NBA: Big 3 playing like 1
By Jimmy Golen
BOSTON ó Three stars. One basketball. Zero complaints.
Boston’s Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are playing for a championship in their first year together, finding success in the kind of selflessness only losing can teach.
Their scoring is down. Their minutes are down. But their spirits are up, because after a combined 2,774 career games, they’re about to play their first in the NBA finals.
“We’ve all been on that side of the fence, where everybody pats you on your back and tells you they love you because you hit the last-second shot,” Allen said this week as the Celtics prepared for tonight’s series opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Now, it’s about winning, and being able to say that you won, and being to that certain promised land that everybody talks about trying to get to. We know we need each other to get there. Sometimes doing less is more.”
With 25 All-Star appearances, thousands of points and, yes, plenty of winning shots, the Big Three have resumes to admire. Garnett already has Hall of Fame credentials, and Pierce and Allen would have a better chance if they’re riding through downtown Boston in a parade this month.
“They all had great individual careers, and they needed team success. And I think that helped us,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They have done everything except for one thing, and the one they haven’t done you can’t buy.”
A career 21-point scorer and eight-time All-Star, Allen’s average went up each year for five seasons before he was traded to Boston last summer. As the third option in the Big Three, he dropped nine points off his average from last year ó from 26.4 to 17.4.
Pierce had averaged 25 points from 2000-2007; he was down to 19.6 per game this season.
Oh, but there was one stat that went up: assists.
“When we first got together, we talked about all those things. But at the end of the day we said, ‘What’s the ultimate goal: winning ballgames,’ ” Pierce said. “Once we put our feet in the middle and said we’re all-in, that was it.”
Garnett was a 20-point, 10-rebound guy for each of the previous nine seasons. His numbers are also down this year ó 18.8 and 9.2 ó but no one is suggesting that his performance dropped off: He finished third in the MVP voting, and he was named the NBA’s defensive player of the year.
“I think the reason the three of us work is because we actually don’t just talk to you guys about sacrifice, but it’s something that we actually exercise,” Garnett said Wednesday. “It’s our way of life. It’s what we do, it’s what we’ve been doing. … We put the team above everything and the wins above everything, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters.”
You could forgive point guard Rajon Rondo if he didn’t know how things were going to work out. In just his second year in the league ó his first as a starter ó his job was to find the most open of his teammates, knowing that the other two could probably score as well.
On some teams, the wrong decision can lead to a lot of dirty looks and some grumbled, “Hey, I was open.”
Rondo hasn’t heard a single gripe.
“You expect it from guys like that, but they’ve been great teammates,” Rondo said. “They all want the ball, but they’re very unselfish guys ó especially the Big Three.”
Ask backup point guard Sam Cassell, and he’ll say it’s because they have already had the opportunity to make the big shots, put up the big statistics, and earn the big contracts.
“Younger guys all try to get their numbers,” Cassell said, “but they’re already stars.”
But Rivers said he doesn’t think Garnett was ever like that.
“Kevin’s been unselfish his whole career,” the coach said. “Scoring doesn’t drive him.”