Farewell to Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and the Celtics*
One Celtics game I’ll always remember was December 20, 2006, against the Golden State Warriors. The C’s at the time were not good. At 9-14 and riding a five game winning streak (thanks to some very favorable scheduling), they were over-achieving. Golden State got off to a 10-point halftime lead, but the Celtics came back behind Pierce’s 27 points, and, down 1 with just seconds left, the ball was in the captain’s hands with a chance to win. Then something funky happened—Pierce went into his move, but never quite came out of it. Golden State swarmed and tied him up, forcing a jump ball before he could even get a shot up. Pierce looked awkward—like he was tied to the floor—and it felt almost comically indicative of the Celtics’ ineptitude. As it turned out, there was a good reason Pierce failed on that last play: he hurt his left foot, keeping him out til February (he missed several more games after with nagging injuries). The Celtics only won three of their next 42 games (with an 18 game losing streak mixed in), basically tanking the season in hopes of getting one of the top two picks in the draft, which, of course, they did not.
The point of this trip down memory lane? With what could be the end of the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett era finally at hand, it’s worth remembering just how bleak things were. If you walked up to me after that Warriors game—when Pierce couldn’t even get a shot up, and then, literally, added injury to insult—and told me that, for the next six years, I’d get to watch competitive basketball, I would have been thrilled. Over the moon! You wouldn’t even have had to mention anything about a championship. If you could have just promised me the Celtics would spend the next six years as a solid 4-6 seed, I would have signed the dotted line without thinking.
Obviously, you know what happened: Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, a title, and then another game 7 against the Lakers. More than that, though, the Celtics have mattered for six straight years. After all, sports is entertainment, and the C’s have been unparalleled theater. 2008 was the championship. 2009 was the epic, KG-less first round series against the Bulls. 2010 brought the Finals again. 2011, with the post-Perkins trade funk, may have been the only blight. But it was redeemed when, last season, the Celtics improbably came within one quarter of a third trip to the Finals. And even in Friday night’s final game six loss to the Knicks, for a few bonkers moments in the fouth quarter, the Celtics—more rundown and depleted than ever—reminded us why they were the Celtics. And that was the cool thing. Six years ago, it didn’t particularly mean anything to say they were “the Celtics.” If this is it for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, that seems a fitting final accomplishment.