelphia 76ers in the absence of Ray Allen, who's sidelined once again by his sore left ankle. Mickael Pietrus scores four points while starting in Allen's place before winding up in the hospital on account of a nasty fall.

 

April 1st, 2012

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics demolish the Heat on April Fool's Day, 91-72, for their fifth win in a row—all without Ray Allen and all with Avery Bradley starting at shooting guard.

Bradley, in particular, shines on both ends of the floor. The second-year guard contributes 13 points, two steals, a block and a rebound while limiting Dwyane Wade to 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting. In those five starts, Bradley averages 14.6 points on 52.8 percent shooting in 39.5 minutes per game.

All of which forces Doc Rivers to think twice about handing the starting gig back to Ray Allen upon his return.

 

April 4th, 2012

Ray Allen returns in a starting role, and the Celtics lose a heartbreaker to the San Antonio Spurs, 87-86. Allen manages a mere five points on 2-of-6 shooting in 35 minutes. Bradley, on the other hand, scores 19 points off the bench.

 

April 5th, 2012

 Doc Rivers has Allen and Bradley switch spots between the starting lineup and the bench. The Celtics lose anyway—to the Chicago Bulls, 93-86. But Allen outscores Bradley as a reserve, 14-9, further complicating Doc's dilemma. 

 

April 18th, 2012

The Celtics secure at least a share of their fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title with a 102-98 win over the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic. With Rajon Rondo sidelined by a sore lower back, Paul Pierce leads all players in points (29) and assists (a career-high 14). Avery Bradley contributes 23 points in Rondo's place.

 

April 19th, 2012

Danny Ainge signs another free-agent big—Sean Williams—to shore up the bench. The Boston College product makes three regular-season appearances for the C's and just two during the playoffs.

 

April 26th, 2012

The Celtics finish the season with a record of 39-27 after dispatching the Bucks, 87-74. Boston wins 24 of its final 34 games to secure its surprisingly solid mark.

The C's are awarded the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but begin the playoffs on the road because the Atlanta Hawks, at 40-26, have a slightly better record.

 

May 4th, 2012

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley leaves Game 3 of the Celtics-Hawks series with dislocated left shoulder. Boston goes on to win in overtime, 100-94, as Ray Allen scores 13 points in his postseason debut while battling bone spurs in his troublesome left ankle.

 

May 10th, 2012

Bradley doesn't miss any additional time because of the shoulder injury, and the Celtics go on eliminate the Hawks from the playoffs with an 83-80 win in Game 6.

 

May 18th, 2012

Avery Bradley re-injures his left shoulder during Boston's 92-83 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. He registers eight points, three rebounds and an assist in 27 minutes before exiting the affair.

Bradley sits out Games 5 and 6 before the team announces that he will undergo surgery on his shoulder and, as such, will miss the remainder of the postseason. It ultimately takes two operations to correct the damage done to his shoulder.

 

May 26th, 2012

Boston and Philly meet in a winner-take-all Game 7 at the TD Garden. The Celtics managed to defend their home court against the plucky Sixers, 85-75, as all five starters score in double figures. Rondo registers a triple-double as the C's sneak their way into the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.

 

June 5th, 2012

The Heat hold serve at home through the first two games. The Celtics respond by winning each of the next three, including a 94-90 thriller at AmericanAirlines Arena in Chris Bosh's first game back from an abdominal injury. LeBron and Wade combine for 57 points, but are ultimately outdone by brilliant performances from Kevin Garnett (26 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, one steal), Paul Pierce (19 points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals) and Rajon Rondo (seven points, six rebounds, 13 assists, four steals).

 

June 7th, 2012

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

With the series (and the season) on the line, LeBron responds with an unbelievable outing—45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists—to save the Heat from the brink of collapse in a 98-79 win in Boston.

The series shifts back to Miami for Game 7, wherein the Heat overpower the Celtics in a decisive fourth quarter of a 101-88 win. Rondo tallies another tripe-double and four other Celtics score in double figures, but it's not enough to put Boston ahead in the end.

 

June 28th, 2012

In what's considered one of the steals of the night, the Celtics select Jared Sullinger, a two-time All-American out of Ohio State, with the 21st pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Boston follows that up by taking Syracuse center Fab Melo with the 22nd pick.

 

July 11th, 2012

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Ray Allen opts to sign with the Heat rather than return to play for the Celtics. In doing so, Allen essentially sacrifices finances—Boston offers him $12 million over two years, but he winds up signing in Miami for $6 million over two years—for a warmer climate and a situation in which he feels more wanted.

That's even though both teams planned to use him as a scorer off the bench.

 

July 18th, 2012

The Celtics sign Jason Terry to essentially replace Ray Allen's production. 

Unfortunately for Boston, the 35-year-old combo guard sees his productivity decline precipitously during his first 43 games in green. Terry's scoring (9.8 points) and shot attempts (8.4 field goals) plummet to their lowest levels since his rookie season.

 

July 20th, 2012

As part of a three-team trade, the Celtics acquire Courtney Lee from the Houston Rockets. Lee fluctuates between bench and starting roles before Avery Bradley's return, but eventually establishes himself as a reliable shooter and athletic defender in Doc Rivers' rotation.

 

August 23rd, 2012

Jeff Green officially re-signs with the Celtics for four years and $36 million after being cleared to play again by his doctors. As expected, fans in Boston greet the news with a hefty helping of skepticism.

 

October 5th, 2012

The Celtics struggle in their exhibition opener, losing to Turkish power Fenerbahce, 97-91. 

But it's the preseason, so nobody pays the result much mind.

 

October 18th, 2012

Boston signs former Phoenix Suns sixth man Leandro Barbosa to add another scorer to their previously thin reserves.

 

October 30th, 2012

The new-look Celtics get crushed by the Heat on opening night, 120-107. Ray Allen burns his old team for 19 points on just five shots from the field, while LeBron and Wade combine for 55 points.

 

November 28th, 2012

Rajon Rondo's streak of 37 games with double-digit assists is snapped during a 95-83 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Rondo is ejected from the game when he shoves Nets forward (and former Kardashian clan member) Kris Humphries into the stands following a hard foul on Kevin Garnett. The NBA slaps Rondo with a two-game suspension for his actions.

He subsequently spends the time off in Mexico while the C's go 1-1 in his absence.

 

January 2nd, 2013

Avery Bradley returns from shoulder surgery, but his efforts can't keep the Celtics from dropping their fourth game in a row. This latest loss comes at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies, who grind out a 93-83 result in Boston.

 

January 7th, 2012

The Celtics beat the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 102-96, without the services of Rajon Rondo, who's suspended for making contact with a referee during a game against the Hawks two days prior.

But the news of the night comes from an altercation between Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony. Garnett, a notorious trash-talker, allegedly makes some less-than-flattering remarks that equate Anthony's wife to a certain breakfast cereal. Whatever KG says to get in 'Melo's head, it works—Anthony shoots an abysmal 6-for-26 from the field.

After the game, Anthony is found waiting to confront Garnett outside of the Celtics team bus at MSG. The league suspends Anthony one game for the offense. 

 

January 14th, 2012

It doesn't take long for Bradley to re-integrate himself with the C's, and for the team as a whole to benefit from his return. They string together a season-high six-game winning streak, capped by a 100-89 victory over the careening Charlotte Bobcats.

All seems right again in Beantown as the Celtics climb their way up through the Eastern Conference standings.

 

January 25th, 2012

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It takes less than two weeks for the script to flip on the Celtics. Boston follows up its winning kick with a losing one of equal length. The streak begins with a 90-78 loss to the New Orleans Hornets in Doc Rivers' first game coaching against his son, Austin Rivers.

The decline continues with poor results against the Chicago Bulls, the Detroit Pistons, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Knicks, in the first meeting between the teams since "Cheeriogate."

Then, in their latest outing, the C's build up a 27-point lead on the Hawks before relinquishing that advantage entirely and losing in double-overtime in Atlanta, 123-111. The loss extends the C's current slide to six games—their longest since April of 2007, when Boston finished with the second-worst record in the NBA.

 

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