It’s the end of an era for the Boston Celtics. After a solid 2012 season ended in disappointment, the future in Boston is uncertain. Aging leaders Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen may have played their final game together. All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo could be shipped elsewhere during the off-season. Whatever happens, it’s likely that the core pieces that have made the Celtics a contender the last few years will not remain intact. Even in the outside chance that the heart of the team stays in place, Boston’s veterans would be a year older, leading to reduced minutes and a higher potential for injuries. What better time than now to look back at the gritty group of players that brought glory back to the Garden.
Based purely on championships, the Boston Celtics are the most successful franchise in the history of the National Basketball Association. The team’s unprecedented seventeen titles have been the product of some of the NBA’s all-time greats who wore the Celtic green. Those names include talents like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Larry Bird, not to mention the legendary coach, Red Auerbach. The Celtics enjoyed decades of dominance from the mid-1950’s through the mid-70’s, followed by a streak of success in the 80’s. Finally though, the franchise famous for winning suddenly stopped winning championships. Boston claimed the NBA crown in 1986, but entering the 2007-08 season, had not won since. For the Boston Red Sox such a drought would have been nothing unusual, but by Celtic standards, this was unheard of.
Rewind to 2003. In hopes of returning Boston to the top of the basketball world, the Celtics turned to a former player, who just so happened to have been on the last C’s team to win a title. Danny Ainge was hired as Boston’s President of Basketball Operations with one goal, to assemble a championship caliber team. At that point, the Celtics already had a star player to build around in Paul Pierce, however, the rest of the puzzle needed to be constructed. It didn’t happen overnight, but Ainge shopped around and eventually put together a squad with the talent to compete for a title.
Welcome to Boston
After establishing himself as one of the league’s premier players during a long career in Minnesota, Kevin Garnett made the move to Boston in 2007. Garnett had averaged a double-double, including over twenty points per game, in each of his last nine seasons with the Wolves. The problem was, those Minnesota teams weren’t normally loaded with talent, so Garnett had never come close to winning an NBA championship. Similarly to Garnett, Ray Allen was without a title when he was traded to the Celtics from Seattle in 2007. Allen had earned a reputation as one of the best jump-shooters in the NBA, and added an instant scoring threat to Boston’s lineup. Also coming over in the Allen trade was rookie Glen Davis, who would turn out to be a key role player in the C’s frontcourt.
A Season to Remember
What a season 2007-08 wound up being for the Boston Celtics. With Coach Doc Rivers at the helm, Pierce and his new teammates, Garnett and Allen, led Boston to an impressive 66-16 regular season, easily the best record in the NBA. The playoff road proved to be a bit rockier. It took the Celts seven games to eliminate the pesky Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Round two brought a serious challenge from LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Again, the series went to a seventh game, where Pierce erupted for 41 points to lead his team to victory in front of the Celtic faithful. Ironically, the Eastern Conference Finals was a breeze in comparison. Boston split the first four games with the Detroit Pistons, but knocked out Detroit with consecutive wins in Games 5 and 6, setting up an NBA Finals matchup with their longtime nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers.
For Boston fans, the 2008 Finals did not disappoint. The Celtics wasted no time jumping out to a two games to none lead in the series over Coach Phil Jackson’s Lakers. Kobe Bryant helped his team back into the series as the Lakers took Game 3 in L.A. Rondo was Boston’s starting point guard, though he was only a second year player in ’08. Still, he embraced the opportunity, and played well surrounded by an experienced group of veterans. The resilience of the Celtics shone through in the fourth game. Boston escaped a twenty-four point deficit and beat the Lakers, capping the largest comeback in NBA Finals history and taking a commanding 3-1 series advantage. A Game 5 win by Los Angeles extended the Finals, but the Celtics trounced the Lakers 131-92 in Game 6, bringing the much awaited seventeenth NBA title to Boston. Pierce was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.
The Next Step
Heartbreaking losses have been the story since the 2008 championship, but that shouldn’t diminish what the Celtics accomplished. As LeBron James and others can attest, NBA titles are not easy to come by. Even a single championship should not be taken for granted. Because of the 2008 banner, Celtic fans are proud once again and have something to talk about other than the good ol’ days of Russell and Bird. Boston has remained competitive since then, losing a Finals rematch against the Lakers in 2010 that went seven games. This year’s seven game Eastern Conference Finals defeat at the hands of James and the Miami Heat probably signaled the end of the run for the core group of this Celtics team. Sure they could have won more titles, and they came extremely close to doing so. However, the legacy of Pierce, Garnett, and Allen will be that they returned the Celtics to relevance in the NBA. They made Boston a champion again. Celtics fans need not worry. The pieces will change, but the Boston Celtics franchise is in it for the long haul.