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Remembering the Big 3 Era

It's been real.
It's been real.

My favorite Big 3 moment of all-time is a really stupid one. It's basically the same one your aunt who only watches the Super Bowl because of the commercials has. Those ESPN "This Is Sportscenter" ads the Big 3 had -- where Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen would make up horrible nicknames or be made fun of -- are what made me know these guys were going to succeed. Actually, that realization was more from the Celtics suddenly becoming super-talented with the addition of KG and Allen, but these commercials served as a reassurance. These commercials make the three seem cohesive immediately, and define their roles. Garnett doesn't overshadow anyone, surprising considering the previous decade in Minnesota. Allen is comfortable doing the same. They both subtly defer to Pierce, because he's been there the longest and had to deal with playing with Ricky Davis and Antoine Walker at the same time. This is learned just from these commercials, and pretty much map out how the Big 3 will interact during their time together. For something as ridiculous and repetitive as the "This Is Sportscenter" ads usually are, the Big 3 series was surprisingly eye-opening to just how the Celtics would function.

The clips from the early Big 3 era are important, specifically the one interview where they are asked who is taking the last shot. ESPN had a montage of clips and interviews regarding the Big 3 a few days ago, and this one stands out. KG and Pierce both say "Ray" and Ray says "the open man". WHAT ARE YOU GUYS, THE BEST?!? What an answer by everyone. KG and Pierce, two guys who enjoy being the center of attention and all that, are cool letting the spotlight hit someone else. Ray Allen, the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history, suddenly becomes Super Teammate. The fact that these roles were defined (note: even though the three guys gave two answers, it was obvious who they wanted with the ball. Ray. Ray would have said himself too if he was cockier. Even if Pierce seemed like he was always the one taking the last-second shot. But whatever. No one had a problem with such a trivial thing as "who's taking the last shot and why aren't people paying attention to ME" is what I'm saying) immediately accounts for the immediate success of the Big 3 era Celtics.

Oops. I should probably explain the eulogy tone of this article so far. Yeah, the Big 3 incarnation as we know it are most likely done. Bummer! There is a small chance the Celtics could get the whole band back together, but given their cap situation and the fact that Danny Ainge would lead the first class of patients in the General Manager Insane Asylum if there were such a thing, it seems sort of unlikely. Also, they are all getting a year older, which is bad. Garnett was maybe the most valuable player on the Celtics this year and still a top defensive presence, but his fickle health history is troublesome. Ray Allen's health is also up for debate, and his value to the Celtics is also in question after Avery Bradley filled in so well, probably better than Ray's level, in Ray's absence. Out of those two, it seems that KG will be sought after more, which is lame in terms of nostalgia for Ray and all that, but makes sense as a basketball move. Emotions have no place in the NBA, you guys! Just ask Glen Davis (crowd gasps, I say "What, too soon?").

Just because Ray Allen is most likely gone, doesn't necessarily mean the Celtics are doomed next season. It will definitely be an uphill battle, as SI's Zach Lowe notes, mainly because the Celtics are an older team, aren't all that great offensively, and probably only made it this far in the playoffs because Derrick Rose got hurt. The playoff success this year was a mirage, unfortunately. Well, it existed, but only in the sense that a lot of factors outside of the Celtics control had to come into play to have them go this far. It was an overachieving end to a team that a lot of people would say underachieved, which I'll get to in a moment. The Celtics will be returning, at worst, half of the Big 4, most importantly Rajon Rondo (RIGHT DANNY AINGE? RIGHT?). They can use some of that freed-up money to get some scorers or big men, and will see the return of guys who were injured last season (Jeff Green, etc.). The Celtics ceiling next year seems to be some kind of 6-8 seed team, which is eh but it's not the worst either. This team isn't going to need to rebuild in the traditional sense, just need to add pieces to their diminishing puzzle. It's like a kid is stealing pieces from the Celtics puzzle, and the Celtics need to buy more pieces before they're all gone.

Let's face it, the Big 3 Celtics never turned into the dynasty that was foretold. Horrifically timed injuries were the cause of this -- 2008-09 Garnett hurts his knee, ruins any chance at a repeat. 2009-10 Kendrick Perkins gets hurt in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, misses Game 7, Celtics lose by four as Pau Gasol gets about 75 rebounds, most of them offensive -- and any potential for rule over the NBA was lost. The Big 3 era can be inherently depressing because of this. There is a chance they could have messed around with a three-peat, even if that is obvious Boston homerism being oozed out of my poorly taken cared of fingers. But look at how well they played defense! They played it really well, and that's an understatement. This was some history-making, generation-defining defense right here, led by the Celtics somehow crazier version of Randle McMurphy, Kevin Garnett. This is where the Big 3's success stemmed from, at least in a basketball sense (the other reason: teamwork! My favorite stat of all!). Without the defensive prowess that regularly had the Celtics ranked in the top 5, and the fact that the offense continued to slip against the sturdy defensive backdrop that never faltered, it's hard to see the Big 3 having the success they had.

Comparisons to Miami's Big 3 are inevitable. Both have three top-notch players (YOU'RE WELCOME, CHRIS BOSH) that transformed their respective franchises into two of the best in the NBA. But the difference between the two will forever be those ESPN commercials. The Heat were formed the way a child (NOT CALLING PAT RILEY A SLOBBERING CHILD OR AM I???) tries to build a puzzle (TWO PUZZLE ANALOGIES!!): by jamming gorgeous, yet incorrect pieces together, eventually fuzing them together through the power of will -- but it never really technically fits. The Celtics are the opposite, even though Danny Ainge can sometimes take on the general managing skills of a slobbering child. Everything meshed together immediately, and it just seemed natural for Garnett and Pierce and Allen to play together. It just seemed right, because they were so willing to make it work. I'm going to miss this, like so much. Watching them defy age this season was amazing to watch, watching them play defense like so few teams before had was incredible, and watching the three put up with Rajon Rondo was a triumph of the human spirit (that's not a jab at Rondo. I mean it in the way that the Big 3 had to watch their roles lessen as Rondo developed as a dominate basketball player. And because Rondo could be really immature). If they all come back next year, which as mentioned, is extremely unlikely, it won't be the same. Even if Ray is the only one to not come back, a new era in the Celtics history will be unfolding, one without the Big 3 (go back and count how many times I use the term "Big 3". It has to be more than 20). And that sucks.

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