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Before K.G. and Jesus Shuttlesworth, before the Sox won 2 World series, mere months after the Patriots unpredictably won their first Super Bowl, there was a team and there was hope. ESPN didn't drool all over them, most Hub fans could care less, but this team was so close to doing the very thing that people have been proclaiming for months now. But they fell just short, was it lack of motivation, did the zebras alter history, or was it just a dream deferred. This is the story of 2001-2002 Celtics.
There's A New Sheriff In Town
After Rick Pitino tried and failed miserably at coaching the Celtics, he decided to take what was left of his coaching reputation and bolt for the college ranks. His assistant, Jim O'Brien was given the temporary job but little did they know how much potential Pitino's sidekick had. He was given the reigns for the next season as well as 3 draft picks to help reshape his team. The three picks were used Joe Johnson, Joe Forte, and Kedrick Brown, however no one saw any promise in these picks and quickly wrote the C's off to be Secaucus bound once again. But O'Brien had other ideas. Midway through the season he traded Johnson to the Phoenix Suns along with guards Randy Brown and Matt Palacio and a first round pick for veteran forward Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk. Little did he know that Johnson would become a budding star in the NBA but for the time, it showed that he did not want to win in a couple years he wanted to win now, which didnt sit too well amongst the Celtics camp.
Start off with a BANG
The Celtics won 49 games, the most they won in 10 years, and made the playoffs for the first time in 7 years as a No. 3 seed. Their first opponent would be the defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia 76ers led by reigning MVP Allen Iverson. The Celtics would win the first two games but Iverson would make sure that he would not go down without a fight. He won the next 2 games in Philly setting up a winner take all game at the then Fleetcenter. Paul Pierce dominated scoring 46 points in the series clinching blowout.
On to Motown...
The Detroit Pistons led by then Jerry Stackhouse and Clifford Robinson were actually heavily favored due to winning the season series. The Pistons took game one but then the C's would take the next 4 games including a controversial low scoring Game 3, where Stackhouse appeared to have hit the game winner but it was waved off. The Celtics were on to the their first Eastern Conference championship since 1987.
So if they win and then they win that would mean...
Alas it appeared no one cared about the C's run. There were no special news segments like there is today with the Boston teams, they didn't even get a front page story when they advanced. Yes, Celtic pride seemed to have moved on. Next up was Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets winners of 52 games despite having no individual star player. The Celts and Nets split the first two games and then it happened...
Game 3 had the Nets going into the 4th quarter up 21. It appeared that the Nets would take Game 3, the Fleet was emptying as fans hustled to beat traffic. The Nets put in reserves but Brien refused to do the same. The screen showed Antoine Walker ranting about something and some feared that this miracle team was on the verge of self-destructing. Pierce would then explode for 19 points in the quarter as the remaining fans cheered on. The Nets sent back in the starters who couldn't buy a bucket and the C's dug deeper and deeper into the deficit and suddenly the C's were the ones with the lead. The crowd, O'Brien and the team went crazy as if they won the series.
Suddenly people started to believe the C's could win this thing and the Lakers would go on to tie their series the next day and suddenly people came to realize that the Celtics and Lakers were both 2 games away from meeting in yet another NBA finals. The Celtics had actually swept the Lakers in the regular season, so it wasn't a stretch to say that Pierce and Walker could give Shaq and Kobe at least a run for their money. With the historic game 3, many presumed the Nets to lose confidence as well as the series.
In Game 4, the Celtics went down but battled back and down by two one second left, all Pierce had to do was sink 2 free throws and it was overtime and potential to take commanding 3-1 series lead. He misses the first one but cleverly intentionally missed the second, Rodney Rogers attempts the put back but it rattles in and out. Game 5 wouldnt be so close the Nets won easily and now the series was theirs for the taking. The C's had the lead and momentum in the first half of Game 6 but then Kenyon Martin made Antoine look like he needed a Walker. And fate was sealed the Nets win 4-2. They would then get swept unceremoniously by the Lakers and left Celtic fans feeling like 2007 Golden State Warriors fans.
Where Are They Now
- Paul Pierce remained the only player from the 8 man playoff roster still in Green, now paired with KG and Allen, unlike in 2002 he is expected to make the NBA Final at the very very least
- Antoine Walker would leave, come back and then leave again. He like many other veterans rode Dwyane Wade coattails en route to a championship he is now in Minnesota or in the D-League, who knows
- Kenny Anderson was last spotted in a local Target store, his credit card was maxed out and he said he was going to the ATM and would be right back.....he never came back
- Tony Battie is the guy that is sent to charity events when they are unable to find real celebrities
- Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk were last seen at Game 4 of the Celtics-Hawks game,pointing a Joe Johnson yelling THE CELTICS THINK WE'RE BETTER THAN THAT GUY
- Jim O'Brien was forced to resign because he believed they shouldn't trade all their vets for unproven young guys, the Celtics would later trade all their unproven young guys for vets.
- Walter McCarty is just now just a contract used to help balance out trades