Sure, it ended in the most disappointing fashion imaginable in the form of a Game 7 collapse in L.A., but it would be hard to look at that team that year and call them a disappointment.
This year could not be any more different.
On the heels of a convincing 13-point win at the Staples Center, the expectations have rightly changed — it's championship or bust.
That is the case for several reasons. First and foremost is the health of Kevin Garnett. When he's not bleeding from his head like a real-life version of those Gatorade commercials, he's been the same KG that led the C's to a championship in June 2008 and not the hobbling impostor that wore his jersey last spring.
The other main reason goes back to the summer, when general manager Danny Ainge stood at a crossroads. Rather than start from scratch and try to build around Rajon Rondo, Ainge re-signed Ray Allen, who looks as brilliant as ever, and inked Paul Pierce to an extension that will have him retiring in a Celtics jersey. What Ainge did was make a statement that said these guys won't be great forever, but they're still great enough to win now.
In doing so, Ainge added an urgency to the Celtics' championship plans. Adding patchwork big men in Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal — essentially serving as big bodies and role players — added the exclamation point. For Ainge, it was worth another shot, and it was enough to bring Doc Rivers back for another go-round. So far, it's looking like the right choice.
This has, of course, been the story all season long, but Sunday's win in Los Angeles makes it all the more relevant.
"It's another game, but it was definitely an emotional game, especially because we lost Game 7 here," Pierce, who had a team-high 32 points, said after the 109-96 win. "It feels good to come back in this building and get a win."
Setting up a rematch in June won't be easy, and that goes for both squads. The Celtics will have to get through tough teams in Orlando, Miami and Chicago, while the Lakers might have it tougher with the Spurs, Mavericks and perhaps the Thunder. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find a basketball fan who's not rooting for a Celtics-Lakers rubber match this June.
In a way, it's a good thing simply to have meaningful regular-season games, something the C's haven't really seemed to have since Christmas in Orlando last year. It is a throwback to that 2007-08 season, when the Celtics had something to prove against the powers that be in the NBA, and games against the Spurs, Pistons, Lakers and Cavaliers were measuring sticks. It was an edge that faded after the title run and seemed gone for good, but the image of a bandaged Garnett banging down low with Pau Gasol said all that needed to be said about the intensity this team can bring.
That intensity was never questioned in the playoffs, though, and when the rematch happened in the Finals last year, the Celtics obviously wanted to win. Still, there was a lack of that critical feeling of urgency. After coasting through the regular season, a championship would have been gravy. But this year, it just feels different. KG's already missed time due to injury, a period that served as a reminder of how fragile the championship fate of this Celtics team really is. It really might be now or never.
The Celtics went to Los Angeles on Sunday and came away with a win. If they don't do it again in June, this year can't be seen as anything but a failure. If it doesn't come this year, Banner 18 may be further away than anyone in Boston wants to imagine.