MIAMI – Paul Pierce winced as he walked toward the locker room showers with a sports energy drink in hand late Wednesday. His fellow 30-something teammates Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were stuck in the training room after the Boston Celtics' stunning road win against the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.
"I'm old, dog. I got 1,000 games in," Pierce told a ball boy.
Father Time is tapping on these old dogs' shoulders. Pierce, Garnett and Allen, however, proved they aren't ready for their story to end yet as they sparked the Celtics to a 94-90 victory over the Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"They didn't say the [championship] window was closed. They just said it was closing," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Actually, many thought the window was slammed shut three games ago when Boston fell into a 2-0 series deficit. By halftime of Game 5, the Celtics knew they were in position to take control of the Eastern Conference finals. They trailed 42-40, but the ugly game included their beloved half-court flow. The Big Three regained the youth of their 2008 title season. Garnett dunked hard on Heat forward James Jones, blocked LeBron James' shot and had 18 points and seven rebounds in the second half. Pierce scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half, including a clutch 3-pointer in James' face with 1:12 remaining. Allen joined forces with Garnett to make late free throws en route to the stunning road victory.
"With me, Paul and K.G. we always know what you want to run, where you want to get the ball and had an idea of plays that we were going to put together and make happen," Allen said.
Old age by NBA standards, expiring big contracts, injuries and slides in performance have led to expectations the Big Three will be broken up after this season. Sensing the end was near, Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rajon Rondo took a special picture together as the trade deadline neared in front of a team charter plane during a West Coast trip.
Now, a snapshot of the Celtics on an NBA Finals program cover is within reach.
"It's been two years, three years where people have asked us that," Allen said about the Big Three's end. "That is 10 to 15 percent of our day when you have to answer that question. Whatever happens with our future is fate. You have to leave it to fate. Whatever is going to happen will happen.
"Right now is what you have to be concerned with. We'll look back over these years at all the opportunities we had, all the great games we played, the big shots that we made. We'll talk about the tough games. Right now we are in the present moment and that's the most important."
Former Celtics forward Brian Scalabrine was on the team during the start of the Big Three and wasn't surprised at what he saw in the final stretch.
"The Big Three to me are all the ultimate workers," Scalabrine said. "Paul Pierce loves to play one-on-one. Ray Allen takes care of his body. Kevin Garnett never takes a day off during the season. He works every day. When you do that kind of work and get in a position like this, it's really hard to give up or tap out. …
"They say Father Time keeps up with you. But these guys keep defying that."
Five years ago, Pierce, Garnett and Allen were each All-Stars in their prime. The Big Three quickly staked their spot in Celtics lore by winning the franchise's 17th NBA championship in their first season in Boston, ending a 22-year title drought for the Celtics. If the final chapter of this group is written this month, what better way for them to say goodbye than finishing like it started. In the NBA Finals.
All that is standing in the way is one win over Miami.
"I'll always attribute great things with them, laugh and joke," Allen said. "You'll always be connected wherever you go. When I call Kevin or Paul 20 years from now they better pick the phone up or call me back right away."
• Kevin Iole: Marital strife affected Manny Pacquiao's warmup before Juan Manuel Marquez bout
• Pat Forde: Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another tested in the hardest three weeks in sports
• Dan Wetzel: Jerry Sandusky's lawyer demanded sexual abuse case be heard in Penn State's shadow
• Nicholas J. Cotsonika: Powerful Kings rattle L.A. sports scene as they close in on Stanley Cup