Hoop fans in New England have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows this decade. From losing a legend, raising a banner and assembling one of the greatest Celtics' lineups in the history of the franchise, the Celtics have had many memorable moments.
After adding all the necessary parts prior to the 2007-08 season, Doc Rivers and the C’s staff were looking for some team chemistry in training camp. And boy did they find it. The Celtics packed up for a European tour where they would be hitting up Rome and London in before the season. The team adopted the term “ubuntu” – from the African Bantu language — which stresses collective success over individual achievement, roughly translating to "I am because we are.” This rally cry for team unity can be heard in team huddles, which has taken over the standard: “1, 2, 3: Celtics!”
9. The Garden Gets its Groove on
Things get a little wild in the North End when the Celtics start winning.
When the Celtics bust out to a large lead in the final minutes at the Garden, scoreboard operators roll an old "American Bandstand" clip from the 1970s in which a bearded, bell-bottomed man in a Gino Vannelli gets groovy to the Bee Gees song "You Should Be Dancing.” Much like Red Auerbach lighting up one of his patented victory cigars way back when, the emergence of Gino is the final nail in the coffin for visiting teams.
But the fun isn’t limited to these last moments of a contest as another interesting feature has been added to the game night crew this decade. In February 2004, Auerbach told the Globe, "They're just waiting for me to die so they can get cheerleaders." Sure enough, shortly after his death in 2006, the C’s introduced the Celtics dance team, becoming the last franchise in the biz to do so.
Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals was a forgettable showing for the C’s through the first three quarters. The fourth quarter? That will be remembered by C’s fans for eternity. Down 21 points in the final frame in Boston, the Celtics rewarded those fans who stuck around by dishing out the biggest comeback in playoff history. Boston outscored New Jersey 41-16 in the final frame to steal Game 3 and take a 2-1 lead in the series before the Nets took three straight games to advance to their first NBA Finals.
7. The Suns Get Rondo’d
Rajon Rondo was drafted 21st overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2006 NBA Draft and was the first guard taken, but the Kentucky product wasn’t about to go celebrate in the Grand Canyon State.
Rondo was heading east as Phoenix quickly traded him to the Celtics along with Brian Grant for the Cleveland Cavaliers' first-round draft pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, which Boston received for Jiri Welsch and cash considerations.
After just two years as the hometown hero with the Wildcats, the Louisville native entered the draft after averaging just over 11 points, six rebounds and just under five assists per game. After splitting time with Sebastian Telfair and Delonte West in his first year with the C’s, the guard has gone onto to start every single game of his career — 185 to be exact. His first campaign leading the C’s down the court finished with the C’s taking the NBA title as he averaged 10.6 points and 5.1 assists per game. While Rondo is on the outside of the Big 3 looking in, the playmaker is arguably one of the most important pieces of the C’s puzzle and will be for years to come, as the C’s recently offered him a five-year extension.
6. Cavs Pierced at the Garden
It wasn’t necessarily a Bird-Magic moment, but when Paul Pierce and LeBron James went blow-for-blow at the Garden in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the Garden in the spring of 2008, the NBA world was witnessing two of the most dominant players scrapping it out for all the marbles.
Pierce dropped 41 points to go with five assists, four boards and two steals. James trumped him with 45 points, six assists, five boards and a pair of steals but LBJ came up shy on the free throw line, sinking just 14-of-19 attempts as the Cavs dropped to the C’s 97-92 in the decisive game. Between them, they managed to take 52 of the 134 total shots attempted in the back-and-forth contest. Only three other players finished with double digits in points in that battle, which Pierce can call his own despite falling four points shy of King James.
5. “Larry Bird is not walking through that door.”
Rick Pitino’s return the state of Massachusetts should have been a magical one. After all, it was at UMass Amherst where he excelled as a point guard for the Minutemen and eventually earned an invitation into the school’s Hall of Fame. It was in Boston where he held his first career coaching gig – head coach of the Boston University Terriers. Pitino had earned a big reputation as head coach of the University of Kentucky and the future looked bright for the Celtics’ organization, which was coming off its worst year in team history, winning just 15 games in the 1996-97 season. Pitino’s world came crashing down following a buzzer-beating defeat to the Toronto Raptors on March 1, 2000, when the skipper blew up in a postgame news conference:
“Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they're going to be gray and old. What we are is young, exciting, hard-working, and we're going to improve. People don't realize that, and as soon as they realize those three guys are not coming through that door, the better this town will be for all of us because there are young guys in that [locker] room playing their asses off. I wish we had $90 million under the salary cap. I wish we could buy the world. We can't; the only thing we can do is work hard, and all the negativity that's in this town sucks. I've been around when Jim Rice was booed. I've been around when Yastrzemski was booed. And it stinks. It makes the greatest town, greatest city in the world, lousy. The only thing that will turn this around is being upbeat and positive like we are in that locker room… and if you think I'm going to succumb to negativity, you're wrong. You've got the wrong guy leading this team.”
The head coach, general manager, CEO and team president clearly had too much on his plate and resigned from the club on Jan. 8, 2001.
4. The Truth hurts
On Sept. 25, 2000, Pierce was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck, and back and had a bottle smashed over his head while at a private party at Boston’s Theatre District’s Buzz Club, a late night dance club.
William Ragland was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a knife) and received a seven to 10 year sentence which he will serve it after he completes the 21 to 25 years he is currently serving for unrelated convictions. Trevor Watson, the other attacker, was given a one-year sentence.
Pierce, 24 at the time, had to undergo lung surgery to repair the damage, which included one wound seven inches deep. Former Celtic Tony Battie — Pierce's teammate at the time — came to the rescue by rushing him to the New England Medical Center after the near-fatal stabbing. Pierce was the only Celtic to start all 82 games in the 2000–01 season and averaged 25.3 points that season.
3. The Passing of a Legend
On Oct. 28, 2006 the basketball family lost a legend, but the city of Boston lost a loved one. Arnold Jacob "Red" Auerbach, who spent 57 years with the Celtics franchise as head coach, general manager, president and vice chairman, passed away at his Washington, D.C. home. Auerbach had won nine titles as head coach and was instrumental in all of Boston’s first 16 titles. Red was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969 and the the annual NBA Coach of the Year Award is named in his honor.
From C’s legend Bill Russell:
“He never made any pretensions about treating players the same. In fact, he treated everybody very differently. Basically, Red treats people as they perceive themselves. What he did best was to create a forum, but one where individuals wouldn't be confined by the system. And he understood the chemistry of a team. People tend to think teamwork is some mysterious force. It isn't. It can, really, be manufactured, and he knew how to do that, to serve each player's needs. And, people always say you need to know how to win. But that's not enough if you want to keep winning. You also have to know why you win. Red always knew that, too."
2. The Big Three is Complete
After an abysmal 24-win season, the Celtics would get stuck with the fifth pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and miss out on franchise players Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.
Something had to be done, and it started with the acquisition of Ray Allen, but C’s president Danny Ainge wasn't done there; he would strike a deal with his former Celtic teammate, Kevin McHale, to finalize the Big Three version 2.0.
In July of 2007, the Celtics churned out the largest deal involving the most amount of players dealt for one in NBA history when they sent Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, two picks and cash to the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett. At the time of the trade, Garnett was the owner of the longest current tenure with a club: He had appeared in 927 total games over 12 seasons with the T-Wolves. The Big Ticket not only earned the most votes in the league to the 2008 NBA All-Star Game, the power forward led the C’s to their first title in two decades and 17th overall in franchise history.
Which leads us to. …
1. “Anything is possible.”
Those three words will be remembered by Celtics’ fans for eternity as they were screamed from the emotional Kevin Garnett after the C’s took down the Lakers in Game 6 of the Finals in Boston.
The emotional KG stood in the middle of the legendary Celtics’ parquet floor after the title-clinching victory as he celebrated his first NBA title and Boston’s 17th as a franchise.
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