If coach Doc Rivers had his way, the Boston Celtics’ Hall of Fame trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen would have another go at it. But Rivers likely will not get his way, now that the NBA model for success morphed into a collection of youth and speed.
Boston’s Big 3 had talent and heart, but the years of wear and tear slowed them down. It was never more obvious than in Game 7 Saturday, when the Celtics seemed almost transfixed to the floor in the fourth quarter as Miami’s younger, energetic Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh led an 18-4 run that decided the Eastern Conference championship.
With Allen and Garnet, both 36, as free agents – and the fact that the currently constructed group did not get it done this year – it is likely general manager Danny Ainge will try to get younger and faster. But that does not take away what Pierce, Allen and Garnett accomplished.
How is 327 wins, two conference championships and the 2008 NBA title? It is so good that Miami found it necessary to assemble its own Big 3, although it was achieved in a way that made critics surface. Ainge drafted Pierce out of Kansas and made trades to acquire Garnett and Allen. Bosh and James were recruited to join Wade as free agents.
In any case, losing 101-88 Saturday might have been the Celtics’ trio final game together.
“I wish we could have had healthy runs,” Rivers said. “I don’t know. Because of, really, Kevin’s injuries, I don’t know if we could have gotten any more out of the group. I would have loved to have seen this team if this whole stretch was injury-free. . . They deserved it with their will.”
In a move he hopefully will regret, Garnett left the American Airlines Arena floor before the final buzzer, did not congratulate the Heat players or staff and departed the locker room before media arrived. Allen did the opposite and was even emotional about the team’s future.
“Up to this point we’ve fought hard to keep it together,” said Allen, the NBA’s all-time three-point shooter. “Now, there are so many emotions. This one hit me hard. We wanted it so bad.”
Said Rivers: “I just want to stick with this group for a little longer, whether it’s a couple days, a couple months.”
But Allen faces offseason ankle surgery and Garnett’s body has been wrecked over so many years of playing so hard. The Celtics have point guard Rajon Rondo for the next three years under contract; he has emerged as a premier floor leader in the league. Forward Brandon Bass played strong in the playoffs and has an option to opt out of his contract. Role players such as Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling may be gone, too.
If this is the end for Boston’s Big 3, it leaves behind a legacy of toughness and grit and will. And winning. Lots of winning.