Lenny Megliola: Celtics’ energy finally drained

Lenny Megliola

The last word, as it should have, went to the coach. “It was a good year … not great.”

Doc Rivers got it right. The Lakers without Kobe, the Cavs without LeBron, the Spurs without Tim Duncan aren’t top-of-the-line title contenders, and neither were the Celtics without their most valuable player, Kevin Garnett.

OK, got that straight?

It was a good year because the Celtics had to readjust and totally rely on themselves, knowing Garnett wasn’t there to cover for them. The regular season is one kind of animal, the playoffs a very different kind. Frankly, I felt the Celtics would be vulnerable in every playoff game without KG, but they had learned to mesh without him, and even thrive some nights. It was a testament to good coaching and big athletic hearts, which prompted Rivers, 10 years in the league, to say “this is one of my favorite groups.”

It got them a pair of seven-game series. Then the train stopped.

The Celtics looked like they had one final push Sunday against the Magic, and it would’ve been amazing if …. well, it DIDN’T happen so let’s not go there. Boston sure looked pooped, though. Trying to get to the Orlando sharpshooters in time (they didn’t) will wear a team out. It eats up a lot of energy no matter how many Red Bulls you knock back.

“We just didn’t have it,” Rivers said.

The Magic lead had been knocked down to five, but there was no panic. It was the Celtics who were suffering, having sapped all that energy to get that close.

“It really felt like we ran out of gas,” said Paul Pierce, “to be down by only five and lose the way we did (101-82).”

“We got a great confidence boost out of (Sunday’s) game,” said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, who now gets to map out a plan for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“It’s going to be a lot to handle,” said Magic strongman Dwight Howard.

Let’s be real, Orlando is better equipped to face Cleveland than the Celtics. The Magic, thought of in some circles as lacking guts, showed otherwise since the playoffs began.

“That’s the way you show people you’re tough, by overcoming what we did in this series and last,” Howard said.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Magic ended the series against the 76ers in six games, at Phillly and without Howard who was suspended. Marcin Gortat replaced Howard and had 11 points and 15 rebounds; Rashard Lewis went for 29 points; JJ Redick added 15, and Rafer Alston was terrific with his 21 points and 10 assists.

The final was 114-89, which means the Magic won series-clinching games on the road by 25 and 19 points.

The Magic simply wore the Celtics down. Pierce and Ray Allen had to fight for space almost every moment. Van Gundy called Pierce “one of the five or six truly great players in our league.” Allen himself praised Redick for carrying out his assignment, which was to cover him. “He always made sure he stayed connected to me. He did his job.”

Allen did break loose Sunday. “He was looking like Ray Allen again,” said Van Gundy, “scaring the hell out of me.”

Sunday morning the Celtics had a shoot-around, and one of Rivers’ assistants told him “’God we were focused.’ Then we come out and lay an egg.”

Still, without Garnett, Pierce said “we learned a lot about ourselves.” What he learned was that with Garnett in street clothes, all grand dreams were enveloped in fog.

“You’d like to see what kind of run we would have made with a healthy group,” said the captain. Sure, but life’s not always sunshine and roses.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Danny Ainge tweaks this team. Front and center is Glen Davis, who showed he belonged in this league. Will he be re-signed?

“I love Boston,” said Davis. “If the offer is here, it’s here. If it’s somewhere else, it’s somewhere else. I gotta go where the opportunity is.”

But that’s fodder for another day. The good --- not great --- season is over. But it was as good as you could have expected.

Lenny Megliola’s e-mail is lennymegs@aol.com