|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2008||[Print without images]|
|The Celtics' big three were formed last summer to bring the title back to Boston. Mission accomplished.|
BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett got the cover of the new Wheaties box, Breakfast of Champions edition, which was getting passed around the bowels of the New Garden long before the final buzzer, all thanks to the most laughable score in the history of championship clinchers.
Ray Allen took a sharp first-half poke in eye, when he was already playing with the weight of a family crisis on his shoulders, yet rebounded by tying one NBA Finals record for hitting triples and breaking another.
Even on a night when the Boston Celtics might have been able to back up Allen's claim that this team actually has a "Big 15" as opposed to just a supersized trio, with waves of Game 6 heroes lifting the fallen giants of basketball back to a perch they hadn't graced for more than two decades, Pierce still found a way to be the face of it all late, late Tuesday.
The night belonged to Garnett, Allen and even James Posey and P.J. Brown.
A night they'll never forget in Green Land might have belonged most to Rajon Rondo.
Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge had a claim, too, when Boston set a new standard for how to finish off the Finals: Celtics 131, Lakers 92.
Yet it was Pierce who deservedly swept all nine ballots in the Finals MVP voting. It was Pierce who fittingly clinched possession of two trophies with 17 points, 10 assists and what is believed to be the NBA's first sideline sneak attack and sports-drink shower of a title-winning coach.
"I was like, hey, what's a championship without a splash of Gatorade," Pierce said after pouring a bucket of -- what else? -- red on the unsuspecting Rivers.
It was a surprising climax to the most drastic single-season 180 this league has ever seen and it wasn't. It was surprising because no one could seem to remember ever seeing a Gatorade dumping on hardwood before, let alone on the bench that used to belong to Red Auerbach, but it only figured that Pierce would supply the signature ending to these Finals, even when others had bigger games.
Garnett was simply huge in the face of claims that he was wearing down or, worse, giving in to the pressure. KG hushed his critics at last and changed his formerly unfulfilling résumé forever by supplying 26 points, 14 boards and a memorable one-handed hanging bank shot in the lane that staked the Celtics to a 55-35 lead, turned this into a rout and ultimately changed his legacy forever.
Allen emerged from the depths of a weekend in which he learned his young son has been diagnosed with diabetes -- and then the unintentional jab from Lamar Odom that blurred his vision -- to drain seven 3-pointers and finish with 26 points, with four of those bombs coming in Boston's 42-point, foot-on-the-throat fourth quarter. Seven 3s ties the single-game Finals record shared by Houston's Kenny Smith and Chicago's Scottie Pippen, while Allen's 22 triples for the series stands alone as a new Finals best, topping the previous high of 17.
The Celtics likewise received another dose of Horry-esque role playing off the bench from Posey, had Kendrick Perkins starting at center in spite of Perkins' bum shoulder and watched gleefully as Rondo finally relocated his confidence and mobility with an astonishing line of 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals.
|Through all the criticsm and controversy, Rivers and Pierce finally won a ring together.|
"Rondo was the star," Lakers coach Phil Jackson told us.
But Jackson was speaking strictly about the humiliating final act of the Lakers' fall from overwhelming pre-Finals favorites to parquet punching bags. As much as this delirious city is owned by the Patriots and Red Sox, after all the rings they've stacked up while the Celtics were dormant, Boston is Pierce's town today.
"He did it all," Rivers said.
The same Pierce whom USA Basketball won't touch after his petulance during Team USA's slide to sixth place at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis was the steadying force that held Boston together through an unending stream of Finals setbacks, ranging from myriad injuries (Rondo, Perkins and Sam Cassell in addition to Pierce himself) to a Monday travel debacle that required nearly 12 hours to get home from L.A.
Garnett was the Celtics' undisputed MVP during their astounding worst-to-first turnaround in the regular season, with KG's intensity and ferocity as Boston's lead defensive anchor and loudest talker taking Boston from last season's 24 wins to this season's 66. No less an authority than Pierce made that clear in April, when he described Garnett as the guy who "changed the whole culture around here."
"The mentality, from a day-to-day aspect, everything is changed from a year ago," Pierce said then.
Yet Pierce was undeniably Boston's emotional compass in this series. He set the tone in Game 1 when he refused to succumb to the first knee injury of his career. He helped spark a series-turning comeback from 24 points down in Game 4 in Los Angeles by asking Rivers to let him front Boston's team swarming of a humbled Kobe Bryant. And he amassed eight points and six assists in the Celtics' 34-15 swamping in the second quarter that killed L.A.'s spirit and assured that the hosts wouldn't have to face an everything-to-lose Game 7.
Some turnaround from the Celtic who was on the verge of asking to be traded this time last year and whom the Celtics nearly traded away on their own on draft day in 2005 in a near-deal for Chris Paul.
"It feels so great," Pierce said. "Just to work so hard for 10 long years being with the Boston Celtics, just going through all my ups and down [with] Danny, Doc, ownership, guys sticking with me through tough times. This is what makes those other moments so sweet, knowing that you were at rock bottom a year ago today. To climb all the way to the top, this is a dream come true and I'm going to cherish this forever.
"It means everything. I'm not living under the shadows of the other [Celtic] greats now. I'm able to make my own history with my time here. If I was going to be one of the best Celtics ever to play, I had to put up a banner. And we did that."
They did enough, in their very first season together, to make you ask the question: Now is it OK to refer to Pierce, Garnett and Allen, as we did with Bird, McHale and Parish, as Boston's Big Three?
"No," Garnett said when he finally made it to the interview room, after kissing the floor, shrieking into every courtside mike he could find, bursting into joyous tears on national TV and hugging Bill Russell, long after every Wheaties box in the building had been snapped up.
"Y'all got to give us a new nickname," Garnett demanded. "I know you're all more creative than 'The Big Three.' So let us hear it."
It's an assignment we might not be able to duck, either, since these Celtics aren't going away. You should be able to call them contenders for at least two more years, irrespective of nicknames for the big guns, given the current state of the East and assuming Ainge can keep the supporting cast fresh.
Said Rivers, offering no helpful suggestions but clearly grateful just to have all three cornerstones: "I just think we got them at the right time, honestly. You get three guys who have accomplished everything in their careers except their money can buy everything except for the trophy."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.