Reminiscing over the Boston Celtics ‘Big Three’ Era (Part 1)

It all started in the summer of 2007. On draft night, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge traded the No. 5 pick Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to Seattle for perennial all-star and University of Connecticut alumnus Ray Allen and Seattle’s second-round pick which the team used to select Louisiana State University’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis. The Celtics then shipped Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, and Sebastian Telfair to the Minnesota Timberwolves, where Ainge’s former teammate Kevin McHale was the general manager, and swapped 2009 first-round draft picks, for Most Valuable Player, Kevin Garnett.

Coming off a lousy 24-58 record in the 2006-2007 season, star player Paul Pierce needed help around him. Since being drafted by Boston with the 10th overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft, Pierce was carrying the Celtics offense, and couldn’t help but express great excitement at the Celtics’ acquisitions of fellow All-Stars, paving way for a chance to contend for a championship. He slimmed down to his college weight of 235 pounds and vowed to pay more attention to defense.

Despite decreases in each of their individual statistics, Pierce, Garnett, and Allen understood that it was all about the team, and only the team’s success going forward. The Celtics completed the largest single-season turnaround in NBA history. The new “Big Three” went 66–16 in the regular season, an unprecedented 42-game improvement. Despite struggling in the playoffs, Boston found their way in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987, against Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers.

Both the Lakers and Celtics were the number one seeds in each respective conference that season. In Game 1, Pierce was injured in the third quarter and was carried off the court in serious pain. However, he came back to the court only a few minutes later to spark the Celtics with 15 points in the third quarter en route to a 98–88 victory. 

With Boston up 2-1 in the series, the Lakers jumped out to a 35–14 lead after the first quarter in Game 4, which was the largest first-quarter lead in NBA Finals history. The Lakers held their ground for most of the third quarter, leading by as many as 24 points. However, the Celtics went on a 21–3 run to end the third quarter, closing the deficit to only two points. With 4:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Celtics took their first lead in the game when Celtics’ reserve Eddie House made an 18-foot jumper. With House’s shot, the Celtics were in the lead for good. The Celtics’ victory in Game 4 was the largest comeback in the NBA Finals since 1971.

Despite Pierce’s 38 points in a possible Game 5, the Lakers extended the series to a Game 6, and after a rocky first quarter, the Celtics dominated the rest of that game. Maintaining a lead of more than 25 points, the Celtics’ Big Three performed phenomenally, while the whole team smothered the Lakers’ offense with their tight defense. Boston dominated in numerous statistical categories, including rebounds (48–29, with a 14–2 disparity in offensive boards), turnovers (7–19), steals (18–4), assists (33–16) and blocks (4–0). Five Celtics finished in double figures. Allen hit seven three-pointers to tie what was then the Finals record, Rajon Rondo had an all-around spectacular performance (21 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 steals), and the Celtics only turned the ball over seven times.  The Celtics set a Finals record with 18 steals, and every Boston player who saw action scored.

The 39-point margin of victory was the largest ever in an NBA championship-clinching game, breaking the old record of 33, also set by the Celtics over the Lakers in Game Five of the 1965 NBA Finals, 129–96. This was the Celtics’ 17th championship, their first since 1986, extending their record for most NBA championships won by a single team. Garnett was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and shortly after winning the championship, Pierce was quoted saying, “I don’t think Kobe is the best player. I’m the best player.”

The next season it would not be unrealistic to predict a bit of a Finals hangover from the defending champs, however, that simply was not the case. The 2008–09 Celtics started off the season at 27–2, the best starting record in NBA history. They also had a pair of 10+ game winning streaks, including a franchise record 19-game streak. Unfortunately, after the All Star Break, Kevin Garnett was injured in a loss against the Utah Jazz, missing the last 25 games of the season. Garnett was eventually shelved for the playoffs. Boston barely made it past the Chicago Bulls in a thrilling first round matchup, narrowly getting by in seven games. The following round, the Celtics were upset by the Magic in Game 7 at home, after dropping a 3-2 series lead.

In the next season, Boston started out hot once again with the league best 23–5 record. Doc Rivers however, decided to try a new tactic, lessening his stars minutes to keep them fresh come playoff time. As a result, the Celtics sputtered to an even 27–27 record the rest of the way and finished the 2009–10 regular season with a 50–32 record. In spite of that, Doc’s decision payed off, as Boston once again found themselves in the Finals.  The Celtics upset the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2nd round, and got the best of the Eastern Conference Magic in the Conference Finals. The Celtics had a 3-2 lead heading to Games 6 and 7 in Los Angeles, but Boston starting center Kendrick Perkins suffered a serious knee injury in the first quarter of Game 6, rendering the Celtics more vulnerable on defense and rebounding. The Lakers didn’t look back, blowing out Boston 89-67. It was later revealed that Perkins tore both his PCL and MCL, and he was ruled out for Game 7.  Despite holding a 13 point lead early in the 3rd quarter of the final game in the series, the Celtics soon lost the lead.  Midway through the fourth quarter,  forward Metta World Peace made a critical three-point field goal late in the fourth quarter to give the Lakers a six-point lead. The Celtics had lost a heartbreaker, and it didn’t get any better, as there was speculation that head coach Doc Rivers would resign to spend more time with his family.

Boston’s beloved dynasty as we knew it, might never be the same.

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