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When Danny Ainge made the moves in 2007 to acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, everyone in Boston knew that the Celtics had a great opportunity to win immediately. Ainge made additional key moves when he signed guys like James Posey, Eddie House, and acquired PJ Brown at midseason to round out an already competitive roster. It appeared that right from the start this team clicked. Along with the three veterans they had a young point guard, Rajon Rondo, who was still coming into his own, and a young center, Kendrick Perkins, who proved to be an intimidating force on defense. The starting five was one of, if not, the best in the league, and proved to be a tough match-up for any opponent.
What made this team so good was their style of play and their reliance on the whole team as a unit instead of a one-man show. On any given night any one of the Celtic’s key players could step up and have a big game, or all of them could carry the team at different moments in a game to lead to balanced victories. Their play was completely unselfish, which was amazing considering the Big 3 were formerly three individual players who were the best on their team. They were used to having to put their teammates on their backs to give their teams a shot at victory. Now, they had each other to rely on. Now, they were finally part of a team.
As a kid growing up a fan of Boston sports teams, I have definitely been spoiled with the amount of championships I have seen at the age of 21. The Red Sox and Patriots already had won titles by this point, but I had never had the privilege of watching good Celtic basketball like my dad did. He would always tell me about when “basketball was basketball,” sharing stories of Bird, Parrish, Russell, and Cousy. I was wow’ed by the stories but also jealous that I had only been able to watch the likes of Raef Lafrentz and Vin Baker. Paul Pierce was a superstar playing on a team of nobodies and looked like he would never have the chance to fully reach his potential. I felt like I would never have the chance to fully appreciate how good Pierce was. Year in and year out trade rumors would swirl about shipping Pierce out of town in order to start over with some young prospects. Through it all Pierce stuck with the city and the team and continued to play basketball.
When Ainge made the trade, he did more than give the team a legitimate shot to win basketball games, he finally restored “Celtic Pride” back to Boston. Ainge gave this city a team that was worth cheering for. He gave this city a group of unselfish, smart, veteran players who only wanted one thing: to win a championship.
Watching the 2008 season was pure bliss. This was my chance to see a great Celtic team like those of the past. The best part of the whole season was that nothing was handed to these guys. They battled through two seven game series just to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. They didn’t win a road playoff game until they won in Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. They made everyone in Boston sweat every minute of every playoff game, and I loved it. This was the Celtic team we had all been waiting for since the Larry Bird days. To put the icing on the cake the Celtics had another shot at their rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the NBA Finals. It was the match-up everyone wanted and it was so fitting that the first time the Celtics were in the finals since 1987, it was against the Lakers.
I can’t think of a better game to sum up this group of Celtic players than Game Four of the 2008 Finals. The Celtics were up 2-1 in the series but the Lakers had a led by more than 30 points in the second half of the game. It seemed destined to be tied up 2-2 after Game Four, but the Celtics mounted an incredible comeback and won the game 97-91. The sight of Paul Pierce walking down the hall after the game screaming “One More!,” is a sight no Boston fan should ever forget. Sure enough the Celtics were able to close out the series in game 6 in Boston, with Garnett shouting “Anything is possible,” in his court-side post-game interview.
The 2008 season gave everyone in Boston a basketball team they could be proud of. The storied season also showed everyone in Boston just how great of a Celtic player Pierce is. His best efforts were not enough to bring this team to the promised land on his own, but with the help of Allen and Garnett, Pierce’s greatness shone. Even with both of those all-stars joining his Celtic team, he never became selfish or greedy. Pierce never once said this was “my team.” Pierce welcomed his new star teammates with open arms and together they figured out a way to play phenomenally as a unit. This group of Celtics showed the world that winning is about team effort, and without a full cast of guys all contributing their part, nothing is possible. Thankfully, for this Celtics team, an NBA Championship was possible.