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Friday, December 28, 2012
Top 5 Celtics storylines of 2012

By Chris Forsberg

The past year saw the Boston Celtics overcome improbable health woes to battle to the cusp of the NBA Finals, the end of the Big Three era, and an inconsistent start to a new season filled with renewed optimism. As we wave goodbye to 2012, here's a look back at the top five moments from the calendar year (with some honorable mentions after that):

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS OF 2012
1. Judas Shuttlesworth Signs With Heat: The Celtics entered an uncertain summer of 2012 with hopes of reconstructing their core for another title run. The dominoes were falling into place until Ray Allen ended the Big Three era by taking his talents to South Beach despite Boston offering twice as much money as the rival Heat and a no-trade clause. Kevin Garnett promptly lost his phone number.

2. Pierce's Three Seals Game 5: For Celtics fans, it got no better in 2012 than Paul Pierce's 3-pointer over LeBron James in the final minute of a Game 5 triumph in Miami during the Eastern Conference finals. Boston was clinging to a one-point lead when Pierce, isolated on James, pulled up for a gutsy triple from the left wing that found all net. With the win, the Celtics were on the cusp of a return to the NBA Finals, but ...

3. LeBron's Monster Game 6 Changes Series: With his team on the ropes and a reputation for wilting on the biggest stage, LeBron James came out swinging and essentially knocked out the Celtics. James scorched Boston for 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting in a 98-79 Game 6 triumph that wasn't nearly as close as the score suggests. The lone bright spot: Even in defeat, the TD Garden faithful serenaded Boston with a "Let's Go Celtics" chant, but it wasn't enough as the Heat rallied to prevail in Game 7 back in Miami.

4. The Big Domino: KG Re-signs With C's: The Celtics entered the summer of 2012 with only four players under contract and an uncertain future that hinged on whether Garnett would hang up his high-tops (or, gasp, sign elsewhere). But a day before free agency opened across the league, Garnett inked a three-year, $34 million extension to return to Boston, essentially ensuring the team would not endure a rebuilding process and would take at least one more stab at securing that evasive second title.

5. Heart Woes Headline Injury-plagued Season: Already reeling after Jeff Green missed the entire 2011-12 season after undergoing surgery in January to repair an aortic aneurysm, the Celtics lost Chris Wilcox in March when an enlarged aorta was detected during a routine screening. Boston was absolutely ravaged by injuries during the 2011-12 campaign, but overcame it all to nearly return to the NBA Finals.

Read on for five more moments that nearly made the cut and a peek ahead to what 2013 might hold.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
1. Rondo's Assist Streak Ends: In a streak spanning into the 2012-13 campaign, Rajon Rondo handed out double-digit assists in 37 consecutive games, tying John Stockton for the second longest stretch in league history. Rondo might have caught Magic Johnson and his 46-game streak, but his run ended when he was ejected from a game against the Nets in November.

2. Bradley Enters Starting Lineup: The Celtics took flight in the second half of the 2011-12 season after moving Kevin Garnett to center and shuffling Brandon Bass into the starting lineup. But the team played its most inspired ball when second-year guard Avery Bradley ascended to starting shooting guard, taking ailing Ray Allen's spot thanks in large part to his intense on-ball defense.

3. SLOW STARTS x 2: The start of the Big Three era was decorated with fast starts and disinterested finishes to the regular-season slates. But the 2012 calendar year saw two slow starts. First, Boston stumbled out of the gates in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, then essentially played .500 basketball over the first two months of the 2012-13 season.

4. Perk's Return To Boston: The Celtics honored old friend Kendrick Perkins with an emotional minute-long tribute video when he returned to Boston for the first time as a member of the Thunder in January. Traded to Oklahoma City in exchange for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, and a first-round pick (used to select Fab Melo) in a much-scrutinized deal at the trade deadline in 2011, Boston's tribute to a core member of the 2007-08 title team ended with a simple, 'Thank you, Perk' message.

5. Rondo Emerges As A Leader: Despite being suspended three times during the 2012 calendar year, Rondo stepped to the forefront as a leader of the Celtics, both on and off the court. While Rondo's increasing in-game role was obvious, his behind-the-scenes leadership came into focus this summer when he organized informal offseason workouts in Los Angeles to promote team bonding.

So what can we expect in 2013?

The Celtics entered the 2012-13 campaign with championship aspirations behind a reloaded roster and, despite their roller- coaster play through the first two months, have the talent to make another playoff run. The team is hopeful the return of Bradley, along with more time for the offseason acquisitions to acclimatize, will allow this team to carve out more defined roles and take flight in the new year.

The summer of 2013 will have a few intriguing wrinkles. While the Celtics will have as many as 11 players back, there is the potential for a larger overhaul. The final year of Pierce's deal is only $5 million guaranteed and -- while somewhat unlikely -- the team could explore utilizing its amnesty provision should it elect not to bring the captain back. Garnett and Jason Terry each signed three-year deals this past summer, but age and health will dictate if they play out those contracts. Boston is already committed to roughly $71.5 million next season, which will challenge the team to improve its roster given salary-cap constraints and looming luxury-tax increases.