Boston Celtics' Big 3 Era Could Have Been so Much More

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2012

If this is the end, then bravo, guys. When a passionate, fiery and hungry big man named Kevin Garnett and a mild-mannered, soft-spoken sharpshooter named Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston the summer of 2007, you just knew something special was about to happen, and it did.

The Big Three put together a remarkable five-year run rife with memories that we will all share for the rest of our lives.

Of course, all good things come to an end, and after a valiant and admirable effort by the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat, it appears that the Big Three era has drawn to a close.

Garnett and Allen are both free agents this summer, and, more than likely, at least one of them will not be back. For K.G., rumors have been floating around all postseason that the 2012 campaign may have been his last. Doc Rivers disagrees and actually expects the 17-year veteran back in Boston next year, but it remains to be seen.

Allen? He needs surgery on his bothersome right ankle, and many have also been wondering if this was his last season. Even if it isn't, it is widely believed that the C's will let the all-time three-point leader walk in the offseason.

Now that we may have seen Pierce, Garnett and Allen walk off the floor in Celtic uniforms for the last time together, you can't help but reflect on these past five years and how much more they could have accomplished had more things fallen in their direction.

In the group's first go-around together in 2007-08, everything went great. Boston plowed through the league and ended up with the best record in the NBA, ultimately defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals to raise the 17th championship banner at TD Garden. It appeared to be the start of a dynasty. What could stop this fearsome trio?

Well, the next season, we found out.

In a relatively meaningless game against the Utah Jazz in 2009, something happened that changed the course of potential history. Garnett came up lame and hopped off the floor and into the locker room. What many thought would merely be an injury that kept K.G. out for a couple of weeks turned out to be a much more serious issue, as Garnett would need surgery and would miss the playoffs.

Boston? It was eliminated in seven games in the second round by the Orlando Magic.

I think everyone (including Lakers fans themselves) knows what would have happened that year if Garnett didn't go down. The C's were once again dominating the league, and they were well on their way to winning back-to-back titles. Thanks to that fateful night in Utah, it didn't happen. Garnett was only able to watch helplessly from the bench as his team was bounced by the Magic.

The following year, the Celtics were angry and anxious to defend what they thought was rightfully theirs. Boston got off to a tremendous start, and it again looked like a title contender. Then, things got a little dicey. The C's struggled mightily in the second half of the season, leading many to believe that they were now too old to win a championship.

Those doubters were proven wrong, as the Celtics demonstrated in the playoffs that they were coasting in the regular season's final months. Boston made it back to the finals against the Lakers, and after taking a 3-2 lead in the series, tragedy struck once again.

In a Game 6 loss, Kendrick Perkins, a player whom Garnett helped develop into arguably the game's best low-post defender, tore his ACL. That left the Celtics with a very thin frontline against a very big Los Angeles team for Game 7, a game that will forever haunt the C's and their fans.

Why? I think you all remember.

Boston built a 13-point lead in the third quarter in front of a hushed crowd at the Staples Center, and it seemed almost a sure thing that the Celtics would raise yet another championship banner. Well, that didn't happen, as the Lakers rallied in the fourth quarter to win Game 7.

Perkins was sorely missed that night, as L.A. used its size advantage to wear Boston down late. But regardless, the C's let a double-digit lead slip away, and now Garnett, Pierce, Allen and Rivers will forever have nightmares about that game.

That summer, the Heat signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play alongside Dwyane Wade, making them instant title favorites. The prideful Celtics weren't hearing any of it, as they, too, had an impressive offseason, bringing in Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal to comprise what was, by far, the biggest and deepest frontcourt in the NBA. K.G., Perkins, Shaq and J.O.? Are you kidding me?

Then, it happened. Shaq warned Danny Ainge not to do it. He warned him that he was not healthy enough to risk this decision, but Ainge did not listen. He traded Perkins along with Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic at the deadline.

Of course, Perkins had just come back from knee surgery, but still, it was not a wise move on Ainge's part at the time. Shaq's intuition proved to be correct, as he injured his Achilles in February and never recovered for the playoffs.

Boston swept the New York Knicks in the first round, but it entered the second round against Miami a beaten up team. Shaq was still out, and even though he made a return in Game 3, he was barely on the floor as his Achilles was still barking.

Then, Rajon Rondo gruesomely dislocated his elbow in Game 3, ruining any chance the C's had at winning that series. I still believe to this day that if the Celtics were healthy, they would have won that series and advanced to the finals.

That looked to be it for Boston. It was getting older and more injury-prone, and teams such as the Heat and the Chicago Bulls appeared primed to take the throne for Eastern Conference supremacy.

To make matters worse, before the start of the 2012 season, the C's lost Green to heart surgery.

How much more could the Celtics take? Well, in that same season, they also lost Chris Wilcox, who they signed in the offseason, to heart surgery. They lost Jermaine O'Neal to wrist surgery. Then, Allen sprained his ankle in March and never fully recovered.

Boston was 15-17 at the All-Star break, but it finished the season on an incredible 25-10 run, leading many to believe again.

Of course, the C's once again entered the postseason unhealthy, and if they weren't unhealthy enough already, Pierce sprained his MCL in practice during the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, and Avery Bradley, a second-year guard who stepped in during Allen's absence and quickly developed into one of the league's premier perimeter defenders, was forced to undergo shoulder surgery in the second round against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Celtics were able to come out on top in both of those series and advance to the Eastern Conference finals to meet the Heat. They took a 3-2 lead in the series, but then, they ran out of gas. The injuries once again proved to be too much to overcome, and Boston fell in seven games.

Looking back at all of that, you have to wonder what the C's could have done had it not been for all of those injuries. Yes, I completely understand that injuries are a part of the game and can ruin anyone's season. Just ask the Bulls.

However, I don't know if I've ever seen a team fall victim to poor health as much as the Celtics have the past four years.

Think about it. The C's have been without integral players in the playoffs for four years in a row. That is unheard of. You can say, "Oh, it's because they're old," but that does not apply here.

K.G. was only 32 going on 33 when he hurt his knee in 2009. In 2010, it was the then 25-year-old Perkins. In 2011, yes, Shaq was hurt, but so was the then 25-year-old Rondo. This year, it was a 21-year-old Bradley, 25-year-old Green and 29-year-old Wilcox.

A run of bad luck has prevented Boston from winning at least one or two more championships, and one can seriously argue that it prevented it from winning even more than just one or two.

So, if this is it for the Big Three, you really have to wonder what could have been. You have to wonder how historic of a run this group could have gone on had it stayed healthy.

Nevertheless, injuries are a part of the game. It is the nature of the sport, and the Big Three (and we as fans) will have to live with that forever.

Despite all of that, what a fun and memorable ride it was for this team. I will never forget what these Celtics achieved, even though it could have been so much more.

Here's to you, Big Three. Thanks for everything.