BOSTON -- Danny Ainge has seen and played enough basketball at the NBA level to know the difference between being the top seed in the playoffs and being the best team.
As much as he bleeds Green, Ainge understands that his top-seeded Celtics (53-29) are still an underdog to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31) who are the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
“The fear with this (Celtics) team, sometimes they try to win the easy way as if they are the ’86 Celtics or the ’85 Lakers team and they just aren’t,” Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, said during his weekly call-in to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show. “If they don’t play with maximum effort for 40 minutes a night, Chicago will beat us.”
Boston begins its postseason journey on Sunday in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series with the Chicago Bulls, a game that can also be seen on CSN.
Ainge’s assessment of the Celtics is in line with recent comments made by head coach Brad Stevens as well as team co-owner Wyc Grousbeck.
“The Cavaliers have the most talent; everybody knows that,” Ainge said. “Some people think that’s conceding by me saying that. But that’s not the case. If I go out and play golf with Phil Mickelson, I think I have a chance to beat him even though I know I probably won’t.”
While the players remain confident in their chances of making a deep playoff run, they are well aware that advancement through the playoffs will at some point mean facing the Cavaliers.
As both teams went back and forth atop the Eastern Conference standings the final few days of the regular season, it was clear that the Celtics were mindful of the defending champions as still being the team everyone else was chasing regardless of where they finished record-wise.
"They're defending champions so it goes through them until someone eliminates them,” All-Star Isaiah Thomas said recently. “They're a really good team. Sooner or later they'll probably figure it out."