2000-2001: The Two Twenty-something Stars Take Over; O'Brien Takes Over For Pitino
Led by two twenty-year old stars, Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, they both finish the 2000-2001 season averaging over twenty-plus points per game. What a way to start a new century, as Pierce led the Green and White with a 25.3 points per game average (his career-best and 8th-best in the NBA) and Walker supported his teammate following up with an average of 23.4 points per contest (11th-best in the league). Pierce was also the lone Celtics player to start and play in all 82 games; however Walker started and played in every game he appeared (81). He missed his first game since 5/1/99 to attend a funeral, snapping a streak of 129 consecutive games played.
Pierce became the first Celtics player to score 2,000 points (2,071) since Larry Bird (2,275) completed the feat in the 1987-88 season. He also set a team record for free throws attempted in a season (738), eclipsing the mark set by Cedric Maxwell (716) in the 1978-79 campaign. For the month of March, Pierce received league-wide recognition being named the NBA Player of the Month, averaging 30.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.60 steals for the month.
Walker set the team record for three-point field goals made (221) and attempted (603) in a season, as well as leading the entire NBA in both categories. The Celtics co-captain was the only player in the league to finish in the top 20 in points (23.4), rebounds (8.9), assists (5.5) and steals (1.70) per game. He finished first on the team and ranked third in the NBA in minutes per game (41.9).
The dynamic duo of Pierce and Walker combined to average 48.7 points per game, second to only the Los Angeles Lakers tandem of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, who combined to average 57.2 points per outing.
On January 8th, Jim O'Brien was named Interim Head Coach succeeding Rick Pitino (who had resigned). The record stood at 12-22 when O'Brien took the helm. but after he recorded his first NBA victory on January 10th, O'Brien led the Green and White to a .500 record over the last 48 games of the season. With this all-around success, O'Brien was named Head Coach on April 24th, making him just the 14th man to hold the prestigious title in team history.
2001-2002: Celtics post first 40-win season in a decade; Pierce and Walker Dominate
The Celtics, under the direction of Head Coach Jim O'Brien, posted the team's first 40-win season (49-33) since the 1991-92 campaign when Chris Ford lead the Green and White to 51-31 record. With a 22-19 road record, it marked the team's best road campaign since the 1989-90 season, a team that also won 22 games. The year also featured Boston making a strong return to the NBA Playoffs (first time since the 1994-95 season) and posting a 9-7 slate, before bowing to the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals. A key trade with the Phoenix Suns on February 20th, in which Boston received Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk in exchange for Randy Brown, Joe Johnson, Milt Palacio and a conditional 2002 first round draft pick, helped propel the Celtics season down the stretch drive.
As has been the case in the previous few seasons, the co-captains Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker led Boston. Pierce, the only player to start and appear in all 82 games, became the first Celtic in team history to finish as the league leader in total points scored (2,144). He also became the first Celtics player since Larry Bird to score 2,000 points in consecutive seasons (Bird tallied 2,000 points four straight years from 1985-88).
Walker, who started and appeared in 81 games (missed one game due to injury), finished the season as one of only four players in the NBA to average 20+ points (22.1), 7+ rebounds (8.0) and 5+ assists (5.0). For the second consecutive year, he led the league in three-pointers made (222) and attempted (645). Walker and Pierce were deservingly named the NBA's Eastern Conference Co-Players of the Month for January. Both players also represented Boston on the NBA's Eastern Conference All-Star Team.
This team also boasted two important traits. The Celtics ranked fifth in the league in fewest turnovers per game, less than 14 times per game. In fact, the Celtics finished with the fewest turnovers (1,114) of any Celtics team since 1973-74. The other fact was this team finished the year first in the NBA in steals per game (9.67).
2002-2003: New Ownership, Pierce and Walker Lead Team to Playoffs
As the calendar made the turn from 2002 to 2003, the Boston Celtics franchise received new ownership. Boston Basketball Partners L.L.C., led by H. Irving Grousbeck, Wycliffe Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca, Robert Epstein, David Epstein, and John Svenson completed the purchase of the team from Paul Gaston on December 31, 2002. Gaston had owned the team since 1992. The new ownership became the first local owners since 1964, when Walter Brown owned the legendary organization until his death.
For the third consecutive season, co-captains Paul Pierce (25.9 points per game) and Antoine Walker (20.1 points per game) average more than 20 points per outing and led the team to their second straight 40+-win season (44-38). It marked the first time the Celtics have won 40 or more games in consecutive seasons in a decade (since 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons). Despite the scoring heroics of both players, playing time added up as Walker logged 3,235 minutes (41.5 per game-4th highest in the NBA) and Pierce played in 3,096 minutes (an average of 39.2 per game). Pierce became just the second Celtics player to record three straight 2,000-point seasons (2,048); Larry Bird recorded four straight from 1984-87. Pierce and Walker combined for 47.6% of the team's points in 2002-03 and both players were named the NBA's Eastern Conference Player of Week on two different occasions during the regular season. The co-captains were both named to the NBA Eastern Conference All-Star Team. Pierce ranked first in the NBA and broke the franchise record in free throws made and attempted, shooting 604-for-753 (80.2%) and he was a member of the United States 2002 World Championship team.
The Celtics ranked 4th in the NBA in steals per game with an average of 8.78 per contest, while they took care of the basketball, ranking 7th in turnovers per game (13.99 per game). The Celtics used the three-point line to their advantage as well, leading the NBA in three point field goals made and attempted, shooting 719-for-2, 155 (.33.4%). The 2002-03 Celtics now hold the NBA record for three's attempted in a season, as they surpassed the Dallas Mavericks 2,039 treys attempted in the 1995-96 season.
The Green and White were one of sixteen teams to make the NBA Playoffs. Boston defeated the Indiana Pacers in the First Round however were stopped, for the second consecutive year, by the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
2003-2004: Danny Ainge returns, trades bring new faces, O'Brien steps down
The Celtics were busy battling the New Jersey Nets in the 2003 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals when, on May 9, the announcement was made that former Celtics great Danny Ainge would return to the Green and White as the Executive Director of Basketball Operations. Ainge, a key member of the Celtics 1984 and 1986 World Championship teams, jumped right into his role on Draft Night when he traded draft rights to acquire guard Marcus Banks and high school standout center Kendrick Perkins.
As the 2003-04 Celtics were grinding through the double sessions in Training Camp preparing for the upcoming 82-game regular season slate, a major move change the makeup of the team on October 20th. The team acquired center Raef LaFrentz, forward Chris Mills, guard Jiri Welsch and a 2004 First Round draft choice from the Dallas Mavericks, in exchange for Tony Delk and co-captain and seven-year Celtics star Antoine Walker. Two months later, on December 15th, the team acquired veterans Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm and Michael Stewart (and a Second Round draft choice) from the Cleveland Cavaliers, in exchange for veterans Tony Battie, Kedrick Brown and Eric Williams.
The win-loss record hovered around the .500 mark for a good part of the first half of the season but on January 27th the team had to make another adjustment. Head Coach Jim O'Brien stepped down and Assistant Coach John Carroll was named the Interim Head Coach. Carroll and the C's would compile a 14-22 record over the final three months of the campaign, which included another trade just before the trading deadline, on February 19th. The Celtics acquired veteran guard Chuck Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, a 2004 First Round draft choice and cash from the Detroit Pistons, in exchange for Mike James and Chris Mills.
Over the final 21 games, Davis slid comfortably into the 6th man role averaging 16.7 points while shooting 52.5% from the field and 45.0% from three-point territory. Co-captain and iron man Paul Pierce became the first Celtic since Larry Bird (1983-87) to post four consecutive seasons of 3,000+ minutes (with 3,099). Pierce also became the fastest Celtic to ever score 10,000 points when he accomplished the feat in his 431st career game, surpassing Bird who scored his 10,000th point in his 436th career game. Center Mark Blount finished the season strong, posting a career-high 19 double-double games and finishing runner-up to Shaquille O'Neal in Field Goal Percentage for the NBA (shooting 56.6%). The Celtics made their third consecutive playoff appearance, bowing out to the Indiana Pacers in the first round.
2004-2005: Rivers takes helm; team posts 45-win season for return to the playoffs
On April 29, 2004, Glenn 'Doc' Rivers was named Head Coach of the team, becoming the 16th head coach in franchise history. In his first season as Head Coach, Rivers and his staff led the club to 45-37 (.549) record. The team also took home first place honors in the NBA's tough Atlantic Division for the first time since the 1991-92 season. It was the team's 25th division title.
During the off-season, the team acquired veteran guard Gary Payton and free agent forward Tom Gugliotta. Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge also had three first-round picks (and four total) in the 2004 NBA Draft. Ainge selected forward Al Jefferson (15th); guard Delonte West (the 24th pick) and Tony Allen (25th). Justin Reed was taken at the 40th pick overall to complete the four new players added to the roster.
Jefferson would play 71 games, Allen would contribute in 77 contests, Reed saw action in 23 games and West was limited to playing in just 39 games after he suffered a fracture of his right thumb on November 1.
The team would start out November with a 5-8 record and would go .500 over the next two months. February (8-4), March (9-5) and April (7-4) would have the Green and White on the plus side of the ledger. At the FleetCenter, the 2004-05 Celtics would post an impressive 27-14 record, which featured a 19-7 slate against Eastern Conference foes. When scoring 100 or more points, these Celtics were 35-10 and when the team shot 50% or better from the floor, they were 17-4. The 2004-05 Celtics also played to 11 sellout crowds (of 18,624) at the FleetCenter.
Shortly before the trading deadline, February 24 and the team posting a 27-28 record at the time, Celtics management acquired Antoine Walker from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Gugliotta, Payton, Michael Stewart and a future first round draft choice. Walker returned for a second stint with the Celtics (he was traded in 2003 to Dallas). He started out wearing #88, as his familiar #8 was currently being worn by Jefferson. However, Jefferson parted with the #8 (for #7) after a few games.
Ainge also got Payton back in green and white after Atlanta placed him on waivers.
The return of Walker over the last 27 games of the regular season created excitement and hope. The team would win seven straight games, from March 9-19, and would go 18-9 down the stretch and claim the Atlantic Division crown after a 103-98 victory in Toronto.
In the playoffs, the Celtics would meet a very familiar first-round opponent - the Indiana Pacers. It would mark the third consecutive year that both teams met in the NBA's Eastern Conference First Round series. The Celtics captured the series in 2003 while the Pacers defeated the Celtics in 2004 in four straight. This would be the rubber match.
Boston won Game 1 convincingly in Boston, 102-82. However, Indiana bounced back to edge the Celtics by three, 82-79, in Game 2. Games 3 and 4 were played in Indianapolis and those were a split decision with each team winning a game. It came down to a three-game series with two games at Boston. But the veteran Pacers nabbed Game 5, 90-85. The upstart Celtics didn't fold and won Game 6 in Indiana, 92-89 in overtime. In Game 7, Indiana used steady shooting and stingy defense (limiting the Celtics to just 37.0% field goal shooting) to take the series, 4-games-to-3. This was the first seven-game series since the 1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals (against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Larry Bird's final games as a Celtic).
2005-2006: Team gets younger and grows together; Pierce has a banner year
Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge continued to garner draft picks that were acquired through previous trades and the proof of those trades surfaced to the satisfaction of the Celtics and their loyal fans in the 2005 NBA Draft.
The Celtics selected guard-forward 19-year old sensation Gerald Green, from Gulf Shores Academy in Houston, Texas with the 18th pick overall. Ainge and Celtics management didn't stop with Green, as former New England and Providence College star Ryan Gomes was snapped up at the 50th pick overall while three selections later another Greene, Orien, was taken by the Celtics. Gomes and Greene, both taken in the second round, played four years of collegiate basketball.
In early August, the Celtics brought in veteran leadership when the team signed free agent forward Brian Scalabrine. Shortly after this transaction, the team traded former team captain Antoine Walker to the Miami Heat, as part of a five-team and 13-player trade. The team leadership role now rested with one man, captain Paul Pierce.
Pierce started out the season being honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as the only current active NBA player to have a replica locker made. From that point, Pierce had arguably the best season of his career. He scored 30 or more points in 13 of 14 games from February 4 - March 8, something no other Celtic has done franchise history. He scored a league-high 33.5 points per game in the month of February, the second time he has led a month in scoring in his career (the other was 30.3 ppg. in March of 2001). The only other Celtic to lead the NBA in scoring in a month in the last 50 years was John Havlicek (28.1 ppg. in October, 1970). Pierce scored over 2,000 points for the season, giving him four 2,000-point seasons in his career - tying him with Larry Bird for the most in franchise history. He was the only player in the NBA to lead his team in points (26.8), rebounds (6.7), assists (4.7) and steals (1.4) per game. The five-time All-Star shot a career-high 47.1% from the field and he was one of just two players in the NBA (along with Allen Iverson) to score 15 or more points in every game this season.
Although Gerald Green impressed and amazed fans and basketball experts at the Las Vegas Summer League in July, the team did not feel he was ready to jump into full-time professional basketball when the season started. Thus, Green spent some time learning the professional game and working on his all-around skills playing the NBA's new Developmental League over the first couple months of the season. When he returned to the C's in February, he was here to stay.
Mid-way through the season, the team made a significant trade, trading Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks, Mark Blount, Justin Reed and two conditional second round picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Wally Szczerbiak, Michael Olowokandi, Dwayne Jones and a future first round draft choice. The deal was finalized by former Celtic teammates Ainge and Timberwolves Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale.
Second-year players forward Al Jefferson played in just 59 games during the year, being hampered by a sprained ankle and Tony Allen appeared in just 51 games, mainly due to rehabilitation following surgery on his right knee, while Delonte West started all 71 games he played in.
Gomes, after playing just a total of 272 minutes (9.4 average) over the first 48 games of the year (he appeared in 29 of the 48 contests), came on like a gangbuster in mid-February and started posting double-double games. Over the final 34 games, he had eight double-double games, including three consecutive games of double-figure points and rebounds from February 22-26, and averaged 32.5 minutes to go with 12.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He was recognized by the league by being named to the 2005-06 NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
2006-2007: Green crowned Slam Dunk Champion, Jefferson and Rondo shine in 2nd half
The Celtics bolstered their point guard position and continued to find young talent through the draft in June. After acquiring two-year veteran Sebastian Telfair from Portland for the 7th overall selection, the team received the draft rights to Rajon Rondo (Kentucky) from Phoenix and acquired forward Leon Powe (California) from Denver.
Before a number of injuries started to mount, the Celtics showed early signs of being a playoff team. Paul Pierce averaged 27.4 and 25.4 points per game in November and December before missing all of January with a stress reaction in his left foot. Pierce would eventually shut it down for the season in mid March. Tony Allen was enjoying the best season of his young career before going down with a knee injury, as he averaged 20.8 and 5.2 rebounds per game in the month of January. With other injuries to Kendrick Perkins and Wally Szczerbiak, the younger, more inexperienced players on the Celtics' roster saw more minutes. One of the bright spots was the play of rookie Rajon Rondo, who averaged 8.0 points and 4.5 assists in the 2nd half of the season. Rondo capped off a great rookie campaign in April averaging 13.0 points and 5.5 assists for the month. Rondo dished out seven assists or more in 16 games, including two 11-assist efforts.
One of the most exciting aspects of the season was the play of Al Jefferson. The third-year power forward out of Prentiss High School showed great improvement over the first couple months and was dominant, and at times unstoppable, in the second half of the season. Jefferson averaged 19.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game after the All-Star break. Among the highlights were his 28 and 10 performance against defensive player of the year Marcus Camby and a span of five games in March in which he averaged 25.8 points and 14.0 boards.
Gerald Green provided a midseason spark with a dazzling display at the Slam Dunk Contest in Las Vegas. Green defeated Knicks guard Nate Robinson, Magic center Dwight Howard, and Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas for the title to become the second player in Celtics history to win the award (Dee Brown). Green's performance was capped off by a tribute to Brown as he flew through the air with one arm over his eyes to complete the dunk.
2007-2008: Celtics return to glory, grab 17th World Championship
In early summer of 2007, the Celtics did not look like a team that was on its way to making the playoffs, let alone one that would raise another banner in the TD Banknorth Garden. Hopes were dashed even further when the draft lottery turned out less than favorable for the C's. However, a crafty trade on draft day by Danny Ainge brought seasoned All-Star Ray Allen and rookie Glen Davis to the hub. Almost a month later, in a seven-for-one trade, Kevin Garnett became the newest member of the Celtics, aligning him with Captain Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to become "The Big Three." Though the trio initially rejected the nickname, citing a lack of accomplishment for such a moniker, it did not take long for the Green to gain respect around the league, clinching the Atlantic Division, with an NBA-best regular season record of 66-16. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins grew exponentially throughout the season. With great support from the bench by James Posey, Leon Powe and Eddie House along with the late-season acquisitions of Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown, the Celtics were an unstoppable force going into the playoffs, securing home court advantage throughout.
The playoffs began in Boston, with the Celtics poised to take on the relentless Atlanta Hawks. The series would come down to the seventh game in Boston, and the C's sent Joe Johnson and his squad home on "the midnight train to Georgia." The Celtics were 4-0 at home, but unable to edge out their opponent for a road win.
The next opponent -- the Cavaliers -- was just as difficult, led by LeBron James and former Celtics Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. They, too, fought to force a Game 7 in Boston. With the overwhelming support of the Celtics' fans and phenomenal play from Captain Paul Pierce, who scored 41 points, the Celtics were able to dethrone King James and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals to face a familiar playoff foe, Detroit Pistons. The Celtics, still without a win on the road, were beaten at home in Game 2, but retaliated with a Game 3 road win in Detroit. After a Game 4 loss to the Pistons on the road, the determined Celtics won a heated battle in Game 5, and were able to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals in Detroit after beating the Pistons in Game 6.
The only thing standing between the Celtics and their 17th NBA Championship were their longtime rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were led by Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, who was seeking his 10th NBA championship title and would put Jackson one ahead of the late great Red Auerbach. The Lakers and Celtics reignited one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports. In Game 1, the Celtics played outstanding calling on the heroics of the Captain once again, as Pierce injured his knee and had to be carried off the court, but returned in the third quarter to hit two back-to-back 3's giving the Celtics the lead for good. In Game 2, rookie Leon Powe exploded for 21 points in his 15 minutes of play, helping the Celtics earn a 2-0 series lead heading into a three-game stretch into Los Angeles. Following a Game 3 loss, the Celtics were able to overcome a 24-point deficit and beat the Lakers in Game 4 in the largest comeback in NBA Finals history. After the Celtics were edged out in Game 5, the series would return to Boston for Game 6. The Celtics had no intention of letting the series go any further and demolished the Lakers in a 131-92 Game 6 victory, the largest margin of victory in a series-clinching win in NBA finals history. Paul Pierce's efforts were rewarded with the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Trophy and the rest of the Celtics were able to celebrate the first Celtics NBA Championship in 22 years.
2008-2009: C's Finish Regular Season 62-20 But Injury Bug Spoils Title Defense
The 17-time World Champion Boston Celtics picked up the 2008-09 season exactly where they left off in the 2008 postseason. After raising Banner 17 to the Garden rafters on Oct. 28, 2008, the Celtics edged the Cleveland Cavaliers, 90-85. On Dec. 3, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo recorded his first career triple-double against the Indiana Pacers. In front of a sold-out crowd of 18,624 at the TD Banknorth Garden, Rondo netted 16 points and tallied 17 assists. With that effort, Rondo surpassed former Celtic David Wesley (14) for the top assist game by a Celtic in TD Banknorth Garden history. Three weeks later, in the midst of a 19-game winning streak, Kendrick Perkins recorded a career-high 25 points against the Bulls (12/19). The Celtics held the best record in the NBA going into their Christmas Day game in Los Angeles, the team's first re-match with the Lakers since the NBA finals. The Celtics started the season with a 27-2 record, the best in the NBA at that time, and posted a 19-game winning streak, the best in team history. Boston's only two losses to that point came early in the season, one on the road against Indiana (11/1, 97-104) and another at home against the Denver Nuggets (11/14, 85-94).
The Christmas Day game wasn't the gift that fans were hoping for, as the Lakers defeated the Celtics, 92-83. The Celtics hit a minor slump, losing eight of their next 10 games. Two days after a tough loss to Cleveland on Jan. 9, the Celtics got back on track with a 94-88 win over the Toronto Raptors. That victory sparked a 12-game win streak, which was inevitably broken, again, by the Lakers (2/5, 110-109). The Celtics dropped just one out of their next four contests before receiving their biggest loss of the season. All-Star forward Kevin Garnett landed awkwardly in the first half of a game against the Utah Jazz (2/19) and sustained an injury to his right knee. After rehabbing for weeks, Garnett returned to play 66 minutes over four games before he and the Celtics brass chose to rest him for the remainder of the season.
Shortly after KG's knee injury, other injuries began to plague the Green and White. Fan-favorite Brian Scalabrine took a hard hit to his head on Feb. 23, leaving him sidelined with a concussion, and Paul Pierce bravely played through a painful dislocated right thumb in a loss to the Clippers Feb. 25. Ray Allen returned on March 20 after missing one game due to a hyper-extended elbow (3/17) and tallied 19 points. On April 1, playing against the Charlotte Bobcats, Allen hit a dramatic shot at the end of the first overtime session that tied the game. He followed that up with a second buzzer-beater in the next OT that sent the C's to victory and began a five-game win streak. That streak surged Boston to a final record of 62-20 in the regular season.
Allen's 95.2 percent free throw shooting for the season surpassed Bill Sharman's 1958-59 record (.932) as the top single-season free throw percentage in Celtics history. Eddie House (.444) also surpassed Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge (.443) in the Celtics' single-season 3-point shooting percentage category.
The Celtics and Chicago Bulls opened the NBA Eastern Conference First Round with a riveting overtime game that would set the stage for one of the best NBA playoff series in history. Fueled by a 105-103 Game 1 (4/18) loss, Allen took over in Game 2 (4/20, 118-115) to make a mesmerizing 3-pointer with two seconds left on the clock to give the C's a win. Earlier in the game, Celtics reserve forward Leon Powe tore both his meniscus and ACL in his left knee, sidelining him for the remainder of the season. Injuries or not, the two teams refused to slow down, forcing double overtime in Game 4 (4/26) and triple overtime in Game 6 (4/30). Allen scored a massive 51 points in Game 6, a playoff career-high. By the time the Celtics knocked out the Bulls in Game 7 (5/2), the teams had played a total of seven overtime periods, the most in Celtics playoff history.
The Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinal round against the Orlando Magic. This series was back-and-forth the entire way, with the Celtics losing Game 1 (95-90), and then winning Game 2 (112-94), both at home. The Magic used home court advantage in Game 3 to defeat the C's, 117-96, but Boston did not let up. Glen Davis, who stepped into the starting role when Garnett was forced to the sidelines, hit a 21-foot jumper with seconds remaining on the clock to seal Boston's 95-94 Game 4 victory at the Amway Arena. Davis averaged 18.1 points per game in the playoffs, 11 points higher than in the regular season. The Celtics also won Game 5 at home, but then dropped a possible series clincher in Orlando in Game 6. Boston hosted the final game of the series but couldn't contain Hedo Turkoglu's treys and Dwight Howard's presence in the paint. Turkoglu was 4-for-5 from 3-point land and finished with 25 points, while Howard grabbed 16 boards, 14 on the defensive end. Unable to contain those players, the Celtics' title defense came to an end with a 101-82 loss.
2009-2010: Boston makes improbable run to Finals but falls one win short of title
The Boston Celtics seemed poised in the summer of 2009 to make a rejuvenated push to raise Banner 18 to the TD Garden rafters and reclaim their position at the top of the basketball world. With Kevin Garnett on his way to being fully recovered from knee surgery, the signing of coveted free agent Rasheed Wallace and the development of the Celtics' younger players, the team's title aspirations appeared within reach. In fact, they started off the season off with a league-best 23-5 record. Despite the promising start, however, the Celtics staggered after Christmas, occasionally having trouble closing out games. While many started to count the team out and wonder if these "old" stars had enough left in the tank, the Celtics kept faith that they would prove themselves in the playoffs that they were still a championship caliber team.
The regular season saw guard Rajon Rondo receive his first All-Star berth and Paul Pierce pass Robert Parish to become the third-leading scorer in Celtics franchise history, while the acquisition of Nate Robinson at the trading deadline in February helped bring the group a renewed energy. While the Celtics took home the Atlantic Division crown for the third year in a row, they finished only fourth in the powerful Eastern Conference. As the season wore down, Doc Rivers made the bold decision to limit the minutes of his stars for the stretch run in preparation for the postseason, a move that would soon pay off despite plenty of initial skepticism.
The Celtics entered the playoffs with a 50-32 record, only guaranteeing them home court advantage in the first round. If they were going to make a true run at the title, it would have to be won on the road. They had already proven an affinity for winning games away from the comforts of the TD Garden during the era of the new Big Three, but now would have to replicate that on the NBA's biggest stage -- the playoffs.
First up for the C's was Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. Wade had established himself as a star that could carry a team on his back to win a playoff series, and the Celtics knew this would be no easy task. While some members of the media didn't favor the 2008 champions to even move past this first round, Boston easily controlled the series by relying on their unselfish style of play to overpower Wade's individual heroics, which included a 46-point outing in Game 4 that prevented a series sweep. The Celtics' 4-1 series win also included some vintage Pierce, as the captain drained a shot at the buzzer of Game 3 to give the Celtics its resounding 3-0 series edge.
Next up for the C's were LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, owners of the best regular season record for the second consecutive seasons. Thanks to lockdown individual and team defense, the Celtics stole home court advantage by winning two at the "Q," including a Game 5 blowout. The 4-2 series win sent James and his teammates home early and the Celtics on to a rematch with the team that eliminated them from the 2009 playoffs.
The defending conference champion Orlando Magic had swept their previous two series, taking care of the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks in quick fashion to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. But Orlando's long layoff between series proved to be unfavorable, as the Celtics went on to capture the first two games in Orlando and the first back in Boston to take a surprising 3-0 series lead. The Magic, however, refused to go down without a fight, taking Game 4 in Boston despite Pierce netting 32 points and forcing overtime. The Captain stepped up again in Game 6 with game highs of 31 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Celtics back to the Finals for the second time in three years.
Standing as a road block in front of the ultimate prize once again was their longtime rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, who were fresh off a championship of their own and looking for revenge from their 2008 Finals loss to the C's. The revamped teams now featured Rasheed Wallace and Ron Artest for the Celtics and Lakers, respectively, but both cores from their last Finals meeting remained intact. The evenly matched series was one of the most hyped and unpredictable Finals in recent memory, as there seemed to be no momentum from one game to the next. Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo stole the show in Game 1, with Allen setting an NBA Finals record with eight 3-pointers, including seven in the first half, and Rondo recording a triple-double. Glen Davis and Nate Robinson formed a formidable pair in Game 4, as they led the reserves to tie up the series at two games apiece. The Celtics took a huge blow when Kendrick Perkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 6. His loss was too much for the Celtics to overcome in the end, as they struggled on the boards in Game 7 and eventually fell to the Lakers in a hard-fought seven games.