The Celtics "Last Shot": Is It For Real This Time?

Doc Rivers began this season's first practice by proclaiming something so inherently depressing, that it made me question my previous sensational desire to have the NBA return. "I was very honest with them" Rivers said. "That doesn’t mean we don’t have some of them back next year or not but there’s a chance we will not and this is most likely our last shot."

Sigh. So it's going to be that way this year, I guess. Doc saying that only gives us media types fodder to mass-produce premature eulogies for the Boston Celtics: Big 3 Part II Edition. The Celtics have had their "end of the road" season the previous two years, but this year actually seems to be the final part of the depressing trilogy. As Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce all see their ages increase and endurance go in the opposite direction, people who say that this is "it" are closer and closer to being right.

The first time I remember the Celtics new millennium dynasty deemed "over" was during the 2009-10 finals, as the Celtics were prepared to do battle with the Los Angeles. ESPN's Peter May said that this was the "Last Great Roundup" for the trio. Last year, after the Kendrick Perkins trade that rocked a city, I began to personally have "last chance" feeling. I thought that without Perkins, any chance at a last chance was now ruined. This is something I don't want to be right about.

Most columnists seemed to believe that last year was the end of the glorious run. Dan Shaughnessy started his end-of-year send-off with "It was fun while it lasted", as if he was talking about a summer love or a weekend church carnival. He also literally said "and now it's over", adding his personal nail into the coffin.

Then there are the newbies like Jim Henton from the Herald News, who in his recent impending-apocalypse column noted that Garnett/Allen would be free agents after the season, and if they were to return it would be only at "a fraction" of their original price. I'm not sure if they think they are still worth their eight-digit salaries, but if they do, I highly, highly doubt Danny Ainge would be willing to give it to them. If they aren't, then the Big 3 era will end under economic dispute, rather than the gradual fall from grace that would have probably happened. Maybe the free agent way is better.

A look at the stats of the Big 3 doesn't alarm a fan too much. Their numbers are similar to the numbers they posted in 2010-11:



2009–10 Boston 71 71 34.0 .472 .414 .852 4.4 3.1 1.2 .4 18.3
2010–11 Boston 80 80 34.7 .497 .374 .860 5.4 3.3 1.0 .6 18.9



2009–10 Boston 80 80 35.2 .477 .363 .913 3.2 2.6 .8 .3 16.3
2010–11 Boston 80 80 36.1 .491 .444 .881 3.4 2.7 1.0 .2 16.5



2009–10 Boston 69 69 29.9 .521 .200 .837 7.3 2.7 1.0 .8 14.3
2010–11 Boston 71 71 31.3 .528 .200 .862 8.9 2.4 1.3 .8 14.9

Pierce had the best shooting numbers of his career, and played in 80 games. Allen also played in 80 games, and put up almost identical numbers to 2010-11. Garnett, who at this point is no longer a 20-10 guy, put up respectable numbers and managed to break the 70 game barrier for the first time in two years. On paper, this doesn't seem like a big deal, and especially doesn't make your personal alarm set off.

If you ignore the vital statistics (i.e. age), the almost-apocalyptic hysteria seems ridiculous. The Big 3's numbers almost appears stable. The issue is the playoffs, where it helps when endurance is one of your team's strengths. The problem stems from the miles that the Big 3 have toiled throughout their careers (3,586 total combined games, playoffs included). Look at Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, where the Heat took the lead from the Celtics in a 4:29 16-0 run. The Celtics looked helpless and completely unable to stop the youth of the Heat. It was like watching Star Wars: A New Hope, seeing Ben Kenobi seem all-powerful and godlike (albeit very old), then just vaporized by Darth Vader. Whether Kenobi let himself be killed, that's irrelevant. It was too easy for the Heat to just take advantage of the elderly Celtics.

But does it have to be the end of days? The Celtics appear to be retaining Rajon Rondo, who at this point is probably the most talented Celtic. We have yet to see what a guy like JaJuan Johnson can contribute. With the potential loss of Allen/Garnett, won't the Celtics have a lot more room to spend money? Pierce, the baby of the Big 3, still plays at an almost-elite level, and probably has about 2-3 good years left in him. It may be the death of a dynasty, but who's to say that another one isn't right behind?

A thought like that should be enough to console me, but it doesn't. It sucks that the Big 3 have to end, but it sucks mainly because they had the potential to do so much more. If Garnett doesn't get hurt in 2008-09, they likely repeat. If Perkins doesn't miss Game 7 in 2009-10, there's a good chance Pau Gasol doesn't have the rebounding game of his life. If Perkins isn't traded in 2010-11, there's a good chance Ubuntu isn't subsequently destroyed. After the initial championship, everything that could possibly go wrong did.

I don't like saying that this is the end of the line for the Big 3, but it sure looks like it. After the season, part of me will look back with great memories of the team, but the other half will wonder about what could have been. I will be an old man with a great wife and family, but sold my Apple stock too early. I enjoy my Mazda, but a Lamborghini would have been nice.

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