By BILL REYNOLDS — The thing to remember about the Boston Celtics is that six years ago this was supposed to be only a three-year window.
Remember when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in the summer of 2007 to create the new Big Three, back when this was a wonderfully creative short-term plan to bring back the glory days?
But it's not 2008 anymore.
Ray Allen is in Miami, and the shadows are advancing on the careers of both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, both long in the tooth when it comes to being the kind of NBA superstars that can lead teams deep into the playoffs.
So is it really any wonder that this first-round series with the Knicks is more about the Knicks than it is the Celtics? The Knicks, who are the second seed in the East. The Knicks, who have the celebrated superstar Carmelo Anthony in the prime of his career. The Knicks, who haven't won a playoff series since the 2000 season.
This is the team with the pressure on them.
The Celtics have no pressure on them.
The Knicks' flaw is that they have virtually no inside game, rely on making perimeter shots. On Saturday, they made just enough of them to win. If most teams are defined by the way their superstar plays, it's probably no surprise that the Knicks will live or die with how many jumpers Anthony makes.
Are they better than the Celtics?
The record tells us that.
But they were fortunate to win on Saturday in a game in which both Anthony and J.R. Smith were a combined 20-for-48 from the field. They also are not a team that scores a lot of easy baskets.
Even before Rajon Rondo went down for the year in late January, it was a strange season for the Celtics, one caught between the glory days of the past and an undetermined future. Allen was off to the hated Heat, a move as symbolic as anything else. If nothing else, it said the Big Three Era was over, played out.
Then again, this Big Three was never supposed to be about the long haul. It already had done what it was supposed to do, already had won the franchise's 17th championship banner and made the Celtics relevant again in a New England sports world dominated at the time by both the Red Sox and the Patriots.
So this was always going to be a strange season, the Celtics version of the dreaded "bridge year." Then when Rondo got hurt it became even more problematic.
Who ever thought then that the Celtics were even going to be in the playoffs in the first place?
It is to Doc Rivers' credit that he has this team in the playoffs, given the loss of Rondo, plus the loss of rookie Jared Sullinger, both for the season. The Celtics have been Rondo's team for a while now, this enigmatic superstar who makes them go in so many ways. The fact that he's been out since late January and the Celtics are in the playoffs is a credit, not only to Rivers, but to the veteran presence of Garnett and Pierce.
Much has been made of the phrase "Celtic Pride" down through the years, maybe too much, but there's no question it's been on display since Rondo went out.
Pierce has developed into the kind of leader that maybe once upon a time would have been unimaginable. Not only is he one of the all-time great Celtics, but he's also come to embrace the history, the tradition, all of it. He also knows that at 35 there might not be many chances left.
Has there ever been anyone more intense, more driven, more into the game?
But he will be 37 next month, his future in the game as up in the air as one of his fall-away jumpers.
So this could very well be the last playoff dance for both of them. Certainly this is a team in transition, one caught between the Big Three of the past and an undetermined future. We've seen a preview of this since Rondo went out, a team that is cobbled together, trying to find an identity.
The odds say that they don't have enough to get by the Knicks.
That's the conventional wisdom anyway.
But the Celtics?
They are playing with house money.
(Contact Bill Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.SHNS.com.)