Staff Exit Interviews, Edition 1: Tom Bellinger

The season is over, the playoffs are done, and there is a new (non-Celtic) champion in the land. We here at CelticsBlog decided it was a good time to look back on the season that was 2010-2011, in a time that is far enough removed from the Playoffs to reflect without too much bitterness, but far enough away from 2011-2012 to keep us focused on the year that was. These are the Staff Exit Interviews.

Question 1: Forgetting for a second how the Finals actually turned out, how are you feeling about the Celtics loss in the second round?

Well, to be honest I still feel pretty angry about it. It wouldn't be fair to say I didn't see it coming. I thought the Celtics losing against the Heat was a possibility, just like I thought the Celtics losing to the Cavs last year in the playoffs was a possibility. But I just didn't...expect it.

When the Celtics were down 0-2, I could rationalize it. There is a reason the saying goes "A Playoff Series Doesn't Start Until A Team Loses At Home" (or wins on the road, depending on who is saying the adage). The Heat taking the first two games is perfectly reasonable. The Celtics took Game 3 in convincing fashion, and I was reinforced in my own beliefs about the green. 'This is going to go six games, and it started tonight', I remember thinking. Rajon Rondo was a hero, Kevin Garnett was a monster, and the Heat looked like who we thought they were.

Then the Celtics dropped Game 4, and I thought, "uh oh."

But it wasn't like I was really that disheartened. I didn't even really think the Celtics were 'on the ropes'. I thought they were in a bad spot, sure. I thought they had a steeper hill to climb than I would've liked, yeah, but I didn't feel like they were done. Not even with Rondo's left arm apparently useless, not even with Shaq done for the year (and apparently his career). It probably looked grim to others, but not really to me.

It was a time for true champions to grit their teeth and persevere, and that's fully what I expected the Celtics to do walking into Game 5.

I watched Game 5 in a bar in Portland, Maine called Foreplay. My brother works in the Old Port district, and he advised me that Foreplay would be just the right combination of blue-collar and Boston faithful that I would want..plus they had a good beer selection, and big TV's.

When I walked in there were maybe three other people at the bar, one bartender, and a few guys playing air hockey or fooseball or something on the other side of the room. I thought something was amiss when I heard the bartender cheer after a Dwyane Wade jumper. I should've known something was amiss when my Guinness was sour, and the Harpoon IPA I ordered next was just shy of skunky. I sat and watched Game 5 with the only bartender in New England who bet on the Heat, in a bar where nobody else really gave a crap about the Celtics, and it was fitting.

How do I feel about the Celtics loss to the Heat? Frustrated, annoyed, angry, even betrayed. You might say 'well it just happens, teams lose'. You might say 'We'll get em next year', but this wasn't like that. These Celtics didn't lose. They lost in 2009, but Kevin Garnett, their emotional and defensive leader was injured, and they still pushed the Eastern Conference Champs to 7 games with Glen Davis being the Celtics' most offensively gifted front-court player. I could swallow that, because I knew KG was coming back next season, and they still had all the pieces intact from their dominating 2007-2008 campaign.

The Celtics lost in a close seven game series to Los Angeles in the Finals in 2010. I could swallow that because even without their enforcer for Game 7, the Celtics still kept it close, and Perk would be back  the next season.

But this year was different. LeBron James, Wade, and Bosh took the Celtics in FIVE GAMES. The entitled, self-anointed champions made it look freaking easy. The NBA isn't real-life to a true fan. There isn't anything really all that rational about it..if we were all rational, we'd all be cynical front-runners whose allegiance goes to the team that 'plays the best basketball', and not really care which team won, as long as it was a good one.

But we're not rational when it comes to the Celtics, we're fans, and the Bad Guys got to win. And this wasn't like say..Empire Strikes Back, where everything looked lost, but you knew Luke and Leia were totally going to come back and avenge Han Solo and stuff. The Bad Guys won, and really they're only going to get better, while the Celtics are really only going to get older.

So how do I feel about the loss to the Heat this year? I dunno man, I'm coming to terms with it. Next question.

Question 2: What single event most defined the 2010-2011 season for you?

The Perkins trade. Its not even really close. People have gone over the motives, the possible outcomes and ramifications, and the fallout more than enough in the past few months. I don't need to go into any of that..but when I think back about the 2010-2011 season, I'll think of it as the year the Heat beat the Celtics in the playoffs, and the year the Celtics traded away one of their 'unbeaten starting five'.

Question 3: What was the single greatest positive you took from the 2011 season?

Well, let's figure out what it wasn't. It wasn't that the Celtics youth movement has promise. Jeff Green looks woefully under-qualified to be a significant starter on a top tier team, Rajon Rondo's play was more up and down than a sea-saw, and Avery Bradley was a bigger tease than the Legend Of Zelda Movie.

I'd say still that it was Kevin Garnett. KG should be just about done. One of these years, he's gonna show up for training camp, and you're just going to know within the first month that he's got nothing left..but after watching him this year and in the playoffs, I've talked myself into knowing that its not going to be next season. Kevin Garnett is almost done, but he ain't done yet.

Question 4: What was the single greatest disappointment of the 2011 season?

Shaquille O'Neal, but not because of anything that was really his fault (unless he could've conditioned more, but I'm not going to speculate there). Shaq was the single greatest surprise during the first part of the season where the Celtics were basically steamrolling through the league, and looking like the favorites for 2011 (along with the Lakers).

But the promise of Shaq had some disturbing fallout. It was one of the factors (as in the assumption that Shaq would be able to play significant minutes in the 2011 postseason) that enabled Danny Ainge to trade Kendrick Perkins, and based on Shaq's repeated five-year-plan, he was allegedly coming back to reprise his role in 2012.

Now, with Shaq retired, Jermaine O'Neal in who knows what state of health, and Nenad Krstic Back In The USSR (okay, that's not a huge loss), the Celtics are without a real viable, healthy option as a starting center heading into next season. While Jermaine O'Neal played well enough during the playoffs and late last season, I'm not encouraged heading into next year.

But if Shaq could've gotten healthy for the playoffs, and played 60 games next season, I think we'd all be drinking a different color of smoothie.

Question 5: Let's talk Finals. Did you enjoy seeing the Heat fall flat? Why?

I listened to Game 6 of the Finals on Sirius Radio (do we get free stuff for plugging them? Dibs!) and after it was all over I put on Facebook: "On the (crappy) side...this ain't the celtics celebrating. on the bright side, it isn't all the miami 'fans' that seemed to pop up since mid-may. good for dirk, and kidd."

And that's basically still how I feel about it. Was there an element of schadenfreude from me after the buzzer sounded (and during LeBron's ridiculous posturing and pouting the next day)? Sure. I'm glad Dallas won for their own sake too. Dirk has always been on of my favorite players, and Rick Carlisle grew up about 10 miles away from me. Plus, I've never harbored the annoyance or anger towards Mark Cuban that others seem to, so basically its a good thing that Dallas won for me.

But let's not get it twisted...it did not lighten the blow of the Celtics' own loss. The Heat just absolutely manhandled the Celtics after Rondo went down, but I firmly believe that the Celtics healthy could've beaten the Mavericks, and the Heat.

I guess the fact that Dirk Nowitzki, with his cast of 'too olds', 'too smalls', and 'washed ups' could rise to the occasion and beat the Heat in some ways just twists the dagger because Paul Pierce with his cast of 'too olds', 'too smalls', and 'washed ups' could not. Yeah I was happy Dirk Nowitzki and the rest got a ring, but I'm more frustrated that Pierce and company did not.

Last Question: If you could sum up the 2010-2011 Celtics' NBA season in 10 words or less, what would they be?

The best laid plans of Danny Ainge, oft go awry.

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