Old Three play young

When Danny Ainge mortgaged the
future three years ago to add Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, there was a window
that came along with the price-tag of adding veterans entering the twilight of
their careers. Two years, maybe three max.

It took just one to hang the 17th
banner in franchise history, but the window appeared to be closing fast in the
wake of a broken-down Garnett. Even though he didn’t quite resemble the KG of
old, the Celtics jumped out to a 23-5 start this season and it had Boston fans
thinking maybe another title with the aging Big Three wasn’t out of the
question.

But the Celtics became a .500 team
the rest of the way (they went 27-27). Garnett was mediocre, Allen’s pure jump
shot came and went as quickly as the unpredictable Boston weather, Ainge’s
free-agent acquisition of Rasheed Wallace was a complete mess and the Celtics’
bench was virtually nonexistent.

This team would be fortunate to get
out of the first round against D-Wade and the red-hot Miami Heat in the first
round. Even if they found a way to somehow find their early-season magic,
LeBron would turn the Celtics into road kill.

Instead, Boston took care of Wade,
LeBron and Orlando’s Dwight Howard last week, 96-84, in Game 6 of the Eastern
Conference finals. As a result the side booked their second appearance in the
NBA Finals in the past three years. They also made GM Ainge and head coach Doc
Rivers two happy men.

“For me, it wasn’t a question of
whether we had the talent,” Ainge said. “The question was whether we were going
to get healthy.”

“This starting five has never lost
a series,” Rivers said. “Never.”

But setting the table for this
year’s postseason took a different approach than in 2008. Ainge and Rivers had
ongoing discussions throughout the season on what to do with the Aging Three.
Allen is nearly 35 years old, Garnett just turned 34 and Pierce is the young
pup of the group and will turn 33 in October. However Ainge never lost faith in
them.

“That was the number one thing we
discussed all year,” Ainge said. “Rest.”

Instead of prioritizing home-court
advantage – as the Boston brass did three years ago when the Celtics won the
NBA title – minute restrictions won out. As Rivers stated the most important
thing was health.

“It was tough,” Rivers said. “But
we weren’t going to win unhealthy.”

Garnett never once logged more than
35 minutes in a regular-season game as opposed to going over the 35-minute mark
in one out of every three games back in 2007-08. Pierce averaged a shade more
than 30 minutes per game in March while Allen was at 31.3 minutes in 17 games
that month. Pierce, like the other stars, didn’t mind the rest.

“It wasn’t about us going out there
and trying to win every game at the beginning,” Pierce said. “It was about
being healthy.”

Pierce finished with 31 points and
13 boards, Allen added 20 points and Garnett finished with 10 points and five
boards in game six. That’s 61 points out of the Aging Three versus a relatively
young Magic group.

Rajon Rondo scored 14 points and
had six assists while battling a back injury. While the Celtics’ newest star
was lying on the floor in the second quarter, his replacement, seldom-used
mid-season acquisition Nate Robinson, may have been the saviour. Robinson
scored 13 points within a six-minute span that helped give the Celtics a
comfortable 55-42 halftime lead that was never in question the rest of the way.

Now the Celtics will wait and rest
to battle once again for an NBA title on the line. Remember a healthy Garnett
spurred Boston to knock off Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers two years
ago. However, Los Angeles has the title of defending champs after knocking off
Orlando in five games last season.

Pierce, Allen and Garnett – each
known as terrific individuals who couldn’t win when they came together in
Boston – now embark on an opportunity to put themselves among the elite with a
franchise that has won 17 world titles.

They won’t ever come close to
touching Bill Russell’s astounding 11 NBA crowns or even Bob Cousy’s half-dozen
titles, but another series victory would mean this group would stand just one
shy of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. Not bad for a trio that had the loser tag
hanging over their heads just a few years ago. Ainge, who was a part of
championship teams in 1984 and 1986, feels the current Celtics have a shot at
more greatness.

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