Considering the number of years the Boston Celtics were in contention throughout their dynastic run, there were numerous titles that could’ve been added to their already phenomenal collection, had certain events not happened. Whether it be a bad call here, a bad bounce there, or most importantly an unfortunate injury or two, these teams couldn’t capture the title.
The 2009-2010 team starts off this list as the 5th best non-title team. Now, they were far from a fierce regular season team, winning just 50 games, and looking disinterested throughout large chunks of the season. By the playoffs, however, they seemed to collectively wake up, and went on a tremendous run throughout the playoffs.
This fantastic run happened because of Rajon Rondo’s ascension into the elite point guard conversation, Kevin Garnett’s defensive prowess, and Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and most surprisingly, Rasheed Wallace picked up their play in the playoffs. They shocked the highly favored Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers (in the process, influencing James to form his own Big 3 in Miami), and the up-and-coming Orlando Magic, in a relatively easy six game series for each.
This set up the rematch with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, where they went on to wage an epic seven game battle, letting a late lead in game 7 slip away from their grasp.
Taking into account that the Celtics were absolutely demolished on the boards in game 7, pedestrian starting center Kendrick Perkins’ season ending injury in game 6 showed the value of his contributions to this team (He was an average rebounder, and that’s all the Celtics needed). To highlight the importance of this injury, Sheldon Williams played meaningful minutes in that game 7!
Garnett was a shell of his former self, basically playing on one leg, and the same for Ray Allen, who in game 2, set a record for most 3 pointers in a Finals game, after a nasty collision with the former Ron Artest. If just one of these players is healthy, Boston would’ve won their matchup, yet again with the Lakers.
Oh, what could’ve been for the new Big 3 era Celtics, had the great Garnett never suffered that devastating knee injury on that February night against Utah. This unfortunate development would change the course of NBA history, and the Celtic franchise.
In 2008-2009 team were continuing the defensive domination their predecessors implemented, while remaining an efficient offense, capable of overwhelming any team. To make matters worse, Leon Powe, a valuable cog in the championship team, destroyed his knee early in the 1st round series against Chicago. Shocking as it may seem, Mikki Moore wasnt able to replicate either KG’s or Powe’s impact on the game. Had this team been healthy, they would’ve run through the Eastern Conference, en route to another showdown with the Lakers. One that would’ve been a tough, hard fought battle, but one that the Celtics would’ve won.
Coming in 3rd on this list are the 1984-1985 Celtics, who were trying to repeat as champions, and looked as though that might happen. They marched through the Eastern Conference, and performed the “Memorial Day Massacre” against the Lakers in the game 1 of the Finals, in which they blew the Lakers out 148-114, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar submitting a pathetic performance. That, however, would be the pinnacle for that Celtic team, as they would go on to lose in six games.
There were several factors that led to this sudden reversal, in favor of the Lakers. One, give credit to the Lakers , who were supremely talented, and motivated after losing the previous years Finals to the Celtics. Abdul-Jabbar’s sudden rebirth was the main reason, as he was close to unstoppable for the rest of that series, making Robert Parish and the legendary Greg Kite look helpless. On the Celtics side, Larry Bird, the reigning MVP, had an injured elbow that clearly affected his spot on shooting touch, and Cedric Maxwell, one of the Celtics players that gave the Lakers so much trouble in the previous years Finals, had a lesser impact than even Greg Kite! That may have been why he was traded during the summer for eventual 6th man of the year, Bill Walton.
The Dave Cowens led 1972-1973 team that set the franchise record that still stands today with a 68-14 record, comes in at number two on this list. They were the odds on favorite to win the title, and most likely would have if it weren’t for an untimely shoulder injury to John Havelicek in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Red Holtzman-led Knicks. Even with this development, they pushed the series to seven games. They used this unfortunate circumstance as motivation, and proceeded to win the championship the following season.
In the aftermath of the 1986 NBA Finals, their 3rd title of the 80’s, the Celtics had the 2nd pick in the draft, and chose Len Bias. Talk about the rich getting richer, many thought that they had just wrapped up the title for the next season. Unfortunately, Bias passed away, and put Celtic history on a far different course.
The 1986-1987 team comes in at number 1 on this list. They had absolutely no depth on this team, which was their ultimate downfall, as the starters got worn down throughout the season and the playoffs. Bill Walton couldn’t come close to duplicating his previous season, and unsung hero Scott Wedman, was out almost the entire season. Kevin McHale played throughout the playoffs on a broken foot, clearly affecting his lift, and Parish was also dealing with a badly sprained ankle. Incredibly, they still took the 1986-87 Lakers, the best team of the Showtime era, to a tough six games, with the Lakers needing some fortunate bounces and a miracle hook shot from Magic Johnson, to overcome these gritty Celtics. Coincidentally, those two were trying to block Johnson’s shot, and had they been their normal selves, I think they may have gotten there. Had this team received a few more contributions from their bench throughout the year, they almost assuredly would have been champions.