Be sure to check out Part 1 here:
Coming off a heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the NBA Finals is tough. It doesn’t get any easier when your head coach is considering stepping down, and at the same time, your starting center is expected to be out until February of the following season.
Reminiscing over the Boston Celtics ‘Big Three’ Era (Part 2)
With that, Boston was expected to lose their “powerhouse” name, especially with the emergence of the new ‘Big Three’ in Miami. GM Danny Ainge desperately signed Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal, two centers who were unquestionably past their primes, and approaching the end of their careers. The Celtics also welcomed back Delonte West to back up Rondo.
Although Paul Pierce and Ray Allen each broke records in the season of 2010-2011, the biggest story of the Celtics’ season was trading Perkins to the Thunder in Febuary of 2010, assuming that “Shaq” would would return from his injuries to fill Perkins’ role. Jeff Green, Nenad Kirstic and a 2012 first-round pick were sent to the Celtics, in hope that Green would become the future of the franchise. Green, who was a top-five pick in 2007, who was replaced in the starting lineup in Oklahoma City by James Harden, only averaged 9.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and .7 assists in his first season with the Celtics. Green saw a big drop in minutes per game as well, dropping from 37.0 minutes to 23.4 minutes.
The Celtics were 41–14 at the time of the trade and held the Eastern Conference leaderboard despite another rash of injuries. Following the trade however, they proceeded to win only 15 of their final 27 games to finish with a 56–26 record, dropping down to the third seed due to the difficult adjustment of new acquisitions. Shaquille O’Neal ended up only playing five minutes after February 1.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Celtics were able to sweep an upbeat New York Knicks team, led by superstar Carmelo Anthony, however they were overwhelmed by the Miami Heat in the 2nd round, especially after Rondo dislocated his elbow in Game 3, resulting in Delonte West playing more minutes, and Rondo’s decreasing at a rapid pace. The “Shaq” era would end as well in Boston, as the 15-time All-Star and 4-time NBA champion would end up hanging it up for good.
The window for a second championship was now officially closing for the Celtics ‘Big Three’. They missed out on several future pieces in the 2011 Draft, trading Marshon Brooks for power forward Jajuan Johnson, who is currently playing in the Turkish Basketball League. During the short preseason following the 2011 NBA lockout, the Celtics signed free agents Marquis Daniels, Chris Wilcox, Keyon Dolling and Greg Stiemsma, while acquiring Brandon Bass from the Magic for Glen Davis and Von Wafer. They also re-signed Jeff Green, only to have it voided after a physical revealed that Green was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, forcing him to miss the season.
With the Celtics out to a 0-3 start and Pierce nursing a heel injury, the Celtics signed French swingman Mickael Pietrus to fill the vacant hole, and add some wing-defender depth. As a team however, Boston continued to struggle, at one point posting a five-game losing streak that was the longest in the ‘Big Three’ era. At the All Star break, the Celtics were below .500 with a 15–17 record. But all of a sudden, the tide turned, and they were one of the hottest teams after the break, going 24–10 the rest of the year and winning their 5th division title in a row. The Celtics would end up making the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference in the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
Despite Atlanta having home court in the first round and winning Game 1 of the series, Boston was able to Celtics take the next three games, pushing the Hawks to the brink of elimination. The Celtics closed out the series in Game 6, capped off by Kevin Garnett’s 28 point performance. The same night, the Sixers clinched their first round series, fresh off an upset over the injury-laden Bulls. After a comeback effort in the 4th quarter down 1o points, Boston was able to snatch Game 1 by a point. Up 2-1 in the series, and leading by as much as 18 in the third quarter of Game 4, the Sixers would eventually come back to take the game from the Celtics and tie the series going back to Boston. In Game 5, however, the Celtics once again seized control of the series, with an unlikely hero as well. Brandon Bass score 27 points, including 18 in the third quarter as the Celtics blew out the Sixers, 101–85, to push them a win away from advancing. Although the Sixers defeated the Celtics 82–75 to force a Game 7, Rajon Rondo stole the show in the final game of the tight series, earning his second triple-double of the series, including a huge fourth quarter that helped the Celtics advance to the Conference Finals to face the Miami Heat.
This series marked the third straight year that the Heat and Celtics faced each other in the playoffs. Both teams faced each other in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2010 (won by the Celtics, 4–1) and in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2011 (won by the Heat, 4–1). Already down 2-0 in the conference finals despite Rondo’s astonishing 44 point effort in Game 2, Boston was in must-win territory. It didn’t help that there was controversy in that game, regarding the officiating as the Heat shot 18 more free throws, the Celtics committed 33 fouls to the Heat’s 18, as well as a play in overtime in a tie game where Rondo was hit in the head by Dwyane Wade and no foul was called. Nonetheless, the Celtics weren’t about to fold just like that, prevailing in both Games 3/4 played in the TD Garden in Boston, and taking a stranglehold of the series, led by Garnett’s 26 points and a clutch Pierce three-pointer in the final minute for a 94-90 victory in Game 5 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami.
All of a sudden, the Boston Celtics were one win away from reaching the NBA Finals for the 3rd time in five years.
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