Kevin Garnett has had injuries that have kept the Celtics from chasing titles. Paul Pierce has left a game in a wheelchair. Ray Allen redefined "hobbling" in the way he was moving around on the court at the end of this season and into the playoffs.
But when the Big 3 of the Celtics took the floor most nights, they still looked like basketball players, like contenders, like guys who weren't ready to mess around. They may not have been as fast or as daring, but they still played. Doc Rivers watched their minutes, and they rose from the dead again and again to keep on winning — games and years after their expiration date.
That changed Saturday night when the Heat were too much for the C's. It had been a long time coming, as Boston showed serious deficiencies in many parts of its game, but the loss and the way it happened were still a jolt.
When the camera panned among the Celtics' faces with just a few minutes to go, as Miami held a still-surmountable 12-point lead, Garnett, Pierce and Allen just looked old.
Garnett's long, weary face had none of the bugging eyes or ferocious yells that brought fans into every KG-inspired moment at the Garden. Allen's calm demeanor was clearly fatigued. And Pierce looked like he always does — sort of asleep, only to break out moments later with a spurt of a jump shot or drive — but anyone watching could tell there was no waking this giant.
The offseason now becomes questions of contracts and care, as each player has serious physical rehabilitation to do. How bad was Pierce's knee? Are Allen's ankles shot for good? Will Garnett ever play a full game again? But most important to Celtics fans: Will any of these guys come back?
The money could be there, and the offers, too — but will the drive remain? After five years of banding together in what was supposed to be a last dash to a championship, these Celtics have their title. They also have their good efforts, as each attempt to get back to the trophy stand was only derailed by an injury to a key player. They've done all they're capable of doing. What will they need to do it again?
If Garnett, Pierce and Allen believe they have one more title amongst themselves, there's good reason to think they'll go for it. These men are champions at heart, and each one has the fire needed to build a Hall of Fame career, to put in the time in practice and to make it through the grind of a season.
So, the question now is whether they think they have one more left. Will they put their own individual concerns aside one more time to chase immortality? Will they will their bodies into submission, to get the creaky parts cooperating for the right stretch? Will they even give up more money so the Celtics do not have to completely redo spots five through 12 behind them yet again?
Every angle of the situation and every possibility will get its time of analyzation between now and next season. Rivers certainly wants all three back, and Garnett, Pierce and Allen each have serious pros to return as well as the obvious cons to hang it up.
But maybe their bodies said what their hearts wouldn't on Saturday night. Maybe they just were too tired.
…This time around?