COMMENTARY | The Boston Celtics began 2013 in year six of a three-year plan with a veteran squad exhausted from years of playoff battles desperate to keep pace with younger, more athletic competition.
Despite GM Danny Ainge's imports of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee and the promise of rookie Jared Sullinger, the leprechaun remained in the rafters as the inconsistent C's lost their All-Star point guard and were booted into a summer of turmoil that saw their head coach and two future Hall of Famers depart. The resurgence of the franchise under new coach Brad Stevens has been remarkable given trade rumors and suggestions of tanking for the #1 pick in 2014, and Ainge finds himself with plenty of options as the calendar turns.
Here's a look back at a major transition year for a proud franchise:
Down Goes Rondo
On Friday, January 25, the Celtics blew a 27-point lead and fell to Atlanta in double-OT. Trying to stave off the Hawks' comeback, point guard Rajon Rondo landed awkwardly on a drive to the basket and limped off the court. By the conclusion of the following Sunday's tilt with Miami (another double-overtime thriller, this one a Boston win), the bad news reached the parquet floor and Doris Burke reported Rondo's torn ACL to Paul Pierce. The captain winced; despite his best efforts and sporadic outbursts from Jeff Green through the remainder of the campaign, the injury sealed the fate of an era.
The Last Gasp
Facing the embarrassment of a 26-point deficit to New York in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, 9 minutes from shutting off the Garden lights for the summer, Celtic Pride roared to life. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Celtics pulled a Rocky training montage, suffocating the Knicks defensively and rattling off 20 consecutive points, slicing the lead to four with three minutes to play.
With Pierce turning back the clock, the Garden thundered to a level unheard since the previous spring. The Green eventually stumbled and fell, but that roar personified the spirit of the KG/Pierce Celtics, old fighters unwilling to stay down on the mat.
Doc's Second Opinion
We'll probably never know whose idea it was, but the steam of a hot June weekend materialized into Ainge's controversial trade of Doc Rivers to the Clippers for a first-round draft pick. The GM and coach spent the summer sniping at each other through the media, but the fans' warm ovation for Rivers in his return was a nice footnote to a tenure that produced the third-most wins in team history.
KG and Pierce Become Hipsters
The other shoe dropped on July 12 as Garnett and Pierce were traded to Brooklyn, just about six years from the date of Garnett's Boston arrival and subsequent Badfinger-tinged celebrations. The move ended Pierce's legendary 15-year association with the franchise that drafted him and he departed as the second-leading scorer in Celtics history.
These men taught us anything is possible; apparently that includes franchise-altering trades. The haul: Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans and picks, was uninspiring at the time but the draft picks of the struggling Nets should help the Celtics considerably in the future.
A New Era
Ainge surprised everyone by hiring Butler head coach Brad Stevens in early July. Given the track record of college coaches in the NBA, expectations were modest. Many expected the Green to tank. Stevens and his eager squad responded with inspired play from Jordan Crawford and franchise building blocks Sullinger and Avery Bradley to take the early lead in the Atlantic Division. Rondo has returned to practice.
Suddenly, the future is bright as Ainge moves forward with a collection of young talent and a raft of assets. Trade rumors are flying, but the C's continue to play hard for Stevens on a nightly basis, a relief to fans who feared a frustrating winter in Boston.
Sean Sylver is a Boston-based writer, radio personality and avid gardener. His work has appeared on Babble's Disney Dads and other pro sports blogs. Interact with him on Twitter @sylverfox25.
- Sports & Recreation
- Danny Ainge
- Brad Stevens
- Boston Celtics
- Jared Sullinger
- Paul Pierce