BOSTON — The final day of the Celtics’ 2015-16 season confirmed what has emerged as this team’s defining characteristic: It may lack the star power of other NBA powerhouses, but few other teams play as hard and as together as Boston.
One needed only to look at Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, who addressed the media with red, tear-soaked eyes Thursday after the Atlanta Hawks ended his squad’s season with a 104-92 Game 6 win at TD Garden.
“I’ll ride with these guys till the wheels fall off,” Thomas said. “I mean, this was a special group. Hopefully we can all stick together and have something special in the future. I love those guys in the locker room and hopefully we can keep this together.
Unfortunately, the teammates Thomas has grown so tight with ultimately were Boston’s downfall. Copying a successful formula from Game 5, the Hawks blitzed Thomas with double teams for much of the game, forcing the rest of the Celtics’ skeleton crew to hit shots at key moments.
They did nothing of the sort, shooting just 36 percent from the floor and a brutal 22 percent from 3-point range. Celtics swingman Jae Crowder was Boston’s second-leading scorer with just 15 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter with the game all but out of reach.
Thomas still managed to finish with 25 points and 10 assists but went just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. For a team that played almost the entire series without two of its better outside shooters in Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk, failing to knock down open shots ultimately cost Boston. The C’s averaged just 93.8 points per game over the first-round series and scored a brutal 86.8 points per game in their four losses.
Head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged his team’s shooting woes, but wouldn’t admit that was the primary reason for his team’s second consecutive first-round playoff exit.
“There’s guys that missed a few shots, but I wasn’t perfect either,” Stevens said. “So, I’m not going to lay blame on the shooting by any means. Certainly (shooting) was a factor in the series. Certainly it allowed (Atlanta’s) defense to collapse and certainly pay attention to Isaiah. But I still believe in these guys, and I’m thankful for all the shots they made throughout the season that allowed us to get here.”
There’s plenty to be thankful for after a 48-win regular season, even if it again failed to yield a trip past the first round. Stevens’ club overachieved thanks to career seasons from players like Thomas and Crowder and deep roster with an array of complimentary pieces that somehow gelled well together.
The flip side, of course, is that this season proved the Celtics still are several pieces away from being title contenders. Some of those pieces could be acquired during a important offseason for president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, but for now, the C’s are enjoying the team they have.
“We just tried to have fun each and every night,” Crowder said. “When you have a locker room that’s bonded like the way we do and have fun, you never want to see it end.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden.