Celtics had heart, determination and great coaching, but not enough talent

It’s hard not to love this hard-working, scrappy and determined group of Boston Celtics.

What coach Brad Stevens’ club lacked in talent, they made up for with passion and determination. It personifies the toughness and grit of their city and an entire region. It’s something guys like LeBron James can most certainly learn from.

The Celtics took another major step forward in the third year of the Stevens regime, winning 48 regular-season games and were in the thick of their first-round Eastern Conference series with the Atlanta Hawks. Boston was a couple tiebreakers away from being seeded as high as third in the East.

The teams split the first four games, each defending their home courts, before reality sunk in for the Celtics in Game 5 in Atlanta, which the Hawks pulled away to win 110-83 before finishing the Celtics off with a 104-92 win that was not as close as the final score indicated.

For all the heart and determination the Celtics had, they simply ran out of gas against a team that is more talented. Teams like the Hawks and the Toronto Raptors, who can finish off the Indiana Pacers in a Game 6 tonight, are better constructed to knock off James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, which Atlanta will now have a chance to do. Cleveland’s history of postseason failures not withstanding, this Celtics team as constructed would’ve had no chance against the Cavs.

The Celtics showed this season they are not far off from competing with the best teams in the NBA. Boston was one of only two teams to go into Oracle Arena and beat a 73-win Golden State team that will likely go down as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. They always give James and the Cavaliers fits. The 42-point eruption of Isaiah Thomas (no relation to that Pistons Bad Boy) in Game 3 will go down in Celtic playoff lore.

There’s no question that Stevens is a fantastic head coach, but undoubtedly, he needs more talent (sound familiar, University of Maine hockey followers?) to bring an 18th banner to TD Garden. Fortunately, the Celtics have the financial flexibility to bring some talent to Causeway Street. And general manager Danny Ainge will certainly be working his butt off this summer to bring some talent to Boston. Much like some recruiter named Ben Guite is bringing UMaine hockey coach Red Gendron some blue-chip talent to work with in the next few seasons.

Boston owns the right to the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round draft pick, and we won’t know where the Celtics will pick until next month’s draft lottery. Ainge also knows he needs to go after coveted free agents, such as Kevin Durant. There’s no doubt in my mind Durant will look good in green, except he’ll have to give up his No. 35.

Can the Celtics improve on their 48-win season next year? Can the Celtics make a deeper postseason run? Absolutely. The upcoming offseason will be an intriguing one for Celtics fans. Boston’s backcourt will no doubt be better with Avery Bradley, who injured his hamstring early in the Atlanta series, back in the fold with Thomas. All this team needs is a marquee player, such as Durant, who can take over a game.

If there’s another team that could learn from the Celtics’ grit and determination, it’s their Causeway Street co-tenants who stumbled and bumbled their way out of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second year in a row.

Green will always run deep here in New England. While the loss to Atlanta certainly stings, we can certainly sit back and enjoy the rest of the NBA postseason. The biggest question likely is who will join the likes of John Elway, Edgar Renteria, Tom Glavine, Michael Jordan and Steph Curry as those who have broken the hearts of Cleveland sports fans?

Banner 18 will come in the next couple of seasons. Banner 16 came when I was a year old, so maybe that’s an omen after Liam’s first birthday comes and goes next spring?

Ryan McLaughlin

About Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective with BDN readers about what's happening on the Boston professional sports scene.