They climbed through the window last year to win banner number 17 for the proud franchise.
This year, with Garnett watching the playoffs from the bench due to an injury, the Celtics were unceremoniously bounced in the second round when Orlando came into Boston and won game seven.
It’s easy to say that with a healthy Garnett next year the Celtics will be contenders again — but the hard truth is that the championship window for these Celtics is not only closing it may be shut.
The first reason is that this team is getting older — Allen will be 34 next season, Garnett 33 and Pierce 32. Certainly not too old to play quality basketball, but also old enough that injuries and wearing down by the end of the season are more likely outcomes. While the team has gotten an injection of youth from Rajon Rondo, it will still need its three older superstars to make a serious run in the playoffs, and it’s harder to count on them as they get older.
The other big problem is that their biggest challengers in the East are younger and getting better.
Orlando knocked the Celtics off this season, and many fans may forget that the Magic were without their second best player, point guard Jameer Nelson. More importantly, their best player, Dwight Howard, is young and improving. He right now relies on pure strength and athleticism to score in the post, but soon he will start to develop some go-to moves and he will become nearly impossible to stop. Next season’s Magic will be better than this season’s.
Then there’s Cleveland. Its scary to think after watching him this season, but LeBron James will be entering only his sixth season next year and likely will be better. The only player in their core that is older is Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who will be 35 next season, but as a big man who doesn’t rely on pure athleticism to get his points he can still go a couple more years.
More importantly, whatever happens in this year’s playoffs, it is going to make Cleveland better next year. Either they are going to win an NBA title and truly understand what it takes to do that, or they are going to come up just short (they’ll beat Orlando) and get a real fire in their belly to make it back and make amends. Either way, the experiences of this playoffs will make them better next year.
And that’s not even talking about the West where the Lakers core is still fairly young and the up and coming teams like Portland are going to be around for a while.
Yes, the Celtics of next season likely will be better than the ones that just saw their season end Sunday. They will be very good, one of the best in the East. But that may well not be enough anymore. The championship window is nearly closed.