EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 4, 2013

A strange end to a strange Celtics season

Rivers, KG and Pierce could all be gone

On Pro Basketball
Michael Muldoon

---- — BOSTON — It was bizarre, it was surreal, it was the 2012-2013 Boston Celtics ... the season as a whole, the N.Y. Knicks series and last night’s season-ending Game 6 loss.

Boston played some of it worst basketball of the season to fall behind by 26, 75-49, with 9:49 to play. The way the Celtics were playing, this was as over as a professional sports event can be.

Then it wasn’t.

Knicks Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin and Celtic greybeard Paul Pierce must have had flashbacks to the 2002 playoffs when Pierce and Boston staged a historic 21-point, fourth-quarter comeback win over Kidd, Martin and the Nets.

Avery Bradley woke up from his series-long slumber and hit a long jumper, had a steal and lay-up, assisted on a Pierce 3-pointer, had a steal and two free throws. All told, Boston, whose scoring droughts throughout the series were Sahara-esque, went on a 20-0 run in a mere 3:37. This after it took them 20:10 for them to score their first 20 points of the game.

Boston trailed just 75-69 with 5:44 left.

The crowd, at least those who hadn’t left already, was going ballistic. Now it looked like the mentally-fragile Knicks would suffer perhaps the most embarrassing loss in franchise history. What would Game 7 have been like tomorrow in New York with the Knicks close to being the first team in NBA history to play a 3-0 series lead?

The pressure would have been monumental on the Knicks.

The C’s cut it to 4 twice but Carmelo Anthony (21 points, 7-23 shooting) hit a 3-pointer with 1:43 left to hike it to 9. His first 3 after 19 straight misses from deep in the series!

“Gotta love the heart of a champion,” Celtic guard Jason Terry said of the comeback. “We just didn’t have enough gas in the tank.”

That was a familiar theme this year for a team with one of the oldest core groups in sports. Injuries to ace point guard Rajon Rondo and important rookie power forward Jared Sullinger made things much worse.

Boston has some aging warriors who have to decide if they want to be back and the Celtics have to decide if they want them back.

Oh, yeah, 9th-year coach Doc Rivers was also non-committal about his future. So you could be looking at a Boston team without the three most important Celtics of the last 20 years: Hall of Famer Paul Pierce (15 years, 24,021 points), Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett (18-year veteran, 6 franchise altering years in Boston) and Rivers, who just passed Tommy Heinsohn for No. 2 in Celtic career wins (475 with 416 regular season and 59 playoffs).

The way Rivers worded his comments on KG and himself, it made you think it might be the end of the line for both. Maybe it came out wrong or maybe he was tipping his hand.

He called Garnett, who’ll turn 37 on May 19, “As tough a guy and as tough a competitor as I’ve ever seen. I didn’t want him to go out that way.”

Asked to address his future, Rivers remarked, “I don’t know. I’m under contract. I can’t think about it right now. I don’t know. If I told you right now, I’d say I’m coming back.”

He called Pierce, who turns 36 in October, “One of the greatest Celtics ever. This is a day and a time where players change teams like socks. He chose to stay. ... He wanted to get it done here and he did it.”

Pierce said, “That’s a decision for them to make.”

They and Ray Allen delivered that title in the first year of the New Big 3 and reached the finals in 2010 as well.

Pierce had his struggles this season. Last night would be a tough way to go out: a 4-for-18, 1-of-9 on 3-pointers stinker with five more turnovers.

He’s owed $15.3 million next year but it’s a club option with a $5-million buyout before June 30. Danny Ainge will have a lot of soulsearching to do before making that call. There has been a lot of talk KG just might retire. He’d be leaving a lot of money on the table: 11.5 million next year and $12 million the next, although the last year isn’t all guaranteed. He has, however, made over $290 million excluding endorsements in his career.

One thing is certain, some changes are needed.

When asked if the Celtics could go forward as currently constituted with KG and Pierce, Rivers said, “No, No. No. We need more.”