The Boston Celtics and Nostalgia's Last Stand

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Ray Allen. Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce.

I turn 30 this autumn. For half my life, The Boston Celtics‘ veteran trio have been terrorizing NBA opponents.

When they were brought together in a fusion of tremendous talent and ring-driven hunger, they were considered to be a triumvirate of aging veterans banded together in a desperate attempt to grab a precious ring to validate their careers and carry their legacies off into the sunset.

That was five years ago.

Now, it’s 2012, and the day of Game 6 of the Celtics’ Eastern Conference Final series against the Miami Heat, and the Boston Three Party are still enthralling us with otherworldly play at ages when most veterans have ceded their starting spots and superhuman strengths to their younger teammates and, more importantly, to their younger opponents.

When you mention that Allen and Garnett are 36, and Pierce is 34, it’s like sneaking an elephant into your jacuzzi. They’re not just turning back the clock, they’re melting it Salvadore Dali-style.

A week ago, the Celtics trailed 2-0 in the series, looking painfully passe, exhausted through each loss, teetering on the brink of full collapse. The hour of panic arrived. Rajon Rondo, the young pup in a pack of loyal guard dogs, seemed to be the only capable Celtic on the court at times.

But something, whether Rondo’s frenetic play or Doc Rivers‘ clever coaching or just listening to Father Time command “It’s Time To Come Home for Dinner”, reinvigorated the old guard.

Garnett, Allen and Pierce’s mileage betray the engines of the NBA’s lone remaining classic GTOs, relics from a time when big, bad and fast ruled these hardwood roads. Last night, Tim Duncan bowed quietly to the NBA’s newest hot rod, the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the Big Fundamental gone, Boston’s three-pack now carry the torch that should’ve already been extinguished.

Their legendary status as basketball immortals remains unsettled. It rests in a tightly secured yet still-opened archive on the top-shelf, lightly coated in dust from four years of ringless ball.  All three, sure, should be able to walk into the Hall of Fame. The space in Springfield has been cleared for years, but before we close the box, we’re still waiting: Waiting for them to finish writing, editing and rearranging, waiting for the final files to be rubber-stamped, sealed and delivered.

The three appear to be in no hurry to sign the dotted line, and although Rondo has a lot to do with their renaissance, their peerless point guard isn’t carrying them by a longshot. Garnett, Allen and Pierce have raised their game far beyond what we expected from them.

They probably know it’s time. They’re up 3-2 with a Game 6 at home. This is as close as gift-wrapped as they can reasonably expect a trip to the Finals to be, especially against a younger, more athletic Miami Heat team that was handcrafted in the Celtic image of “Get 3 A-Level Players and Prepare For World Domination.”

Last week, we were writing off the three as mummified former Pharaohs who aged faster than uncorked malbec in the Miami sun. And yet, our bated breath fogging in the wind before Game 6 will no doubt heat the crucible upon which this game will burn, and, to be perfectly transparent, I’m hoping for a collective Roy Hobbs moment: The original “Big 3” heroically lead the Celts to an Alamo-sized upset.

Collectively on it’s last wheeze – Big Three Allen, Garnett and Pierce all sit in stock just beyond the “Sell by” date – test their merit and mettle against the younger flavor that’s, to be totally honest, a hipper, bolder, more vibrant vintage of the same bouquet. The Miami Heat are the optimally-configured Boston Celtics.

For folks of a certain age, watching Garnett, Pierce and Allen succeed on a grand scale against the NBA’s Current Biggest Thing, would be a sweet, final restoration of order and nostalgia, allowing the human mind a last gasp to reconcile ancient history with present mystery: It’s like how we see our parents, young and vibrant and hoisting us on their shoulders, even as we wheel them around. The dissonant present images nudged aside by our stone tablet memories.

Unless the dissonance fails to materialize. Unless Garnett goes for 20 and 10, Pierce scores 25, and Ray Allen knocks down corner-3 after silky corner-3.

The AARP All-Stars will suit ‘em up, looking to bring Boston that much closer to placing a final exclamation point at the end of their saga. Pierce! Allen! KG! Before Miami changes our letterpress ink.

And we can place the verse in with the rest of the Three Basketeers’ Legacy – every quote, highlight, banner and record – and close up the box. No more writing. No more editing. It was perfect the way it was.

And, for a little while longer, we’ll all feel a little younger. We’ll all feel a little more limber. We’ll all feel a little more like we did when we first began watching them, back when Pierce, Garnett and Allen stretched from sea-to-shining sea, long before they ever thought to join forces and change the way basketball teams were assembled.

We’ll all feel a little more like the kids we were, when athletes were superhuman, life’s opportunities were endless and, to borrow KG’s most enduring and endearing quote, Anything Was Possible.