Boston fans know as well as anyone that teams can come back from seemingly insurmountable deficits, but even if the Celtics do lose the series, this era of Boston Celtics basketball is not over.
Basketball eras are defined by players. For the Celtics, the Bill Russell era was followed by the John Havlicek era. The Havlicek era was supplanted by the Larry Bird era. After 10 years, the Paul Pierce era began.
The Bird era ended when Bird retired in the early 90s. The Celtics weren't as good in those years. Few thought they were championship contenders during Bird's back-ached basketball finale. But the era continued, and every now and then, Bird would revert back to his younger days and make magic happen.
If the Celtics lose this series, the years of 20-30 wins will not be back upon New England. Pundits have been saying the Celtics are too old for years—and each year the Celtics continue to contend.
Even if the Big Three and Rajon Rondo don't compete for a championship next season, they will show flashes of brilliance that will remind fans of how good they used to be.
And it's impossible to say that the Celtics won't be contenders with any certainty. Rondo's development has allowed the Big Three to settle into positions as role players. Paul Pierce has become an effective spot-up shooter. Kevin Garnett dominates the 18-foot jumper and Ray Allen just keeps draining threes.
The Celtics' size concerns will not go away. Shaquille O'Neal will be a year older, if he even plays. Danny Ainge will likely go out and find more size, but he is not likely to blow up the Big Three yet.
It would be too difficult. Each veteran is more valuable to the Celtics than whatever he could net them in a trade.
Even if one member of the trio finds themselves on another team next season, Ainge will not be able to find suitors that are willing to give up equal value for aging players with exorbitant contracts.
This era of Celtics basketball will not be over until Paul Pierce retires—or, as the case of Russell and Havlicek, Rondo proves ready to be a transcendent star.
The Celtics can still win this series. It is a veteran team made up of players who won't lose their composure.
Great teams don't fall like an avalanche, collapsing all at once. Instead, they fall drip by drip; gradually, until fans realize the team in front of them doesn't resemble yesterday's team at all.
The 2011 playoffs will be another drip in the fall of the Celtics if they lose to the Heat, but it won't be the last.