The seventeen-time world champions are the most accomplished team in New England sports and appear primed for another title run. Here’s a look at the past, present, and future of the Celtics.
The Celtics were the dominant force in the NBA for much of the late twentieth century. With legendary center Bill Russell and coach Red Auerbach leading the way, the Celtics captured 11 titles within a 13-year span beginning in 1959. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the likes of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish led the Celtics to five titles as the team battled its West Coast nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers, year-in and year-out for basketball supremacy. As the roster turned over in the early 90s, the Celtics lost their stars to retirement and entered a period of decline, bottoming out with a 15-67 season in ’96–’97.
They burst back into the Boston sports consciousness with a string of playoff appearances in the early half of the 00’s, but many of the Celtics’ investments in young talent did not pan out on the time scale expected by management. Two deals in the summer of 2007 changed everything. The Celtics coughed up a top draft pick and spare parts for superstar Ray Allen and second-round draft pick Glen “Big Baby” Davis. With Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on board, and little else in the way of established talent, the Celtics seemed well-positioned to make it to the playoffs for a few years but could not have been considered true championship contenders on par with San Antonio and Los Angeles. That was when Danny Ainge exchanged many of the talented young “projects” that the Celtics had on their hands for Kevin Garnett, a perennial all-star for a mediocre Minnesota Timberwolves squad. During the 2007–08 season, the “Big Three” helped to expedite the development of talented point guard Rajon Rondo as the Celtics rolled through the regular season. After conquering the Eastern Conference in the playoffs, they downed their old rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, in six games in the NBA finals, capping a remarkable turnaround from the mediocrity of the previous season.
The “core” of the Celtics has aged but remains largely the same. Most commentators now refer to the “Core Four” or the “Big Four” of the Celtics, counting the multitalented, lightning-fast Rajon Rondo as part of the group most critical to the Celtics’ success. The last two years have been marked by valiant playoff runs. The Celtics made it to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2009 while Kevin Garnett was out with a knee injury. During the past season, they struggled at times in the regular season but returned to form just in time for the playoffs. After knocking off teams headlined by Dwayne Wade (Heat), LeBron James (Cavaliers), and Dwight Howard (Magic), the Celtics fell one game short of an eighteenth NBA title at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.
A healthy Celtics team will go far in 2010-11; the bench appears to be in good shape with recent acquisitions like free agent signee Shaquille O’Neill, free agent signee Jermaine O’Neal, and acquisition Nate Robinson, who came up big in the playoffs while backing up Rondo. Pierce re-committed to the Celtics this past offseason with a four-year deal, and Allen signed a two-year extension as well. The twenty-four year-old Rondo will continue to assume greater responsibility on this team, but the rest of the Celtics should be just as hungry as ever for another NBA title.
Get to know the team
The Celtics share the TD Garden (North Station stop on the Green Line) with the Bruins, playing forty-one home games a year in the arena. One of the hottest tickets in town, there are balcony seats that go for $10.00, but those seats will go quickly (individual game tickets went on sale this past Friday). The next-cheapest tickets start at $59.50 (“Promenade” section) and can be as expensive as $328.00 for lodge seats. You can catch the Celtics on TV as well at Comcast SportsNet New England; they are also featured frequently on national television (ABC). They face off against the stacked Miami Heat on October 26 in Boston; the game will be the Heat debut for stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh and is one of the most anticipated regular season match-ups in recent history.