February 9, 2012
Celtic's Big 3 headed for a break-up?
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
Had Kendrick Perkins not blown out his knee, no one in the basketball world would be discussing the legacy of Bostonís Big Three.
But in a world where the bottom line dictates and defines everything, Bostonís modern-day Big Three will not be held in the same esteem as the original version, a team that was led by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have too much pride and are more than capable of playing at a high level to go quietly into the Boston night, but their time in Beantown is running out and the championship window may have finally closed.
While regrettable, itís also inevitable given the vagaries of age and a changing NBA landscape where Miamiís Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh has trumped the senior version in Boston, where the Chicago Bulls led by Derrick Rose are more than capable of matching up with the Celtics.
Despite their advanced years and diminishing athleticism, no team will ever take the Celtics for granted because no team commands as much respect as the prideful Cs.
Itís why Raptors fans should take a moment during Fridayís pre-game introduction to applaud Pierce, Garnett and Allen.
Afterall, when the Celtics roll back into town in April, there could very well be a new look as Boston looks for a new beginning, depending, of course, on what gets played out in the ensuing weeks leading up to the March 15 trade deadline.
If Danny Ainge has proven anything itís that heís willing to roll the dice by making changes when change is necessary.
It was Ainge, a very serviceable piece when Bird, Parish and McHale were so impactful, who assembled the Big Three during the summer of 2007, bringing both Garnett and Allen to Boston, which would usher in yet another title the following season by beating the franchiseís nemesis, the L.A. Lakers.
When Rasheed Wallace became available a few years later, Ainge took a flyer on the unconventional Wallace, whose ability to spread the floor with his perimeter jumper and his post-up game gave Boston options few teams could match.
Then came a bold move to acquire Shaquille OíNeal, but so much of Bostonís recent fate can be traced to Game 6 of the NBA final two years ago against the Lakers, a series the Celtics led 3-2 heading back to Los Angeles.
When Perkins hurt his knee in Game 6, the outcome for Game 7 wasnít assured, but the Lakers clearly had the upper hand.
In many ways, the Celtics and Lakers, who visit Toronto for the first and only time this season on Sunday, are very much in the same boat, two franchises at a cross roads, not as good as some of the teams in their respective conferences, but not quite ready to be dismissed.
Heading into Thursday nightís game against the Lakers, Boston had won five in a row and 10 of its last 12 after beginning the year at 4-8.
If healthy, thereís one last run to be mounted, but itís a big if, raising the unavoidable question of whether itís time to dismantle the Big Three, an issue that surfaced during Bostonís recent skid, a topic that is certain to resurface the next time an extended losing streak occurs.
But for now, fans in Toronto should appreciate what Pierce, Garnett and Allen have accomplished, three future hall of famers who set aside ego to win a title.
And as long as Boston keeps winning, talk of change will be muted.
As they got ready to play host to the Lakers, the Celtics were swept up in Pierce surpassing Bird on the teamís all-time scoring list.
As Celtics captain, Pierce has endured his share of trying times, but heís stayed the course.
ďYou know, hereís the part I wish people wrote more about Paul,íí head coach Doc Rivers began. ďPaul had a chance to leave us when we were bad.
ďBut instead of moaning that he wanted to go to a championship team, he stayed. And he said: ĎI simply want to be a Celtic and I trust that weíre going to win a title some day.í
ďHe had no reason to believe that, at that time. I mean, we were pretty awful. And to me, I wish people talked about his loyalty more because I think thatís special, especially in this day and time when everybodyís jumping from team to team.
ďAnd thatís their right, too. I donít begrudge that with anybody, but I do think itís special that Paul Pierce decided that he wanted to be a Celtic for his life. And I think thatís pretty cool. In this day and time, in any sport, I think thatís special.Ē
POINT COUNTER POINT
(A look at the Celticsí all-time leading scorers)
1. John Havlicek 26,395
x 2. Paul Pierce 21,797
3. Larry Bird 21,791
4. Robert Parish 18,245
5. Kevin McHale 17,335
(doesnít include Thursday nightís game vs. Lakers)
BIG 3 AND THE BIG SMOKE
(A look at Bostonís terrific trio and its connections with Toronto)
The Big Ticket was taken in the 1995 NBA draft, which was held at SkyDome; had the Raptors somehow got their hands on the high schooler, then GM Isiah Thomas would have prevented Garnett from playing any away games for fear Torontoís rather disparate roster, which was dotted with punks, would hurt his development; one of Garnettís early mentors was ex-Raptors coach Sam Mitchell.
Allen was taken in the highly decorated 1996 draft class, a year when Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Allen Iverson, all league MVPs, would be taken; the Raptors actually won the lottery, but couldnít pick first overall because of some onerous expansion arrangement; Allen, who was originally drafted by Minnesota but then traded to Milwaukee, would have some memorable battles with Vince Carter.
Truth be told about the man known as Truth, he wouldnít have played in Toronto had Raptors picked him in 1998, a year when the NBA held its draft in Vancouver; Carter would come to T.O. in a move that would put the Raptors on the basketball map following two years of upheaval; Pierce was taken one slot ahead of Dirk Nowitzki, who went ninth overall to Milwaukee, only to see his rights traded to Dallas.
BOSTONíS ALL-TIME GREATEST PLAYERS
1. Larry Bird
Larry the Legend had an aura that simply canít be put into words. Even the impossible seemed possible for Bird, as dynamic an offensive player as the NBA has ever seen, capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor. He had a feel for the game only players of the status of a Magic Johnson would appreciate. When it came to trash talking and backing up bravado with actions, no one was in Birdís class.
2. Paul Pierce
Very much unappreciated during in his early run in Beantown given the teamís struggles, Pierce would evolve into an elite closer, a guy who simply wanted the ball in crunch time and was never afraid of any challenge. The guy can also play defence, capable of keeping his man in front when clear outs are being run. When Boston ended its championship drought, Pierce was named MVP of the NBA final.
3. Bill Russell
All the racial issues that surrounded Russellís time in Boston aside, the game has never seen a champion quite like Russell and itís safe to say it will never see a run that saw Russell win 11 titles in a career that would span 13 years. Long and athletic, Russell would become a dominant defender, despite being relatively short at 6-foot-9. A five-time league MVP, Russell would later coach the Celtics.
4. John Havlicek
Long before Vinnie (Microwave) Johnson, Havlicek helped revolutionize the role of the Sixth Man, coming off the bench and providing an offensive presence that proved difficult to match for opponents. The man known as Hondo would have more floor burns diving for loose balls than career points, the absolute embodiment of team basketball. During his 16-year run as a Celtic, Havlicek won eight championships.
5. Bob Cousy
All anyone needs to know about this Celtics legend is the moniker that would serve Cousy well: Houdini of the Hardwood. So adept at handling the rock, no pass was difficult for Cousy, who kept his dribble alive much like Steve Nash has perfected in todayís era. A league MVP, Cousy became a Celtic when he refused to play for Tri-Cities, which made Cousy the third overall pick in 1950.