” I was not there [in the bubble] Ainge said on his season-end conference call Thursday after the Celtics lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference final. I looked from here, but I could see, even when he was there before the bubble started. , which is why he was kinda stopped and done some weight training and tried to prepare for the playoff run and the intensity of the playoff run, but he was definitely not himself .
“To be fair to Kemba, he doesn’t mean that. He doesn’t say that to our coaches. He’s not telling you that to the media. He doesn’t tell me that. I did not do it. heard an apology from him. But looking at the games, even the games that we won, even the games where he played well, I could tell he was not the same physically as he was in October, November, December. to try to recover this Kemba. ”
Walker has been dealing with left knee problems since January. They tormented him for the last two months before the league was shut down due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – particularly between the All-Star Game in mid-February and when the season was halted in the mid-March – then again after Boston resumed training in June before heading to Orlando.
After slowly reaching full minutes in the six weeks leading up to the playoffs, Walker looked formidable as the Philadelphia 76ers swept Boston in the first round. But he appeared to twist his left knee again in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Toronto Raptors. And although he had some good games after that, Walker never quite looked alike.
“I know Kemba wants to be 100% back and play his best basketball,” Ainge said. “Not even at his best, he still averaged 19 or 20 points per game in the playoffs. He’s still a very good player, but he’s not what he was. There is nothing more frustrating for an athlete to be on the biggest stage of the tournament. world in your sport and not being able to be yourself. I’ve been there as a player before. It’s not funny. It’s stressful. And Gordon [Hayward] and Kemba were trying to do it.
“I know everyone is a little upset this time of year. I’m just saying these guys were… they were limited on what they could do from what we’re used to seeing in them. ”
Overall, Walker had a successful first season in Boston, helping to stabilize the organization following the departure of Kyrie Irving. He made his first run in the playoffs after reaching the playoffs just twice – and losing in the first round twice – during his eight years with the Charlotte Hornets.
“Kemba is a great person,” Ainge said. “His leadership and his responsibility… he found no excuse, he came to play, he realized the moment he was. He’s a player who has understood how special it is to be here, and never to have these opportunities, he had in his career, but he has a smile on his face, he brings joy to the game, to the team and the entire organization on a daily basis.
“It’s just great to be there, and that’s why I feel so bad. It’s his first time on this big stage… and he gave everything. He played well, but we know he wasn’t himself. . But he’s a great leader, a great teammate and an amazing person. ”
This year marked the third time in four seasons that the Celtics have seen their season end in the Eastern Conference Finals. The first two times, Boston’s losses came to LeBron James in his eight straight playoffs in the NBA.
This time, however, marked the first time Boston has lost to a team that was seen as an underdog – albeit a light one. And while Ainge said he saw a lot of things he loved this season, including the growth of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart, he admitted that the end result proved Boston just wasn’t ” good enough “.
“First of all, I was very impressed with the development of our young players and how good they are,” said Ainge. “Second, I think Jaylen and Jayson are very special. Marcus played a huge, huge role for us. It’s a great addition for these two guys. I learned how good Kemba and Gordon are when they are healthy and how good our team is when our team is healthy.
“But I feel like there’s a lot we don’t know about our squad just because the opportunities haven’t presented themselves for so many of our players who are on our bench. … I think we’ve learned a lot about each of the individuals and our team collectively. I think we’ve learned that we’re not good enough. ”
However, Ainge thought one thing was enough was the team’s chemistry, which was called into question after a dust in the locker room – one in which Smart was loudly in the middle – following Boston’s loss in the second game against Miami.
Chemistry issues lingered in Boston throughout last season, when Irving and the squad’s youngsters were constantly at odds before being routed in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks. This year, other than that time after Game 2, those issues never returned and Ainge was quick to defend the way his group had come together over the year.
“I would say that all year I hadn’t heard anything from our players or our coaches in the first game of the Eastern Conference final,” said Ainge. “I never heard anything other than the positive culture of this team and the great team we had and it was such a joy to be there, what a joy to see this team play.
“I thought the same way. I really loved being a part of the team, I loved watching our team compete and I loved all the guys I communicated with. ”
Ainge said he hadn’t read too much about what happened after the second game.
“Personally, I’ve been here for a long time, as you can see, and I wouldn’t overreact [moments] ”Ainge said. “I think our chemistry has improved this year. Our team has been enriched by the great chemistry and great culture that has been created here. ”
Heading into the offseason, Ainge said Boston was prepared to pay the luxury tax – an important point, given that due to the pandemic and the financial havoc it has wreaked on the league, the Celtics should be well in tax next season. . This will be especially true if Hayward, as expected, opts for his $ 34.1million player option for next season.
One thing that should remain constant is Tatum’s presence. Despite stretching against Miami where he didn’t have a big enough impact on the game, it was still a very successful season as he made his first All-Star and All-NBA appearances.
Boston’s title aspirations in the coming seasons will be built around Tatum and Brown, with whom the team have agreed to a contract extension ahead of this season.
“Jayson knows how much we love him,” Ainge said. “We have a good relationship. Jayson likes it here, so I’m sure we can find something this summer – this offseason, should I say. “