A late farewell to Pierce and Garnett
I didn’t have time to address this last week, but I don’t feel I can let the departure of beloved Boston Celtics Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett pass without comment. Especially Paul Pierce. This guy has played his entire career with the Celtics — he toiled thanklessly through some of the franchise’s more terrible and forgettable seasons, and then, when the team finally got good again, helped deliver a championship. The idea of Pierce playing for the Brooklyn Nets just seems wrong.
It’s easier to imagine Kevin Garnett playing for the Nets, if only because he started his career in Minnesota and came to the Celtics via trade. However, it’s impossible to overestimate what his arrival meant to the Celtics. It instantly transformed them into a championship contender. They went from being a young, somewhat scattershot team to a tough, gritty, defensive-minded squad just like that. And they were fun to watch. After watching one dismal season after the other, the championship team of 2007-2008 was a joy to behold. In addition to Pierce and Garnett, they had Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. They were a great team, and thinking of their NBA finals victory over the evil Los Angeles Lakers still brings a smile to my face.
The Celtics and Lakers met again in the 2010 NBA finals, and this time the Lakers prevailed. But the Celtics’ unlikely run to the finals — their regular season campaign was pretty disappointing — was really something special. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a group of athletes give more of themselves than that particular team. As usual, Garnett, Pierce and Allen set the tone with their “never say die” attitude and their steadfast refusal to back down. In some ways, I liked this team even better than the 2008 team. They were just so tough and so strong.
When the Celtics acquired Garnett, it was clear that the window for winning a championship was small, as Garnett, Pierce and Allen were all on the downside of their careers. Some have wondered whether the Celtics’ new Big Three was actually something of a disappointment, since they were brought together to win two or three championships, not just one. To me, this kind of thinking is nonsense. Some NBA teams have never won a championship, and Celtics fans are supposed to be disappointed because Garnett, Pierce and Allen only won one? Also, those of us who remember how terrible the Celtics were prior to Garnett’s arrival will always be grateful that he made the team competitive again, and that as long as he was around, the Celtics were almost always in contention. If he’d arrived two or three years earlier, well, who knows? Maybe the Celtics would have won multiple championships. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that parallel universe.
After the Celtics won in 2008, the New England Sports Fan Friend asked me whose jersey I would buy if I had to buy a jersey. “Paul Pierce,” I said. “That’s the right answer,” he said. “I would have thrown you out of my house if you said anyone else.”
Paul Pierce could be exasperating, and he could be immature, and he could be hard to like. But he loved basketball, and played hard, and was really, really good. With Garnett and Allen and Rondo, he rewarded the faith of fans who had stood by him through thick and thin. If any moment epitomizes what Paul Pierce was all about, it’s probably game 1 of the 2008 NBA finals, when Pierce injured his knee and was taken to the locker room in a wheelchair, but returned moments later, hit two three pointers and finished with 22 points. “He’s such a ham,” the New England Sports Fan Friend said. Which is true. But he is also tough as nails, and has a huge heart.
It’s time for the Celtics to rebuild, and I understand why GM Danny Ainge traded Garnett and Pierce. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Without Pierce in particular, it’s going to be hard to watch the Celtics. Of course I’ll keep watching them, just as I did during all those lean, depressing years. I’m confident that eventually the Celtics will be good again. But will there ever be another group of players quite like Garnett, Pierce, Allen and Rondo? I doubt it.
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