THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

One more chance for Three

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 19, 2010

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LOS ANGELES - It’s done. The trading deadline has come and gone. The Big Three will have their chance to win one more championship before the whole thing blows up. Strap yourselves in for the famous final scene, the last roundup of Three Amigos.

It was appropriate that the Celtics were at the Staples Center in the hours after the deadline passed yesterday. The Lakers are the gold standard in the NBA in 2010. They are the ones who took the throne vacated by the Green last spring. And they’ll be the ones on the other side of the floor if the Celtics somehow find their mojo and make it out of the Eastern Conference this spring.

Celtics nip Lakers. C2

The Celtics beat a Kobe-less LA team, 87-86, in their first game after the deadline. Boston won despite scoring only 11 points in the fourth quarter and making only 61.5 percent of its free throws. It was a night in which Ray Allen shot like a man who was happy he hadn’t been traded (10 for 15, 24 points). It was a night when the Celtics reminded Basketball America that they are still capable of neutralizing West Coast front-runners with East Coast Powerball.

Through the years, when the Celtics and Lakers were conference kingpins, these twice-a-year regular-season meetings resolved bragging rights and provided some measure of where each team stood. All of that stuff is out the window this year. At this hour, the mission of the old Celtics is to find their old soul. Winning two in a row after the break is a start. Portland and Denver are next.

“This has been a good stretch for us,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “We needed one of these like we won tonight. We’re a little more healthy, but we’re not there yet.’’

In the weeks after Christmas the Celtics became a wounded and unlikable band of underachievers. They were big on attitude, small on work ethic. Impressed with past achievements, convinced they could summon the old dominance any time they pleased, they blew 10 double-digit leads. They became the kind of team we scorn here in Boston. Now they are in the process of trying to earn our love again.

The All-Star break and the passing of the deadline were crucial moments for the Green. With the deadline gone, the uncertainty is behind them. Danny Ainge has decided to go for it with this group one last time. Allen is still here. Big Baby is still here. Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler are not walking through that door.

Nate Robinson will be walking through the door. That means Eddie House is gone. The departure of House stings a little. Along with James Posey and P.J. Brown, House was an important piece of the title team of 2007-08.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, never missing a chance to instigate (this is one of the reasons Red hated the Mystic One), was asked about the Celtics trading House for Robinson and said, “They got great response from House. I don’t know what you can do to improve on that.’’

Allen, always the most likely of the Big Three to be traded, said, “He was a good teammate, always doing his job. We know what he meant to the team.’’

Allen took a lot of questions about his name in trade rumors.

“I was probably the most-speculated player, but it’s not something I worried about,’’ he said.

“Maybe we should threaten to trade him all the time,’’ joked Rivers after watching Allen light up the Staples Center.

Asked about crowd of thirtysomethings in his locker room, Doc admitted, “It’s an issue. So far, it’s been proven to be real. We’ve been broken down. But when the playoffs start and we’re healthy, let’s see if age is a factor.’’

Kevin Garnett missed 11 games in the first half. Paul Pierce missed seven. Marquis Daniels missed 29, and Baby was in the corner for 28.

It’s still hard to believe that there was talk of 72 wins for this team back in November. Fast starts have been the trademark of this group (an aggregate 72-11 pre-Christmas record over the last three years), but now it’s all about the present. It’s about performance, not possibility. Journalism school teachers instruct students to “show, don’t tell,’’ and that is what this stage of the Celtics season is about. Stop telling us how good you are. Show us.

Colleague/commissioner Bob Ryan was first to speak of this group in relation to the 1968-69 Celtics. Those guys finished fourth in their division, but put it together for the playoffs and ground out another championship, beating the Chamberlain-West-Baylor Lakers in seven games.

Those were the final games for Bill Russell and Sam Jones. It was the end. And it was great.

This could be like that.

“I like this team when it is whole,’’ said Rivers. “We haven’t had good rhythm over the last 20 games. You could see it happening before the drop came. Hey, if you’ve jumped off the bandwagon, stay off. But I do see us trending well.’’

While you were sleeping, they beat the Lakers. They did it on national television in front of the usual throng of Hollywood A-listers. (Question: What do you call the guy who shows Usher to his seat in the front row at the Staples Center?) They blew another double-digit lead in the second half, but they came back and won. On the road. Against the Lakers.

They gave us hope. They looked like 12 angry men in search of lost Ubuntu.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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