BOSTON — They were second behind only the champion Golden State Warriors in the projected win totals entering the 2018-19 NBA season.
The Celtics’ over-and-under number set by the Las Vegas oddsmakers was 59 victories, not far behind the 62 wins assigned to the Warriors.
Had the Celtics made it to 59 wins, it would have represented the franchise’s highest total since getting 62 in the 2008-09 season.
But after stumbling out to a 10-10 start in October and November, the Celtics were going to have to go 49-13 the rest of the way to reach 59 victories, and they were never really a threat to accomplish that.
Instead, the Celtics ended the regular season with a disappointing 49-33 record, tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the ninth-best record in the league and 11 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the top mark in the NBA at 60-22.
It was a letdown for the Celtics, who began the season with such high hopes after advancing to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last spring and had Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returning from injuries this season.
Beginning Sunday at 1 p.m., though, the Celtics get a chance to put the past six months in the rear-view mirror and start over.
They face the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of a best-of-seven opening-round series at the TD Garden, hoping to live up to the expectations that were there back in October after going through a long grind in the fall, winter and early spring.
“The goal is still the same,” said Hayward. “It’s a new season and what happened, happened. We’re trying to move on. You almost get a fresh start.”
After going 10-10 to get the season going, the Celtics put together a 27-11 record from Nov. 26-Feb. 13, winning 10 of 11 games in one stretch.
But they concluded the season by going 12-12 in the final 24 games and barely beat out the Pacers for home-court advantage in the first round.
“We don’t really care about the ups and downs of the season. It’s over,” said coach Brad Stevens. “Can we be at our very best, as coach (Bill) Belichick says, when your best is needed? Our best is needed now.
“We just have to play against a really good team. There will be ups and downs. We’re going to lose a game. Things are not going to go well within games. It’s how you respond. It’s how you stay in the moment in the playoffs and maintain that competitive spirit that you need to win.”
The Celtics, who will be without starting guard Marcus Smart (torn oblique muscle), have shown signs they can have that competitive spirit.
They have also struggled at key junctures in games, giving up big leads and lacking focus.
“I feel like we took all our punches that we could this season,” said Terry Rozier. “Obviously starting with our game Sunday, we’re ready to take care of business. I think we’re all on the same page.”
They will need to be in order to avoid the lulls throughout the regular season that left the Celtics far short of their projected win total.
There were positive signs down the stretch when the Celtics won six of their last eight games, defeating the Pacers in a pair of key games with home-court advantage on the line.
“Stats go out the window, everything else in terms of what has happened, transpired throughout the regular season goes out the window,” said Irving, back in the playoffs after a one-year absence due to knee surgery. “It’s just like everything is just about true essence of basketball, nothing else about the drama, extracurricular stuff.
“Excited to have the focus on the game and just actually talk about basketball instead of sensationalism. Just excited to get started. (The) competition level (is) at an all-time high. Kind of by any means necessary you’ve got to go out there and get a win. It’s just something to play for, true basketball.”
It is also a fresh start for a Celtics’ team that put together a disappointing regular season after such a positive experience a year earlier while playing shorthanded.
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge was reminded of the 2009-10 season when the Celtics were 23-5 after winning on Christmas, then went 27-27 the rest of the way to finish with 50 wins.
The Celtics proceeded to turn it on in the playoffs, making it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers where they lost in the fourth quarter. They took advantage of a second chance in the postseason and nearly won a title.
“I think the playoffs are always fun that way,” said Ainge. “I keep thinking back to 2010 when we were 27-27 to finish the season and it was not looking good. It was not a real optimistic perspective, and that team had a 13-point lead in Game 7 of the NBA championship and played probably the best basketball in the (Kevin Garnett) era after that very underperforming regular season.
“The playoffs are a different animal. It’s like a fresh start, a reset button and we’re excited about it.”