Their title hopes went up in flames as Kobe Bryant barreled into the lane time and time again in the fourth quarter, willing his Lakers to victory and sending the C's home empty-handed. After an unforgettable playoff run with such a bitter ending, this upcoming season will be about redemption. Doc Rivers' team is ready to atone for its past mistakes and get back on top.
2009-10 record: 50-32 (first in Atlantic Division, fourth in Eastern Conference, lost NBA Finals to Lakers)
Key additions: Shaquille O'Neal (free agent), Jermaine O'Neal (free agent), Von Wafer (free agent), Avery Bradley (draft), Luke Harangody (draft)
Key losses: Rasheed Wallace (retired), Tony Allen (signed with Grizzlies), Shelden Williams (signed with Nuggets), Michael Finley, Brian Scalabrine (both remain free agents)
Burning question: How old is too old?
Or, put another way: Which Celtics team did you believe in last season? The one that lit the world on fire in the opening two months, starting 23-5? The one that played .500 ball the rest of the way? Or the one that ripped through the playoffs all the way to Game 7 of the Finals, nearly winning the whole thing?
Because if you believe in that .500 team, then you might expect things to get even worse this season. Paul Pierce is now 32 years old, set to turn 33 in preseason. Kevin Garnett is 34; Ray Allen is 35. The C's managed to get even older with the addition of Shaquille O'Neal, who will turn 39 this season. These guys can't keep it up forever, limping into the playoffs and then flipping the switch to bring their A game. Eventually, that A game will slip away.
Rajon Rondo is the one youngster surrounded by senior citizens. If the Celtics are to win a title in 2011, they either need their All-Star point guard to carry them on his back to the promised land, or they need to hope that a group of 30-somethings still has enough left in the tank to get the job done.
There will be nights this season that leave you scratching your head, wondering how this collection of has-beens could possibly expect to be taken seriously. But there will also be moments, come next April, when it all starts to come together. These guys are old, but they'll tap into their fountain of youth at the right time. They'll dig deep and find the energy, the urgency and the big-game chops to prevail in the end.
2010-11 outlook: The Celtics aren't built to win 70 games and destroy the Eastern Conference from October through April. The season's too long and the injury bug is too dangerous. But the C's are built to take care of business in the postseason, and they've got a real chance at doing just that. If they can stay healthy and conserve their energy for playoff basketball, they've got a shot at returning to the Finals in 2011 for the third time in four years — and if they get a couple lucky breaks there, Banner 18 may be within their reach. Don't sleep on these Celtics.
Did you know? Shaquille O'Neal first met future teammate Glen Davis in 2001, at a basketball camp that Shaq held on the LSU campus. Davis was 15 at the time. The two ended up in a friendly wrestling match — and Big Baby body-slammed the Big Diesel.