NBA Playoffs 2011: Don't Blame Danny Ainge for the Boston Celtics' Playoff Elimination

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NBA Playoffs 2011: Don't Blame Danny Ainge for the Boston Celtics' Playoff Elimination
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It's over, it's done. The once champion Boston Celtics have been eliminated by the Miami Heat in one final thrust of bedazzlement and spectacle. Let the reverberations and the backlash, especially for one man—Celtics GM Danny Ainge—begin.

Ainge will forever be remembered by many as the man who sent Kendrick Perkins out of town. To these fans, Perk was the be all and end all of championship grit. While he wasn't the flashiest player on the court, he was the backbone of the team and an essential ingredient for postseason success.

But to insinuate that the absence of Kendrick Perkins was the sole reason why the Celtics failed to return to the NBA finals for the second season in a row isn't fair. It's just not factually correct.

It would be one thing if Ainge had traded away Perkins, but he didn't. He traded away a shell of Perkins, a player who wasn't and still isn't all the way recovered from his ACL/MCL surgery.

Perkins, the player who averaged a little more than 1.8 blocks per game over the past two seasons with the Celtics, fell to just 0.9 blocks per game this regular season.

Perkins has been even worse this postseason, averaging just 0.4 blocks over nine contests with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He's been fairly putrid in other areas of the game, shooting just 43.2 percent from the field and scoring just 4.6 points per game while pulling in 7.2 rebounds.

His PER in the playoffs has been just 5.2, nearly twice as low as what it was in last year's postseason and more than three times as low as it was in the playoffs two years ago. Both Jeff Green (9.3 PER) and Jermaine O'Neal (12.8 PER) vastly outproduced Perkins when it came to playoff effectiveness.

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I loved Perkins to death during his time in Boston, and I'll forever be grateful for the years of valiant service he gave to the Celtics. But he just hasn't been the same since going down in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last year.

You can talk about Perkins' intangibles and the impact he had on the defense, but it wasn't the defense that was an issue (at least in the final three games) of the Miami series.

The Celtics held the Miami Heat—the third best team in the regular season in terms of points per 100 possessions—to a combined 45.2 shooting from the floor. That's really not that bad, and the one constant over the final three games of the Miami series was the Celtics effort on the defensive end of the floor.

The Celtics struggled to find a consistent balance offensively, something which Perkins wouldn't have aided in any way.

The reason why the Boston Celtics lost is pretty simple, but it might come as a surprise to a few disgruntled Celtics fans. They weren't good enough. The Miami Heat aren't just some fluke team. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade aren't just two pals who decided to play a little basketball with each other.

Sure, they had some growing pains along the way, but in the end, the Miami Heat showed us who they really were: a team with arguably the two best players in the league and, oh yeah, that guy named Chris Bosh.

There are a number of reasons why the Celtics aren't as good as the Heat, and they pre-date the Perkins trade.

I think the date that began the Celtics' troubles was Nov. 24, 2010, the night Delonte West broke his wrist. The injury resulted in an incredibly poor season for West, who played in just 19 more regular season games.

But more importantly, it was an indication of the way the rest of the season would go for the Celtics. Injuries impacted the starting unit and literally tore apart the bench.

In fact, the Perkins trade was mostly an effort to shore up a vastly depleted bench. At the time, swingman Marquis Daniels, a fixture on the Celtics over the last two seasons, was likely out for the remainder of the season with a spinal cord injury.

After 'Quis went down, the Celtics literally had no backup three. When Daniels wasn't serving as Paul Pierce's backup, he was running the offense as a backup point guard for Rajon Rondo, the result of Delonte West missing so much time.

The C's effectively lost two players when Daniels went down. It didn't help that Nate Robinson, who had been playing nearly the entire season out of position as a point guard (the result of West's injury), was in an incredible funk, averaging near career lows from the field and from three. He would've likely seen even more time as a result of Daniels' injury, despite the fact that he a) wasn't and never will be a capable NBA point guard b) wasn't providing any offense and c) was providing even less defense.

The rest of the bench consisted of Glen Davis, NBA journeyman Von Wafer (who has battled injury throughout the season), rookie Semih Erden (who had battled injury and will require offseason shoulder surgery), rookie Luke Harangody (who is, well, Luke Harangody) and rookie Avery Bradley.

Erden, Harangody and Bradley wouldn't have seen any postseason minutes regardless of the injury situation of the Celtics. That left Baby and a struggling Robinson to assume control of the bench.

So, you're Danny Ainge. What do you do? At this point and time, you've got no idea what you're getting from Delonte West (he's only played six games all season), and it's been months since Nate Robinson has looked like a capable playoff rotation player.

You've really only got faith in one of your bench players (Davis) which certainly won't be enough come playoff time. Do you hold onto Perkins, who had just injured his non-surgically repaired knee (eventually missed three weeks) and wasn't the same player regardless? Or, do you trade him and the rest of the scrubs (Robinson, Erden, Harangody and an injured Marquis) occupying your bench, finding suitable replacements for Daniels and opening up roster space for a slew of veteran additions.

At the very worst, these new guys (Murphy, Pavlovic, Arroyo, etc) will be as much dead weight as the guys that they were replacing. At the best, we'll get lucky on one, who'll develop into a solid part of our rotation.

The only issue is that we're depending on one of the O'Neals to be healthy in time for the playoffs. Oh, wait, that's not really an issue: Regardless of whether or not Perkins is on the team, at least one O'Neal would have to be healthy to make a deep playoff run.

If you're Ainge, you make that trade every day of the week; no regrets. Doesn't matter that Perk is a swell guy and your name will be vilified and dragged through the mud of the Boston sports media; you get paid to make tough calls like this.

And so you do it.

The Celtics really did get lucky. They got pretty good performances from both Delonte West and Jeff Green in the Miami series, and Jermaine O'Neal was a revelation during the postseason, playing better than anyone ever expected.

The Perkins trade doesn't explain why Glen Davis shrunk like a frightened turtle during the entire postseason. It doesn't even give grounds to the fact that the Celtics were a horrendously inefficient rebounding team, the worst in the league, with or without Perkins, or that they turned the ball over way too much—third worst of any playoff team and 17th during the regular season.

In the end, the Celtics' inefficiency on the offensive end was too much for their stellar defense to handle. If you routinely give a team headed by LeBron James and Dwayne Wade extra possessions each game, they're going to make you pay. And they did.

When the Boston big three originally formed prior to the start of the 2007 NBA season, no one expected their run to go this long. Boston fans should be encouraged by the fact that the big three have yet to show serious signs of slippage and are not currently experiencing any career threatening injury. All three had phenomenal regular seasons and did what they could to aid a vastly unathletic and out-of-whack team in the playoffs.

While the big three might not be the same players they once were, it wouldn't be out of the question for the Celtics to make another crack at this next year. They're going to have to give the big three some help, especially on the glass and on the offensive end of things, but the defense is by all accounts still there, and it seems likely that Doc Rivers will return to coach next season.

It's easy to blame Danny Ainge for screwing up the Celtics chances. But it's not right. This Celtics team wasn't good enough to win a championship for a number of reasons, but Kendrick Perkins isn't one of them.

Also, it takes due credit away from the Miami Heat. As much as it pains me to say this, the "Heatles" thoroughly outmatched the Boston Celtics.

They were the better team.

Dan is a Boston Celtics featured columnist. Follow him on twitter @dantheman_06.

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