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Celtics aware time is short

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / December 25, 2011
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NEW YORK - There is no next year. There is no planning for the future. For now, in this abbreviated 2011-12 season, there is only the game in front of them, the next game on the schedule, their window certainly closing.

Despite Paul Pierce’s avowals that he is recruiting Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to return to the Celtics next season, the fact remains that the Celtics are on the brink of losing half of the Big Four next year.

That means they have to win. Now.

It starts today, with the season opener against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, as the Celtics look to kick off a season in which every game, every win, is magnified, given the fact that this might just be the last chance for the current group of Celtics to win another title.

“Right now, this is a dark horse team,’’ Pierce said. “Not really a lot has been said about us. A lot of people are saying this is the last hurrah, so to speak. If it is, I hope it’s one of those hurrahs like the Celtics had in [Bill] Russell’s last championship, when nobody believed they could do it and they ended up winning a championship.

“If this is going to be a time where Kevin and Ray move on, hopefully it will end on a championship.’’

They try not to think about the future, about whether this might be Garnett’s last season, about whether this might be Allen’s last season. They’d rather focus on the present, on the Knicks, on the next game in a season that was on the brink of not happening at all.

Of course, it’s not a new theme, not news that one day these Celtics will no longer play together. As Allen said, “I’ve heard that every year that I’ve been here.’’ He has heard talk of last chances and breakups, of the end of a trio brought together to win everything.

It hasn’t ended yet. but this year it seems more real. This truly might be the end for this group in Boston, and so there’s talk about a singular goal, about going for it all, about sticking around until the last game of the NBA Finals, about winning that game.

“Unfortunately that is the mind-set,’’ Garnett said. “No one knows the certainty of the future, so I think we’re embracing this year as all-out.’’

And they seemed to be gathering the pieces, until they suffered the first dent in the plan. Jeff Green, counted on to be a reliable backup to Pierce, will be out for the season because of an aortic aneurysm.

That hurt. Still, the Celtics know they have to push this season, they have to make it count. It’s something that Doc Rivers has addressed with his players.

“I was very honest with them about that,’’ said Rivers. “That doesn’t mean we won’t have some of them back next year or not. But there’s a chance we will not. And this is most likely our last shot.

“We may never be in this position again, as a player or as a coach. We have to try to take advantage of that.’’

There are so many unknowns about this season, with the shortened schedule and the imperative to start quickly and keep winning. That is even more the case for a team whose three biggest stars are well into their 30s.

“The league is getting younger,’’ Garnett said. “Obviously we’re a veteran team. The one thing you can’t teach is experience. We’re a confident group, a group that’s willing to work, and that’s what we’re going to do.’’

That’s the plan, at least - a plan that goes into effect at noon today, as the Celtics get a chance to kick off their season in front of a nationwide television audience. This is when the questions start getting answered, when the team exits an eye-blink of a preseason to get started on the real games, on the goal of a championship season.

“It’s hard to know when guys are getting older how much they have left,’’ said team president Danny Ainge. “They’ve surprised me the last couple of years. I remember two years ago when it wasn’t looking very good the second half of the year and they got to Game 7 of the NBA Finals on the road.

“These guys have a lot left in the tank.’’

Mickael Pietrus, who cleared waivers last night, has committed to signing with the Celtics. The 6-foot 6-inch forward, who negotiated a buyout with Phoenix Thursday, is expected to fill some of the void left by Green.

“I have decided to be part of The Boston Celtics Family’’ Pietrus posted on Twitter last night.

Pietrus’s agent, Bill McCandless, told CSNNE.com that he was in the process of finalizing a contract with the Celtics. McCandless did not indicate terms of the deal, but the Celtics have only the veteran minimum available, meaning Pietrus would receive a pro-rated salary of around $1.2 million.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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