When Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce walked off the floor of AmericanAirlines Arena after the Boston Celtics dropped Game 7 of the Eastern Finals to the Miami Heat about 11 months ago, you just had a feeling that things weren't over. That an era was not yet ready to come to its conclusion.
If you had thought that, you were right, as Celtics GM Danny Ainge decided to give it another go.
Friday night, however, felt different.
This time, Garnett and Pierce walked off the floor of TD Garden after Boston had lost the deciding Game 6 of their first-round series against the New York Knicks. This time, you didn't really feel like this team would be back.
You felt like it was the end.
After six years of battling and constantly overcoming all odds, it appears this incredible era of Boston Celtics basketball has come to a close.
Not without one final furious effort, though.
Down by 26 points with 9:49 to play, the C's looked dead. They couldn't make a shot. Their offense was completely stagnant. Their legs were gone. This was it. The Celtics were about to be embarrassed by the Knicks in a closeout game on their home floor.
Not so fast.
In a matter of four minutes, Boston embarked on a spine-tingling 20-0 run that sent the TD Garden faithful into a frenzy.
Before the rally began, New York led 75-49.
Before you knew it, it was 77-73.
Avery Bradley was hounding whichever Knick player was handling the ball, once taking the rock right from Carmelo Anthony like candy from a baby and cruising in for a vicious two-handed slam.
Jeff Green was throwing his body all over the place with reckless abandon, showing nary a concern for the fact that he had heart surgery a little over a year ago. Everyone in attendance chanted "Jeff Green! Jeff Green!" when he was at the free-throw line.
Garnett was barking commands in his typical military general-like fashion.
It was unbelievable, yet, at the same time, it was oh so believable.
Of course, in the end, the C's merely ran out of gas. Green fired up a three-pointer. Not even close. Pierce then tried one a bit later. It was short by a mile.
The Celtics had no legs left, but you know what? That was okay.
Boston was simply undermanned and overmatched, but yet they still fought back from a 3-0 deficit and brought New York and all of their fans to the brink of a heart attack when they nearly stole Game 6 in the waning moments.
With the C's losing Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa to season-ending injuries and with KG playing through bone spurs and a hip pointer this series, could you really expect much else?
The indestructible heart the Celtics displayed during the fourth quarter of Friday night's contest was emblematic of this entire six-year run. It was as if all six regular season campaigns and all six playoff runs were compressed into one feverish four-minute stretch.
Saying Boston's effort was "valiant" doesn't even do Doc Rivers' ballclub justice. There is truly no one word that can thoroughly describe what we all witnessed on Friday, May 3, 2013, and what we witnessed goes beyond the game of basketball.
Sure, we can all sit here and surmise about what could have been and about how many more championships this team could have won had it not been ravaged by injuries each and every year after their title in 2008. We can even say that, in the grand scheme of things, this could be looked at as an era of missed opportunity rather than success.
But that would be wrong. It would be unjust.
Instead, what we should all be doing is taking notes. Yes. Us.
No, we are not professional basketball players, but we are human beings and we all have and will continue to experience adversity in our lives.
What these Celtics have taught us from late 2007 until now is to never, ever give up.
How many times was this squad counted out over the years?
Remember during the 2009-10 campaign when most thought it to be a foregone conclusion that LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic would square off in the Eastern Conference Finals, only for Boston to humiliate both ballclubs en route to a classic seven-game finals series with the Los Angeles Lakers?
How about the 2011-12 season when the C's were 15-17 through 32 games? People had them dead and buried. It was only a matter of time before Ainge sent Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen packing. They responded by going 24-10 over their final 34 contests, fighting a multitude of injuries along the way. Then, as banged up and missing as many pieces as they were, they took the eventual champion Heat to seven games.
Then there was the 2013 playoffs. After dropping the first three games to the Knicks and hearing plans of their "funeral," the Celtics responded by winning the next two and sending New York into panic mode. They would proceed to put together one more magical run that would ultimately fall short in Game 6.
The important thing is that they went down swinging. They never waved the white flag.
That brings us to the lesson learned in all of this.
Sometimes it's not about wins and losses.
Sometimes it's about Kevin Garnett laboring up and down the floor, battling those bone spurs and that hip pointer and probably numerous other ailments that we will never know about.
It's about Jeff Green barreling over Tyson Chandler despite the fact that this young man was lying on an operating table with his chest cut open just 16 short months ago.
It's about Chris Wilcox battling back from the same exact heart procedure as Green and never taking another second in life for granted.
It's about Terrence Williams finally finding a home and, more importantly, hope.
It's about Rajon Rondo screaming from the sideline in street clothes as if he was on the court with his comrades.
It's about Paul Pierce, suffering through a 4-for-18 performance, urging the crowd to stand up, sharing perhaps one last moment with the fans that have cheered him on for 15 years.
It's about Doc Rivers delivering those tear-jerking and blood-stirring speeches in the locker room and on the sideline.
These Boston Celtics are not just a basketball team. They are an inspiration and a symbol to all of us.
They have let us know that you can have as many things taken away from you as possible, but that nothing can ever wrestle away your will to fight.
But perhaps this isn't the end.
Perhaps Ainge will decide to give it one last go with Garnett and Pierce. Maybe KG won't retire and Pierce won't get traded. And maybe Rondo will come back from his ACL surgery stronger than ever to reunite with his brothers and get the Celtics back to prominence.
Regardless of what happens, these Boston Celtics will never, ever be forgotten.
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