The Boston Celtics: what’s left?

Has the reign of the Big Three in Boston come to a close?

I remember feeling completely shocked having heard the news that the Boston Celtics had acquired Ray Allen from Seattle and Kevin Garnett from the Timberwolves prior to the 2007-2008 season. What a stacked roster, I thought. Pairing two of the league’s elite with Boston staple Paul Pierce would certainly mean great things for the Beantown Green. And that was definitely the case.

The Celtics glided by the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals that season in a matchup that evoked the nostalgia of the Bird-Magic 1980s showdown over 20 years prior. So Allen, Garnett, and Pierce got their championship ring, but it wasn’t destined to happen again the next season.

Boston showed grit and toughness in putting away the underdog Chicago Bulls in seven games — basically all of which went to at least one overtime. Young point guard Rajon Rondo stepped up, nearly averaging a triple double in the postseason in 2009. Nevertheless, Kevin Garnett’s absence owing to his knee injury was too much to overcome. Glen Davis filled in adequately, but it was not enough to stop Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and the Orlando Magic in the conference semifinals.

Despite the crushing loss, fans were hopeful of a successful 2009-2010 campaign that would fulfill the promise of a healthy Garnett, a rapidly improving Rondo, and the addition of Rasheed Wallace to bolster the star-studded roster. But it has been a season of highs and lows.

With six games to play, the Celtics still lead the Atlantic Division by a whopping nine-and-a-half games over second-place Toronto. And with six-and-half games separating them and the fifth-place Miami Heat in the conference standings, they’re guaranteed to have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. A win over the Cavaliers Sunday showed what they are still capable of.

The game’s result, however, was not exactly indicative of how the Celtics played. In fact, they nearly blew a 22-point third-quarter lead in winning by only four. Furthermore, with the Celtics up two and less than 10 seconds to play, LeBron James, in a one-on-one situation, decided to take a pull-up three-pointer for the win rather than take the ball to the rim past Tony Allen to square up the game and take it into overtime. In all likelihood, LeBron probably did this on purpose — the Cavs don’t need to win anymore; they’ve got first place locked up. So why risk an injury in an extra five minutes of play instead of just going for the win on that shot? My point is that the winner of this game could have been different if not for LeBron’s decision.

And losing to the Cavaliers wouldn’t have been a surprise to fans, even playing at TD Garden. After losing only six games at home last year, the Celtics are only 24-15 in Boston this season. Clearly, these players have lost some of their enthusiasm to win after being denied their chance to repeat.

What’s more? The acquisition of Wallace has proved to be one of the least beneficial of the last offeseason, and each of the big three is underperforming as each of them continues to age.

Still, they’ll draw a worse team in the playoffs, and they’ll have a shot to move on, but they can’t beat teams like the Magic and Cavaliers in a seven-game series. It seems their dominance of the Eastern Conference has come to an end.

Ray Allen will be a free agent next year, and Danny Ainge should seriously consider dismantling this team and building around Rondo. Garnett’s production is waning quickly, and it seems as if Pierce won’t be able to evade the injury bug for too much longer.

The Celtics got their championship win — that’s what Ainge, Doc Rivers, and the players wanted. Now you need to move on. Don’t let loyalty to aging players hinder your preparation for the future. Because as it stands, you don’t have what it takes.

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NBA Today: April 4

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Games of the Day: April 4

Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics — 1 PM eastern, telecast on ABC; San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers — 3:30 PM eastern, telecast on ABC

It was too hard to decide which of these games to suggest. But I guess that’s why ABC scheduled them this way, isn’t it?

The afternoon starts off with a battle between two Eastern Conference powerhouses in the top half of the playoff seedings. The Cavaliers have been playing well of late, benefiting from the return from injury of Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Meanwhile, the Celtics have been struggling, especially at the Garden — where they’re normally unstoppable.

This will be the final game of their four-game season series, and the Cavs have won two out of the previous three. LeBron should fill up the box score against Paul Pierce and co., and I expect Cleveland to come away with an easy victory.

Later, the Spurs and Lakers clash in a rematch of the teams’ game a week and a half ago, which the Lakers won 92-83. L.A. is hoping to return to its winning ways after an unsuccessful, evidently damning road trip, but the Spurs won’t roll over easily. In that most recent game, Andrew Bynum did not play, so they won’t be any worse off in this contest. In fact, they’ll have Luke Walton back on the bench after an injury, too.

Kobe shot 11-16 in that game, and I wager he’ll put up another big one against defensively limited Manu Ginobili. Tim Duncan draws a tough defensive assignment in Pau Gasol, but he also serves as one, too. The Lakers pull this one out in front of the home crowd at the Staples Center.

Really, though, watch the Yankees-Red Sox season opener at Fenway Park. Should be a great one.

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