WALTHAM, Mass. — Paul Pierce got married this summer. He watched his beautiful daughter celebrate her second birthday. And on the professional side, he signed a whopping four-year, $61 million contract to remain the captain of the Boston Celtics. But looking back on the last few months of his life, he does have one small reservation.
“If it wasn’t for that Game 7 against the Lakers,” Pierce said Monday, “this would have been the perfect summer.”
The Celtics’ 83-79 loss to the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on June 17 is a loss that will sit with them for a good long while. The C’s reconvened on Monday afternoon in Waltham to open training camp prior to the upcoming season, and general consensus around the room was that they couldn’t shake from their heads that mental picture of Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and the Lakers celebrating the franchise’s 16th NBA title.
“I don’t think you ever get over it,” coach Doc Rivers said at the Celtics’ Media Day festivities. “I made my staff watch it with me. We watched it together about a month ago. I don’t think you get over it. Whenever you see it, they always show that damn celebration. That’s not anything I want to watch.”
The Celtics led by as many as 13 points early in the second half. They were hitting their shots, running the floor with poise, and taking Kobe out of the game as an offensive force. Then things came undone, Kobe went off for 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Lakers hit every clutch free throw they needed, and the Celtics went home ringless. It’s an experience that’s shattered the Celtics’ pride, changed their outlook on the game, and perhaps motivated them a little bit for another chance this season.
“It’s going to drive me,” Kevin Garnett said of losing Game 7. “It’s going to drive everybody. Some texts I sent out throughout the summer, just seeing how everybody was, and what they were going through was very similar to what I was going through myself. It could have been six games or seven games, but a loss is a loss. You have to anticipate everybody wanting to change that and everybody eager to get back.”
Perhaps no one took it harder than the guy who watched helplessly from the sidelines: Kendrick Perkins. Sitting on the bench nursing a severe knee injury, Perk watched as Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis manned the low post in Game 7, and the Lakers’ strength down low helped them topple the Celtics and win a championship. Perk can’t help but wonder what could have been, if only he’d stayed healthy.
“I get tired of thinking about it all the time,” the injured center said. “If I had played, we still could have had a chance to lose it, but I doubt that. I think if I would have played, we would have won, for sure. By double figures. But that’s what happens. It happens, and it gives us something else to motivate us for this season. We got to go out with a chip on our shoulder. I know I got one on mine.”
Across the board, this loss resonated with everyone in the Celtics’ locker room. Everyone, that is, except the guy who’s been labeled the face of their franchise and the future of the team for years to come.
“I’m fine,” said Rajon Rondo with a shrug. “I’m over Game 7. It’s a new season. I don’t want to hang onto it for too long. I actually saw L.O. [Lamar Odom] at USA Basketball — we spoke, and now we’re pretty cool. So it’s not like I hate the Lakers or anything. I want to beat every opponent I play, but for me, Game 7 is over with.”
Maybe if Rondo’s mindset catches on with the rest of the 2010-11 Celtics, they can move on and forget about last summer. Or maybe they’ll just play the next 82 games with that chip never leaving their collective shoulder. We shall see.