Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett return to the parquet floor tonight for the first time since the two of them were dealt to the Brooklyn Nets last summer in what is sure to be an emotional night at The Garden. When fielding questions about what this night will mean to them, both Truth and Ticket have been quick to express their appreciation for the die-hard Boston fans who supported them throughout their run with the C’s.
“In the pregame I could always feel Larry Bird,” said Garnett. “I would never look up (at his number), but I would hear it. Larry would always say, ‘You can’t fool the people of Boston. They know when you’re working hard. They know pure basketball.’ And that’s right. When you go all out, they understand, and they root for that. And they remember.”’
A true statement indeed, and no player worked harder than KG during his time in Boston. Pierce and Garnett defined what it means to be a Celtic, giving everything they had every second that they were on the floor. They made sacrifices for the betterment of the team and were not concerned with anything besides winning basketball games. When the Big Three was assembled in 2007, both of them watched their individual numbers decrease, but they didn’t care. They were too busy making their mark as a dominant team in the NBA and returning the Celtics to their glory days. They were true professionals, which are hard to find in the NBA these days. Instead of holding a pep rally with confetti and cheerleaders like the Miami Heat did when they acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010, the Celtics held a simple press conference after the acquisition of Ray Allen and KG. In that press conference, KG did not guarantee championships like LeBron did in his infamous “not 7, not 8” speech. Instead, he said “I wouldn’t go that far and say that we’re the team to beat because we still have things to prove. We still have to work on chemistry and bonding but I will say that we will be a force to be reckoned with.” And that they were. The biggest difference between the two teams is that the Celtics’ Big Three was able to win a championship in their first year together. The Heat, despite all of the hype that they created, fell to the Mavericks in the 2011 finals. That’s what people loved about KG and Pierce. No hype, just hard work and results.
While most people would point to that 2007-08 championship season as the highlight of the Pierce and KG era, what made me truly appreciate them were the years that followed. When Garnett and Allen were acquired, the Celtics were given a three-year window to raise banner 17 due to the old-age of the Big Three. Of course they were able to accomplish that goal in year one. The goal then became banner 18, and watching an aging Pierce and Garnett fight for that second ring when all of the critics thought they were dead in the water was one of the more inspiring sports stories that I have ever witnessed.
In 2008-09, the Celtics were well on their way to another championship when they started the season 27-2. Unfortunately, an injury to Garnett caused them to be a .500 team for the rest of the year and lose in the second round of the playoffs to the Orlando Magic. Now the question became whether or not the 33-year old KG would be able to bounce back from his injury and lead the Celtics on another championship run.
In 2009-10, the Celtics finished with a 50-32 record but were not expected to make a deep run into the playoffs. Under the leadership of Pierce and KG, they upset Lebron’s Cavs, made it back to the finals against the Lakers, and were a Kendrick Perkins injury away from another ring.
As the doubters continued to doubt, the Celtics continued to fight. After a second round playoff loss to the fully loaded Miami Heat in 2011, it seemed as though the Celtics’ run that was supposed to have been over after KG’s injury in 09 was finally coming to a close. That was until they came roaring back the next year and somehow found themselves in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals where they prepared for a rematch against the Heat. Miami was heavily favored, but thanks to the grit and balls of Pierce and Garnett’s Celtics, they found themselves down 3-2 to Boston after five games. Of course the Heat eventually won in 7 games, but no one in Celtics nation was hanging their head after that series. The C’s were a team of aging stars whose championship window was supposed to have closed three years prior and they had no business even being in the ECF that year. And while many C’s fans will tell you that the poor officiating had a lot to do with the outcome of that series, the Celtics, being the true professionals that they were, never made excuses.
Who knows, maybe they would have shocked the world with another playoff run again last season if Ray Allen didn’t decide to jump ship and join the dark side.
One thing is for sure, though. The last six years will be an era that will live forever in Boston. Through their hard work, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were able to give us all something to be excited about year after year, even when they weren’t expected to. I can accept the fact that they weren’t able to bring home more than one championship due to crucial injuries. The reason I can accept that is because no one can ever doubt their effort. Like KG said, Boston fans recognize when you’re not working hard enough. He and Pierce made sure that their work ethic was never a question. As a fan, that’s really all you can ask for.
I’ll be in attendance at the game tonight and am anxious to join the crowd in showing my appreciation for two Celtics legends. I’ll be sure to take some pictures and videos.