By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 15, 2008
LOS ANGELES, June 14 -- The day before the Boston Celtics embarked on a trip across the Atlantic Ocean for training camp in Rome, Coach Doc Rivers wanted Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to start thinking about the Charles River in June. Rivers called his three all-stars and told them to be at his apartment at 8 a.m., which created some serious problems for Garnett, who was new to Boston and had no clue how to get there.
"So that means I had to get up at 6:30," Garnett said. "I don't think the three of us were real happy about that, but we finally got there."
Shortly after they settled in, Garnett was stunned to see an amphibious tank -- "this boat basically, you know, on wheels," he said -- pull up just outside the apartment. Rivers had planned to take Garnett, Allen and Pierce on a surprise ride on one of Boston's famous Duck Tours. Garnett, Allen and Pierce rolled their eyes for what they thought was an unnecessary history lesson about Paul Revere and tea parties.
"Me, myself was looking at him like, 'Are you serious?' This could have waited till the sun came out, you know," Garnett said.
But as the tour guide took the four of them through Boston's historic streets and the Charles River, it slowly began to sink in that this was no ordinary ride. Rivers took his players through the same parade route used by the Red Sox and Patriots, while preaching about the sacrifices it would take for them to follow suit.
"I had been sitting in that apartment watching the freaking Duck Tours where the Red Sox go on them and Patriots have been on them," Rivers said. "I just thought it was important for the Celtics, those three guys, because through them you can sell it to the team."
The message appears to have been sold, from a 66-win regular season through a three-games-to-one lead in the NBA Finals, following a stunning 24-point comeback victory Thursday in Game 4. On Sunday, they can claim the franchise's 17th NBA championship and first since 1986.
"It kind of like set the foundation, like, 'Hey, this has gotta be our motivation.' I'd never been on the Duck Tour, all my years of being in Boston," said Pierce, the longest-tenured current Celtic with 10 years. "I said, 'Next time I get on this Duck Tour, it's going to be when we win the championship.' And I promised that."
Pierce needs one more victory to deliver on that promise, but the Celtics realize that closing out the Lakers won't be an easy task -- especially at Staples Center, where the Lakers had been unbeaten in nine games before the Game 4 loss. The Celtics have gone 1-2 in road closeout games this postseason, losing to the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers before beating the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills in the Eastern Conference finals.
"Coming into this situation against the Lakers, we feel like we can get something done on the road," Pierce said. "I mean, they're a great home team, and they've shown that throughout the course of the playoffs, but we've shown that we've been a great road team throughout the regular season, and I think we're starting to turn it around just at the right time on the road here in the playoffs."
Pierce, an Inglewood native, is perhaps more motivated to end this series sooner than later after he tweaked his sprained right knee and hurt his right ankle in Game 4. The Celtics will be playing their 25th postseason game of the season Sunday, and Pierce spoke about the possibility of having surgery once the season ends.
"I really don't know how bad it is. I won't know until we end this thing, and that's why I hope I don't get hurt, and we end it on Sunday, and then we'll see," he said. "But it hasn't gotten too much worse than it already is, but it hasn't gotten any better, either."
The Celtics are also dealing with injuries to Kendrick Perkins (left shoulder, left ankle) and Rajon Rondo (left ankle), but Rivers spoke about the resilience and hunger of his team, especially his three ringless stars.
"They've played with a lot of passion, but so have the Lakers, or the series wouldn't be as close as it's been," Rivers said. "Obviously Kevin and Ray and Paul are the three guys we talk about the most. And you know, P.J. Brown should be in that group, too, as far as I'm concerned. You know, they've all played a long time for an opportunity, but at the end of the day you gotta go make it and you gotta go finish it. Otherwise, you just had an opportunity."
The Celtics are attempting to break the typical championship model, by winning with a team that was thrust together in one ambitious offseason makeover. Allen and Garnett joined Pierce last summer, and while they've known each other since they were teenagers, the relationship has blossomed through this new renaissance for the Celtics.
"To be associated with those two and to be forever linked with those two is a blessing, and just for myself, man, it just makes me proud to be their teammates and more than that, but to be their personal friend and I'm grateful," Garnett said. "The three of us have a respect for each other that we don't really speak about, but we know that it's there. The three of us have figured it out and made it work."
How well it has worked could be determined if there is another Duck Tour.