THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Drive ran out of gas

Minutes from completing historic run to title, it fell apart for Celtics

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / June 19, 2010

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Six minutes and 29 seconds.

The Boston Celtics were 6 minutes and 29 seconds away from a championship, 6 minutes and 29 seconds away from completing one of the great runs in Celtics history — NBA history, in fact. They were 6 minutes and 29 seconds away from achieving a satisfaction that they would have carried to their graves.

But this, we must always be reminded, is why we are talking about sport, and not entertainment. In sport, there is no scripted ending. In sport, someone seizes the moment, authoring a script on the fly. On Thursday night at Staples Center, the protagonists turned out to be the Los Angeles Lakers, not the Boston Celtics.

Trailing, 64-61, after a pair of Ray Allen free throws with 6:29 left, the Lakers took control of the game. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t even dramatic. It was workmanlike and it was deadly efficient. Starting with an almost predictable inside-out 3-pointer at the 6:12 mark by the redoubtable Derek Fisher, and ending with a pair of free throws by de facto series MVP Pau Gasol (as opposed to the official one) with 4:38 left, the Lakers ran off 9 straight points to go up, 70-64. In those 94 seconds, the Lakers tipped the seventh game of the 2010 NBA Finals in their direction.

The Lakers eventually won by 4 (83-79), and the confetti came flowing from the ceiling. The Celtics were left with their thoughts, feelings, and shattered dreams, knowing that their unpredicted run for an 18th championship, laudable as it was, would not be successful. They will always believe, at the very least, that they were the Lakers’ equal, that if Game 7 had been on their court, or even on a neutral court, they would have won. But it does not matter. The Lakers had a finishing kick, and they didn’t.

So now it is over for this bunch. “It’s not going to be the same team next year,’’ said Doc Rivers, who could be front and center in a changing-of-the-guard scenario.

Allen is a free agent, and it will be interesting to see what the going rate is from the Celtics or Team X for a soon-to-be 35-year-old shooting guard who had a trick-or-treat offensive series, culminating in a gruesome 3 for 14 from the floor. He represents class, professionalism, and is everything a team would want as a spokesman and role model for younger players, but his primary job is to put the ball in the basket.

Paul Pierce can opt out, although he has said approximately 357 times that he’d like to be a Celtic lifer. But stranger things have happened.

Rasheed Wallace may retire, and even if he doesn’t, can there be any doubt he was a one-time, roll-of-the-dice proposition?

Who knows when Kendrick Perkins will play again? The search for the warm body of a Big, as they say nowadays, is already well underway, I’m sure.

Anyway, let’s assume the era of Big Three II is over. Do we have a report card?

First of all, was it not a universal assumption in the autumn of 2007 that there would be a three-year window in order to win a championship? At the time, Allen and Kevin Garnett would play the 2007-08 season at 32 and 31, respectively. Pierce would play at 30. Then it was necessary to factor in Garnett’s workload, given that his career had begun at age 19. So three years seemed like a logical working premise.

Now let it be said that some among us — OK, me — were less enthusiastic about instant championship possibilities than others. I looked at the remainder of the roster and declared it to be the worst 4-12 in the league, a judgment that proved to be about as prescient as Dan Duquette’s proclamation that the 1996 Roger Clemens was in the twilight of his career. Please. At times you’ve got to man up and admit you’re wrong. I did like Rajon Rondo, but could never have projected his quick ascent to stardom in his second year in the league. I was totally wrong about Perkins, who looked like a career backup to me.

But I will say I made that judgment before Danny Ainge signed Eddie House, James Posey, or, for the stretch drive, P.J. Brown. Absent any of them, the team would not have won.

But the Celtics did win. They provided fans with one of the great start-to-finish experiences of their lives, going 66-16 in the regular season and then concluding the season with a 131-92 conquest of the hated Lakers. I can tell you for sure that no other Celtics team in my experience ever put the pedal to the metal on Day 1 without ever taking it off until the final buzzer of the final game. In that regard, the 2007-08 Celtics stand apart.

Really. Need we say any more? They delivered. They ended a 22-year championship drought, and they did so by giving their fans the closest thing to a perfect season imaginable. A fandom cannot ask more than to see a team give them a nightly home show in the regular season before doing whatever it takes to get through the two-month grind of the playoffs. That’s the complete package.

OK, so the team had another chance to win in Year 2, but Garnett’s injury ended that. But wait. A 27-2 start. 62 wins. That absolutely riveting first-round series with the eager, athletic Bulls. No complaints.

This year was an entirely different matter. There was the 23-5 start, followed by the injury-related (but not entirely, I grant you) 27-27 snore to the playoffs. They told us they would be competitive if they were healthy, and they were speaking the gospel truth. They beat Miami and the dynamic Dwyane Wade. They took care of King James. They showed Orlando that man cannot live by 3-point bombardiering alone, albeit spiced with a few entry passes to Dwight Howard. And then they engaged in mortal combat with the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, holding him to 40 percent shooting while taking them to the final 6 minutes and 29 seconds of a Game 7 on the road before being unable to close the deal.

In the end, the age mattered. Each of the Big Three proved to be quite mortal. The spirit was willing. Their hearts were in the right place. The other guys were a little bit better. It happens.

Final verdict: One title, one not given a fair chance, one spectacular 62-day, four-series playoff run that comes within 6 minutes and 29 seconds of winning it all. I’d say that’s an A-minus.

Whatever happens henceforth, happens. What fan wouldn’t do it all over again, every second of it?

Nobody I want to know.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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