Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 6/6/12

Back when the Celtics were two games below .500 at the All-Star break, it would have been hard to find anyone predicting they'd be in this position -- just one win away from the NBA Finals after a 94-90 victory over the host Heat in Game 5 on Tuesday night in Miami.

The Celts got off to a horrible start this season, but director of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he started to see positive signs along the way.

"Since February I've been watching it and witnessing it," he said. "I was very encouraged as March went on. Paul (Pierce) was playing fantastic and KG (Kevin Garnett) was playing great and Ray (Allen) was having a good year."

Ainge couldn't have been entirely sure the Celtics would have this kind of run -- after all, he tried to trade both Pierce and Allen at the NBA deal deadline in mid-March -- but he tried not to correlate the regular season with the playoffs too closely.

"That happens with every team," Ainge said of rough spots in the season. "Every team has its ups and downs. And because of the age of our players, people would read into that like it was some sort of conclusion, as opposed to with younger players people don't worry that much about it.

"Listen, I was concerned early in the year, and I haven't been late in the year."

Ainge said he put even less stock in this season, which was compressed and shortened after the lockout.

"This wasn't a normal regular season, and I learned from the makeup of our guys back in 2010 what they could do," he said. "They were 27-27 (to end the regular season), and they played the best basketball of their era in the series against Cleveland, who had the best record in the league, and Orlando.

"That was the best basketball I had seen this group of guys play, and it was frustrating to watch that regular season. So I know what they're made of."

The Celtics will next test their mettle in Game 6 on Thursday.

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