The Rebirth of the Celtics
Bill Simmons [ARCHIVE]
April 11, 2012
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You know what happens when you're rooting for a creaky but lovable basketball contender? You relish the big victories. All of them. Every single one. You know the season could collapse at any time, and you're perfectly aware that a torn meniscus, calf tear or herniated disk might sucker punch your season when you least expect it. It's a little liberating, actually. Your expectations are low because you shouldn't expect anything at all.

And with that said … I actually expected the Celtics to prevail in Miami last night. I really did. Had you told me as recently as six weeks ago, "The Celtics are going to win in Miami in mid-April, and by the way, you will expect it to happen," I would have assumed that LeBron and Wade had crashed on Bobby Petrino's motorcycle or something. Miami IN Miami? No way.

How did we get here? It wasn't that long ago that the great Bob Ryan described Boston's situation as "Year Five of a Three-Year Plan." A five-game losing streak had dropped the C's to a measly 15-17, as a-hole writers like myself were grabbing shovels and burying the team. With trade rumors swirling around All-Star Rajon Rondo — planted by other teams hoping to cause chemistry problems and drive down his price, by the way — the Celtics won three straight, then throttled the Knicks on a Sunday ABC home game that we'll always remember as Rondo's "Look, You're Not Effing Trading Me, You'd Be Insane" game (18 points, 20 assists, 17 rebounds).

The next two weeks were fairly fascinating: The Celtics hoping to rebuild around Rondo and cap space, while steadfastly refusing to give away their valuable veterans. Before the Clippers game at Staples, less than three days before the deadline, I spent 25 minutes talking to Ainge and fellow BYU grad Michael Smith, now a broadcaster for the Clippers. It was becoming more and more clear that Ainge should keep the team intact; the day before, they played extremely well in a last-minute Lakers loss, and it's not like anyone in the East was pulling away from them. Making the decision easier: Nobody was offering anything decent for Pierce (owed $32 million total in 2013 and 2014) or Garnett (whose $21 million cap figure made it near impossible just to match salaries in a trade). Allen's expiring contract and crunch-time pedigree made him more appealing, but no contender had the right assets to pursue him. At one point, Smith brought up a young player who could, conceivably, have been the centerpiece of an Allen trade. Danny just started laughing.

"We're not trading Ray Allen for [the player's last name]," Danny said. "Come on! It's Ray Allen!"

You need to know two things about Danny Ainge. First, he's probably the most confident person currently running an NBA team. Any and all criticisms bounce right off him. He just doesn't care. As someone close to him explained (I'm paraphrasing), Danny has won at everything his whole life. He was an incredible high school athlete. He was a star in college and married the prettiest girl there. He played TWO professional sports. He played on those championship teams with Larry and Kevin. He pulled off the KG trade and won in 2008. This is not someone who worries about what other people are saying. So even if "What the hell is Danny doing?" became a permanent conversation after last year's Kendrick Perkins trade, that groundswell never intimidated him into making a panic deal. Second (and this ties into the first point), Danny has no fear whatsoever. Of anything. The joke within Celtics circles is that Danny would trade his mother if it helped the team.

Anyway, I left our conversation thinking that Danny honestly didn't know how the deadline would play out. Chatting with Wyc Grousbeck a few minutes later, the Celtics' owner seemed similarly confused. Why break these guys up without a really good reason? What's the point? After the Celtics played a superb game against the Clippers, I came to my own conclusion: "The Celtics are what they are: old, proud, stubborn and (mostly) fun to watch simply because they know each other so well … Leave them alone and the 2012 Boston Celtics will go down swinging. That's all we know, and frankly, that's good enough for me."

I flew to Oakland for the Warriors game two nights later, if only because the trade deadline was the following day, and, I mean … not to sound corny, but you never know with this stuff. If this happened to be the last night for the Pierce/Rondo/Garnett/Allen foursome, I wanted to be there. They prevailed by two behind another throwback KG game (24 points, 11-of-15 shooting), which made little sense because Garnett looked salad-fork-in-the-back-finished as recently as January. I remember when Bird's body broke down (a four-year spiral that started during the '88 Detroit series and crested in the 1992 playoffs, when he could barely move), when McHale's ankles slowly betrayed him (1991), when Parish just couldn't fight off younger leapers anymore (1993). You usually know with these things. You just do. And I would have wagered anything that Garnett was more finished than Desperate Housewives.

Guys were jumping over him (shades of Parish), his jumper was flat, and worst of all, he looked absolutely miserable. Like he didn't want to play basketball anymore. Even during his signature staredown/pointing routine before tip-offs at home games, you never felt like his heart was totally in it. When his game inexplicably rebounded in February (17.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 54% shooting), everyone attributed it to Rivers moving him to center. News flash: Garnett had been playing center since the Perkins trade. Everyone was just pretending otherwise for KG's sake. He's weird about this stuff. It's the same reason Garnett likes to be listed at 6-foot-11 when he's really 7-foot-1, or Tim Duncan always wants to be listed as a forward even though he's been playing center for the past seven years. You don't ask questions with big men; you just do whatever it takes to keep them happy.

You know what really fueled Garnett's resurgence? He's a competitive MF'er. That's really it. The lockout ended, he couldn't get going those first few weeks … and then, suddenly, the "KG is done" talk started, and even worse, opponents started treating him differently. They stared him down after dunks, talked shit to him, accorded him little to no respect. He probably remembered doing the same to Patrick Ewing, Derrick Coleman, Chris Webber or whomever over the years and thought to himself, I'm not ready to be That Guy yet. The flame started flickering again. As he told WEEI's Paul Flannery two weeks ago, "I hear you all calling me old. I hear you calling me, um, older. Weathered. I'm motivated. It don't really take much to motivate me, man. I'm older in basketball years, but in life I'm thirtysomething."

The trade deadline passed with Rondo reinvested and Garnett reenergized. You know...
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