Celtics' Three Are World Beaters

The Washington Post's Michael Lee reports from Boston, where the Celtics demolished the Lakers 131-92 to win their 17th NBA championship.Audio: Michael Lee/The Washington PostPhotos: AP, Getty, AFP, ReutersEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 19, 2008

BOSTON, June 18 -- Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen weren't interested in living up to the legacy of the Boston Celtics' past Big Threes or the tradition-rich organization; they had more pressing concerns. They had accomplished enough individually but needed each other to get what each was missing most from their decorated résumés.

Pierce needed to change is image from a grouchy, one-dimensional talent to that of a complete player before finding a place among the Celtics' all-time greats. Garnett wanted to know what it felt like to finally sock the bully after feeling as if his lunch money had been pilfered for 12 seasons in Minnesota. Allen quietly sought more after successful but unfulfilling career stops in Milwaukee and Seattle.

"I just think we got them at the right time, honestly," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said after the Celtics won their 17th NBA championship with a 131-92 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. "You get three guys who have accomplished everything in their careers except for that. You know, their money can buy everything except for the trophy."

They were thrown together with a team-constructing exercise that had never been seen before and likely will never be duplicated. Championship teams typically take years to develop, with a key acquisition here and there. No championship team in the modern era was built in one year before the Celtic trio's Gatorade-dumping, tearful, jubilant celebration in the final minutes of the most lopsided NBA Finals-clinching victory ever.

Pierce went to Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge after the Celtics finished last in the Eastern Conference with just 24 wins and demanded some help. Ainge scrapped his plans of developing young players and traded in the chips he had accumulated over the years for two hungry, thirtysomething superstars on the back ends of their careers.

Allen arrived in a draft-day deal with Seattle; Garnett came after several weeks of persuading Timberwolves vice president and former Celtic great Kevin McHale to surrender his franchise player -- and several more hours convincing Garnett that Boston would provide his best shot to win an elusive title.

When Garnett arrived in late July, he changed the expectations for the organization. And from the moment the all-star trio proudly held up their jerseys at Garnett's introductory news conference, it became all about what the three of them could do for Boston. They answered questions about being too old (in age) and too new (together) to win a championship as they went on a wire-to-wire run through the NBA.

The Celtics won 66 regular season games and 16 playoff games, capped by a dominant six-game romp over the Western Conference survivor, the Lakers.

"We said this is the reason we came here, this is the reason we got together, and Danny made it go down," said Garnett, 32. "This is it right now."

The Eastern Conference has ruled even-numbered years in the NBA Finals since 2004, with the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat and Celtics filling in the gaps of the San Antonio Spurs' odd-year dynasty. Pierce didn't even want to address a question about repeating a few minutes after Game 6. "Let me enjoy this. I'm going to enjoy this one," said Pierce, 30. "I'm going to enjoy this for the next four weeks straight before I go to bed. I don't see no sleep in my future."

Celtics greats Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Jo Jo White, Tommy Heinsohn and Cedric Maxwell were in attendance at TD Banknorth Garden to watch the franchise end a 22-year title drought. Russell had promised Garnett that he would give him one of his 11 championship rings if he failed to win it all in Boston. But Garnett spared Russell a trip to the security vault with the greatest big-game performance of his career: 26 points, 14 rebounds and 4 steals. His reward was a hug from Russell, a ring of his own and a Wheaties box cover. "It's like getting rid of the bully," Garnett said of finally winning his last game of the season. "I knocked his [butt] clean out."

Allen also scored 26 points and tied an NBA Finals record with seven three-pointers in the clincher. He also set a record with 22 three-pointers in the series, rising from a rough postseason in which some wondered if he had lost his game. He played after an emotional weekend in which his 17-month-old son, Walker, was hospitalized in Los Angeles and had diabetes diagnosed. While Garnett was enamored with the Larry O'Brien trophy and Pierce clutched his Finals MVP trophy, Allen held Walker on the center-court stage.

"I know he was looking at me wondering what was going on," Allen, 32, said of Walker. "He was very happy to be in my arms. He was very content, and just knowing him, in the years to come he'll realize how big of a moment, and he was able to share this moment with me."

Pierce had 17 points and 10 assists on a rare night this postseason when the Celtics didn't need his scoring to win. Pierce averaged 21.8 points in the six games, showing up league most valuable player Kobe Bryant. His reputation as a scorer was solidified this postseason when he had 41 points in Game 7 of the conference semifinals, but he proved to have much more to his game, especially when he took on the challenge of guarding Bryant in a series-changing, 24-point comeback win in Game 4. "It means everything," Pierce said. "I'm not living under the shadows of the other greats now. I'm able to make my own history with my time here, and like I said, this is something that I wanted to do. If I was going to be one of the best Celtics to ever play, I had to put up a banner."

But stop calling them the Big Three. "Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett," Garnett said. "Y'all got to give us a new nickname."

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