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When the newest incarnation of the “Big Three” came together back in the summer of 2007, they were given a three-year window to revive Celtic pride and bring a few championships back to Boston.
Danny Ainge and Celtics brass were willing to pull the trigger on deals to bring perennial All-Stars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Boston to play alongside the face of the franchise, Paul Pierce, for three years of glory. Three years of success. Three years of the green being back where they’ve always belonged: at the top of the NBA landscape.
Well three years have come and gone and so has a fourth. The talented triumvirate of future Hall-of-Famers has long passed its expiration date and it may be time that green teamers start to embrace that.
It’s been four full seasons since Garnett, Pierce and Allen stood together proudly holding up their jerseys as they gleefully flashed their pearly whites for the media at KG’s introductory press conference. As far as doing what they came to do – Mission accomplished. They hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy in their first season together, dominated the Eastern Conference and came painfully close to a second championship in 2010.
Within that 2007-10 window of opportunity, the Celtics had an impressive 178-68 record and refueled the storied Celtics-Lakers rivalry. Everything was going perfectly. The new Garden was finally buzzing for Boston basketball once again.
Then came year four.
Ultimately, The Miami Heat’s new superstar trio of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh proved that the road to glory no longer traveled down Causeway Street. The Heat took Boston’s three-year window – which actually lasted – and they slammed it shut. Then they boarded it up and sold the property for half its value.
That was that. There was no way that the Boston Celtics could continue to have championship aspirations with the roster being built around these three aging stars. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much of a choice.
With limited options in a lockout-shortened off-season, Ainge had no real options other than going with what he already had: A young, talented point guard, and some old guys who used to be world-class.
So here we are, forced to watch a team that in spite of their best efforts just can’t get it done. C’s fans are used to watching a team that played fierce, intense defense. They’re used to a team that didn’t falter, but flourished in the final moments of a tight ballgame. They’re used to a team that found a way to get a W in games they had no business winning.
Now, the Celtics are lucky just to be close in the last minutes of the fourth quarter. They’ve lost eight of their first 13 games, and the teams they’ve beaten – the Pistons, the Raptors, the Wizards twice, and the Nets without star guard Deron Williams – would be hard-pressed to pull out a victory over a men’s league team from the local YMCA. Those four teams have a combined record of 13-46 – not exactly top-notch.
Watching a full 48 minutes of Celtics basketball now is worse than having your wisdom teeth pulled with a socket wrench and no Novocain.
Alright, maybe that’s a bit over-dramatic but seriously, the Big Three era as we know it is officially over. Accept it.
The most dramatic decline has been Garnett’s. Originally considered the best of the three, KG now plays more to the level of Kathy Lee Gifford than Kevin Garnett.
From the moment he touched down in the Bay State in 2007 as a member of the most decorated franchise in professional basketball, KG instantly changed not only the success-starved fans’ attitude, but also the Celtics as a whole.
A defensive pillar, Garnett forced his teammates to raise their intensity to levels they themselves probably didn’t know they could reach. Exuberance and passion oozed from his fingertips.
Think back to Jan. 25, 2008, when Garnett played against his former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, in his new home at the Garden. After leaving with an abdominal strain, the always vivacious and animated KG came back to get a key steal for the win. He leaped to his feet, screaming as usual, tugging on his jersey to show the world that he was a Celtic.
He was the backbone. He was what made the Big Three and the Celtics what they were. He was the embodiment of the attitude that would eventually lead him and his teammates to a championship.
That was Kevin Garnett.
Fast forward now to Jan. 11 of this year, when the defending-champion Mavericks came to Boston. In a similar situation where Garnet needed to make a defensive play on Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki, just like vintage Garnett he got right up under Nowitzki and snarled in his face. Then, with one step Dirk was gone, leaving Garnett cemented to that same spot on the floor, watching the 2011 Finals MVP get the hoop and the harm to put the game away.
Currently, the C’s statistically aren’t any better defensively with KG on the floor than they are with him on the bench. His rebounding is down. His intensity is down. He looks slow, sluggish and… Old.
It’s not just Garnett though. Monday night against Oklahoma City, both Garnett and Pierce came out and doubled Thunder superstar Kevin Durant near half court. With a hop and a skip, Durant blew past both of them and threw down a loud, one-handed jam. Those defensive shortcomings are glaring proof that the once staggering and swarming Celtics defense can now best be described as, eh alright.
Pierce is by no means in game-shape, having missed all of the abbreviated preseason with a foot injury. Allen remains as the only ray of light among the Big Three. He leads the team in scoring, but let’s be honest: Allen is a physical freak, considering the kind of shape he’s in at his age. He’ll probably still be playing while I’m playing cribbage in a nursing home with my teeth in a glass next to my bed.
Sure, Pierce could improve once he gets his conditioning down, and maybe Ponce de Leon will show up with a bottle of water from the fountain of youth to bring back KG circa 2007. Hell, at this point I’m sure they’d even take the “special stuff” Michael Jordon gave Bug Bunny and the gang in Space Jam.
But that’s a lot to hope and ask for. It’s becoming abundantly clear that the time has come to start looking towards the future in Beantown. And when I say future, I’m not talking about Rajon Rondo. If you haven’t noticed, Rondo hasn’t been any kind of savior. He won’t be the cornerstone of this franchise if you’re hoping for triumph over turmoil.
The Boston faithful got what they wanted. They even got a bonus year free of charge! But the time has come to let go. I know it’s hard. Boyz II Men even wrote a song about how hard it is.
“It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.”
Unfortunately, it’s time to say hello to tomorrow and the next chapter of Celtic history beyond the Big Three.
Follow Brian Moller on Twitter: @Brian_Moller