We Celtic fans will always have 2008, with its initial flood of exhilaration enabled by the Big Three. While their arrival immediately ended the longest championship-fallow period in the team’s storied history, there was in those days much talk of “The Window”, that period during which Boston’s already aged stars might reasonably deliver championships. To win it all in their first year together felt like gravy, a gift. Little did we know, five years on (with the development of Rajan Rondo into one of the NBA’s premier point guards) that one title would be the sum and total.
The reality is this: The Big Three era is over and but for that one title it will rightly be remembered more for a series of excruciating, valiant near misses . Wednesday night’s OT loss in Miami is merely the latest and perhaps final indignity.
Think of the 76ers from 1979-84. A great and wholly admirable team that played some of the most hotly contested, best-remembered playoff series in NBA history. But the numbers don’t lie. That group accounted for a single title, and that — hard though it is for Boston fans to admit — will be the identical legacy of this thoroughly likeable, often-heroic, somewhat unlucky, but ultimately underachieving Celtics incarnation.
A quick recap:
• 2008: A title, fairly won and glory be to God.
• 2009: Kevin Garnett is hurt late in the season, and the Celtics still take Orlando to 7 in the Conference Finals. Clearly undermanned, they battled and nearly stole the series. Valiant? Yes, but that and $8.50 will get you a cup of coffee.
• 2010: The nearest miss of them all, a Game 7 loss to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Kobe went 6 for 24 and Boston (Kendrick or no Kendrick) couldn’t get it done.
• 2011: Out in the second round to Miami in a deceivingly competitive 5-game series wherein Rondo broke his elbow in Game 3. Even then, the final two games were toss-ups, and Boston blew an 8-point lead in the final two minutes of Game 5.
Picking over the debris of last night’s harrowing defeat in South Florida, which drops the Celtics in a 2-0 hole headed back to Boston, it’s difficult to find fault with the team — as it is difficult to find fault or cast blame associated with any of these playoff exits. Indeed, while the word “heroic” is tossed around all too lightly in American sporting circles, Doc Rivers’ crew once again proved lion-hearted in defeat. Ahead of last night’s Game 2, conventional wisdom held that Boston had to win or the series was over; no one would beat Lebron and DWade four games out five, even with 3 of those games in the Garden. Unfortunately for the Celtics — and they were monumentally unfortunate, watching James go to the line 29 times and accrue just 2 fouls in his nearly 50 minutes on the floor, while the guys who guarded him (Pierce and Pietrus) both fouled out — the 2011-12 season, and the Big Three Era, would appear to be done and dusted.
In the fourth quarter last night with just under three minutes remaining and the Celtics holding a 94-89 lead, I texted my friend Jammin’: “3 baskets or 6 points wins this game, but the Celts will need all 6… Proud to be a Celts fan tonite regardless.”
They got five, not six — good enough for overtime but not the victory they so desperately needed. But I’m no less proud.