Posted May 31 2012 9:00AM
MIAMI -- A friendlier crowd will be waiting with open hearts and hopes, anxious to see if this era can provide one final prideful home stand. If Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce can't roll back to 2008 and show a champion's flex this weekend, the Garden will transform into a fitting resting place.
It will be RIP to the Big One-Two-Three.
Their time together has been productive, but not without a bit of heartbreak. They've won a single championship and were robbed of at least one other by injuries, maybe two. Their shelf life was narrow anyway when they became teammates four years ago. KG's best seasons were fossilized for over a decade in Minnesota and Allen, the best 3-point shooter in history, emptied half of his considerable holster in Milwaukee first and then Seattle. Pierce, an all-time top-five Celtic, was the least decorated top-five of all time.
And now? Now, with age taking hold, all of Boston wonders if these three have a performance inside them like Rajon Rondo gave Wednesday in the Eastern Conference finals. Because that's what it'll take to slow down the Heat and a conclusion that's inevitable. The Celtics are not winning four of five and beating the Heat. But can they prevent a sweep before they're finally put to sleep? That's what Boston wants to know.
The Celtics missed an opportunity in Game 2 to bring drama to the series that saw the Heat take a 2-0 lead. Rondo was the best outside shooter on the floor, words that have never been typed before, and the game's best player, period. And yet his 44 points were flushed because a few calls went against the Celtics (the facial slap on Rondo in OT the most egregious) and Ray Allen misfired on a dagger 3-pointer while up five late in the fourth.
A four-point loss in overtime in Miami either means the Celtics still have what it takes to muster another win, or their best chance just flew by. We'll see Friday (Game 3 is at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) and/or Sunday.
"There are things we can absolutely fix," said coach Doc Rivers. "And we'll do that. We have to play better. And we will."
After two games, there are mixed signals from the Big Three. Pierce rebounded from a mild Game 1 with 21 points and gave the Heat trouble until he fouled out in the fourth quarter. The Celtics howled at Pierce's sixth foul, when Dwyane Wade plowed into him, and that was only one of several examples of judgment calls that went against Boston.
Garnett carried the Celtics in Game 1 but was mostly a prop Wednesday. When he wasn't setting picks for Rondo, he was being ignored. Or missing 12 of 18 shots and being outrebounded by Udonis Haslem.
After connecting on only 27 percent from deep, due partly to a chronically sore ankle, Allen arrived at the arena three hours before tipoff and went through his usual pregame shooting routine. It appeared to pay off when he drilled a 3-pointer that forced overtime.
But, just minutes earlier, he missed an open shot that would've put Boston up eight with three minutes left.
"For me, it's a day-to-day situation," Allen said, regarding his health and overall well-being. "It's just what I'm dealing with."
Rondo isn't going to be this hot from 15 feet and beyond again. He might not get half of his output Wednesday in any remaining game this series. That's not to say he won't impact in other ways, but the Celtics are fooling themselves if they believe Rondo can carry them offensively as he did in Game 2.
No, it's about KG, Pierce and Allen mustering a flashback or two to end this era in a dignified manner. It's about taking a prideful stand at home and leaving their floor Sunday hearing cheers that aren't sympathetic.
"We're going to get some guys involved," Rivers promised. "And we're going to move on and go home. We go to a place where we're very comfortable."
Allen and KG and Pierce came together for the sake of winning championships, and here in their 11th hour they find themselves as backup singers for Rondo. He's the Celtics' best player, and has been for the last year. It's an odd situation for the Big Three. Such is the reality.
But as we saw, Rondo can't do it alone. Even at his best, he wasn't good enough Wednesday to beat a team with the league MVP and a top-five player.
"He had it going, so we just kept setting him up," Pierce said. "He carried the load offensively. You just hate to see an effort like that go to waste."
And purely from a basketball standpoint, you'd hate to see a Celtics era go meekly. As Rivers said: "There is no guarantee for next year. Every year you have to play like this is the last time the group you're with will play together. I think we understand that."
The end is coming. Everyone knows. So the choice is up to the prideful Celtics this weekend in Boston. Either they win, or we wince.
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