It was probably the last of the Big Three as we knew them. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren't locks to return with the Celtics, and even if they don't get traded in the offseason, it's unlikely they'll be able to regain the contender status Beantown fans grew to love.
The trio of Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen, which morphed into the Big Three of Pierce, Garnett and Rajon Rondo, brought basketball pride back to Boston and made several memorable playoff runs. They represented hard work, unselfishness and an unmatched resilience in their pursuit of success.
Let's take a look at the timeline of what made this group so great.
The Launch of the Big Three
In May 2007, the Celtics disappointingly landed in the fifth slot of the NBA lottery, so in June they traded the pick plus Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak in exchange for Allen and the 35th pick.
The addition of Allen was deemed to be a huge boost to Boston's offense, but Danny Ainge and company were just getting started.
A little more than a month later, the Celtics traded five players, two draft picks and cash for 31-year-old Garnett. Paul Pierce now had star-caliber running mates, and a potential super-team was formed.
They didn't take long to make their mark:
Their inaugural season together turned out to be a sweet one.
Fans and media doubted whether this collection of stars could jell soon enough to make a championship run. Their cohesion was even better than expected, and a 66-16 record was fueled by the Big Ticket's Defensive Player of the Year efforts and the contributions of youngsters Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins
Grueling playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers (including a scintillating Game 7 duel between LeBron James and Pierce) and Detroit Pistons led to an NBA Finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kobe Bryant's greatest efforts were unable to overcome the power of the Big Three. Allen's seven triples clinched the title in a 131-92 Game 6 landslide.
It prompted one of the most famous postgame celebrations in hoops history, with Garnett's jubilant cry of "anything is possible!"
Encore Title Attempts and Emergence of Big Four
The 2008-09 regular season was superb for the Big Three, but Garnett's late-season sprained knee proved to be fatal.
Celtics fans didn't have to wait long for their beloved ballers to return to championship form, as the emergence of Rajon Rondo as an elite point guard in 2009-10 lifted the unit back into title contention.
Rondo dished nearly 10 assists per game throughout the year and then joined the Big Three in the 15-point-per-game club in the 2010 playoffs. The Celtics leaders also continued their tradition of ending LeBron James' season.
The quartet of superstars established Boston as the top club in the East, and a second championship for this nucleus was in sight.
However, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol had other plans, and Kendrick Perkins' MCL and PCL tears in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals hindered Boston's quest for an 18th banner.
Although Ray Allen's re-signing in the 2010 offseason ensured the core of the team would stay intact, the 2010-11 season ended in anticlimactic fashion. A first-round sweep of the New York Knicks was followed by a rapid second-round exit at the hands of the newly formed Big Three of the Miami Heat.
Last Deep Run with Ray Allen
The following season would prove to be the last one of the original Big Three era. Doc Rivers steered the Celtics through the lockout-shortened campaign, and the Celtics were deemed as the biggest threat to upend the favored Heat in the 2012 playoffs.
Garnett's 19 points and 10 rebounds per game powered Boston through the postseason, and the squad pushed Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
A Game 7 loss to King James and company turned out to be Allen's final game as a member of the Celtics.
A rift between Rondo and Allen (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports!) may have helped spur Allen's departure, as the unrestricted free agent signed with the Heat for nearly half of what the Celtics' front office offered him.
Adrian Wojnarowski @WojVerticalNBA
Doc Rivers had tried to mend Rondo-Allen issues after season, but one team source says, "They were too far gone."7/7/2012, 2:06:02 AM
So Boston moved on in the absence of Allen, picking up Jason Terry and Courtney Lee to help fill the void. The new Big Three was unquestionably Rondo, Garnett and Pierce, and they soldiered on with renewed hopes of hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
As the season kicked off, no symbol of the old Big Three's dissolving was more telling than Garnett's over-hyped snub of Allen in the 2012-13 season opener, which was their first meeting after Allen's exit.
The campaign unfolded sluggishly for Boston's new trio; they woefully underachieved as they bobbed above and below the .500 mark.
In late January, the Celtics confirmed some dreadful news about their superstar point guard:
Boston Celtics @celtics
Rajon Rondo has a torn ACL. Surgery date TBD.1/27/2013, 7:38:15 PM
Garnett and Pierce forged ahead and immediately led the club to a seven-game winning streak. Nevertheless, rumors swirled of breaking up the nucleus, and Pierce was reportedly nearly traded to the Mavericks (per Sports Illustrated).
Boston gutted out enough wins to earn a trip to the postseason, but the absence of Rondo ultimately doomed the squad. Its offensive ineptitude couldn't overcome the Knicks in the opening round.
A Cherished Legacy
Moving forward, the futures of all three Celtics icons remain in doubt, and there isn't any guarantee that they'll play together ever again.
The old Big Three and the new Big Three inspired a city and delivered a championship celebration to the parquet floor for the first time since 1986.
They showed other franchises that building a successful super-team is possible. All it takes is 100 percent effort, a willingness to share the ball and an unwavering commitment to defense and each other.
Celtics fans shouldn't lament the disbanding of this terrific group. They should rather cherish the memories and be thankful for such an entertaining run.
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