ESPN recently released a list ranking the top-74 players in NBA history. To no one’s surprise, there were a plethora of former Boston Celtics members, including their most recent iteration of a big-3 in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Wednesday, ESPN’s NBA experts came together and compiled a fun list ranking the league’s 74 greatest players of all-time. As expected, the piece consisted of numerous former Boston Celtics players — 17 to be exact.
Being the C’s are the winningest team in league history, the fact that 23 percent of the players mentioned on this list have donned the green & white threads — regardless of how long their tenure may have been — should come as no surprise.
Legends like Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce and Kevin McHale all spent either a large chunk of, or their entire career in Boston and, during their time, guided the franchise to unbelievable heights; in other words, won championships.
Combined, these four aforementioned players have a total of 18 championship rings. And, though Bird and McHale both won their chips together, a common pattern amongst 75 percent of these listed legendary Celtics is the fact that they managed to win multiple rings during their playing days.
The one exclusion from this statement: Pierce.
To many new age fans of the organization — namely, millennials — their only true taste of greatness came in the form of the Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen big-3 from the aughts and early 2010s.
Selected 10th over by the organization in 1998, Pierce spent the first eight years of his career either seeing early exits in the playoffs or missing out on the league’s second season altogether. The lack of true success began to take its toll on their franchise player and, in turn, forced the forward to give Danny Ainge an ultimatum: build a team around me worthy of title contention or trade me.
Because of this, the C’s front office sprang into action and opted to grant Pierce his first wish: build a title contender.
On Draft Night in 2007, the Boston Celtics sent Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and the rights to their fifth overall pick to the Seattle Supersonics for All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen. A month later, Boston struck gold once again and took part in a blockbuster deal that landed them Minnesota Timberwolves disgruntled star and 2004’s league MVP Kevin Garnett.
Seemingly overnight the Celtics went from the second-worst team in the association to the odds on favorite to bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2007-08.
To no one’s surprise, Boston’s big-3 was a force to be reckoned with throughout the regular season. Winning 42 more games than the season prior the team finished with a record of 66-16, ranking them first in the Eastern Conference and headed to their first postseason appearance in two years.
As we all now know, the team went all the way to the NBA Finals — their first since 1987 –, ultimately knocking out their long-time rivals the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. For Celtics fans, witnessing their favorite team attaining their first Finals victory in over two decades was a joyous sight to be seen.
Life was good.
From 2007 to their split in 2012 — Allen left as a free agent to join the Miami Heat — the team saw a great deal of success. The big-3 era saw five straight trips to the postseason, three Eastern Conference Finals appearances, two trips to the NBA Finals and, the ultimate goal, an NBA Championship.
With Pierce’s retirement in 2017, all who made up Boston’s big-3 no longer find themselves lacing ’em up on the NBA hardwood. Allen and, most recently, Garnett have been voted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame while “The Truth” will most likely find himself voted in once he becomes eligible in 2021.
With all this in mind, when ESPN came out with their list of the 74 greatest players in NBA history, it was unequivocally expected that one would find the likes of these three ballers somewhere within the rankings.
According to the company’s experts, their placement within the all-time ranks lists as followed:
- 56) Ray Allen
- 54) Paul Pierce
- 20) Kevin Garnett
Make no mistake about it Boston Celtics fans, how this trio managed to turn a lottery-bound team into a championship winner in just one season is an unbelievable accomplishment — and one that also warrants praise for Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers as well.
However, when looking at these rankings, and how highly regarded they are as all-time talents — specifically Garnett at 20 — it is somewhat surprising that they only walked away from their time together with just two Finals appearances and one championship.
When looking at the other groupings of players on this list you’d find that many of them managed to garner numerous championships playing alongside one another. A notable example of this would be the Boston Celtics’ big-3 of the 1980s, consisting of Larry Bird (ranked 7th), Kevin McHale (ranked 36th) and Robert Parish (ranked 61st) who managed to win three titles playing alongside one another.
Another fine example could also come from the C’s of the 60s and 70s with their big-3 of the Houdini himself, Bob Cousy (ranked 41st), John Havlicek (ranked 33rd) and, of course, Bill Russell (ranked 4th). Together, this trio attained an obscene amount of hardware — Cousy won six rings, Havlicek won eight and Russell won eleven.
Watching the five-year run that Pierce, Garnett and Allen had together, it was evident that they were always in the conversation as title favorites, ranking within the top-3 of virtually every title-odds list throughout their tenure. And, yet, they only managed to make it as far as the big game twice.
Now we get it; one could certainly bring up the fact that they were all on the wrong side of 30 once they joined forces and, in turn, were heading down the mountain in regard to their peak years.
However, it must also be stated that even though this is technically true, they all were still seen as some of the best players in the league virtually every season they were together — Pierce was voted to the All-Star game five times, Garnett was voted in four times and Allen three times.
Not only was this the case, but the Eastern Conference, like its been for pretty much the last two decades, was incredibly weak in comparison to the west.
For instance, of the five seasons this trio played together, four of them consisted of teams reaching the playoffs in their conference with a record of .500 or less, while the west saw just one time where this was the case. Of those five seasons, the C’s were a top-3 seed in the east with early dibs on home-court advantage.
Their followup campaign that was meant to defend their crown ended in a second-round exit to the younger and much more inexperienced — though, granted, talented — Orlando Magic team.
As covered, the 2009-10 season did see the team reach the NBA Finals yet again, with an epic rematch against the Lakers. Unfortunately, they would go on to lose to the Kobe Bryant & Pau Gasol-led team — both of whom find themselves also on ESPN’s top-74 list — in seven games.
This would be their last time going to the big game.
The next two seasons saw exits in the conference semi-finals and conference finals, respectively. After that, as mentioned earlier, Allen went on to join LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami and, with that, the big-3 era for the Boston Celtics was officially dead.
No, this is not me stating that the Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen Boston Celtics was a flop. Frankly, no one should argue that as they did attain the ultimate goal they set out to achieve by winning the title in 2008.
However, looking back at the fact that this team had three of the top-74 players of all-time on the same roster while still arguably in their primes — though one could certainly argue exactly where in their primes they were at — it’s surprising that they only managed to walk away with just one championship.
At the end of the day, this is a mere “first world” complaint. Me sitting here whining that this Boston Celtics core only tasted glory once, while other franchises like the Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets have never won a title, somewhat seems a bit greedy.
Still, I cannot help but sit here and believe this trio should have accomplished more than what they did.
One has every right to think differently. But, hey, I guess that’s what makes horse races!