They've become a rite of spring. The weather turns, they turn it on. Their intensity rises along with the circumstances. Big moments are their thing, and they've provided us with many.
The obvious starting point is the July 31, 2007 press conference, when Celtics fans caught a glimpse of their three superstars -- Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce -- together for the first time. Garnett couldn't stop bouncing as he held up his jersey. Pierce couldn't stop smiling. It was evident at that moment that things were going to be different.
On the court, the Celtics as we know them truly arrived on June 13, 2008 in Los Angeles. It was Game 4 of the NBA Finals, and the Lakers were leading by 20 points in the third quarter. But Pierce scored nine points in the third quarter, and Eddie House gave the Celtics their first lead with 4:07 to play. The Celtics were all the way back, and all that was left to do was to ceremoniously finish off the Lakers, which Allen did by crossing over Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic and taking it all the way the basket to put the Celtics up for good.
The Big Three and their supporting cast have provided us with some incredible moments in the last five years. It's possible Garnett and Allen will be back, but we may have also witnessed their last games in a Celtics uniform. If this is the end of the run, it's been quite a ride. What follows are 20-something of the most memorable moments in the last five seasons. (Note that you can also see all of these moments in pictures).
-- "The Comeback": The details are above, but the circumstances of that 24-point comeback in Los Angeles -- 20 in the second half -- can't be underestimated. The Celtics had a 2-1 lead in the series, but it sure looked like the Lakers were coming back to tie it. In the 2-3-2 format, Los Angeles was threatening to win all three games on its home court, which would have put the pressure on the Celtics to take both Games 6 and 7 at home. The comeback thwarted all of that, and signaled for the first time that the Celtics really could do it. The photo above -- by the Globe's Barry Chin -- captures all of those emotions. You can look at Pierce's face and see him thinking, "Did that just happen?"
-- Pierce-LeBron duel in Game 7: In another moment of arrival, the duel between LeBron James and Paul Pierce in Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals led to immediate comparisons to a similar duel between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins in 1988. James scored 45 points in Game 7, but Pierce matched him virtually shot for shot, finishing with 41 points himself, on six fewer shots. The Celtics knocked the Cavaliers out of the 2008 playoffs with a 97-92 win.
-- "The ghost of Red" free throw by Pierce: With the Celtics leading 95-92 in that same Game 7, Pierce stepped to the line with a chance to put the game away. His first free throw was long; the ball landed with a thud on the back of the rim, took a high bounce, and fell through the net. Pierce would make the second free throw, and after the game he credited Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach for giving him some divine intervention.
"The ghost of Red just looking over us," said Pierce. "I think he kind of tapped it in the right direction."
-- The Leon "Pow" game: It wasn't just the Big Three. Role players played a big part in a couple of championship runs. The most famous of those involved the hard-working, undersized Leon Powe, whose personal story of perseverance through homelessness and poverty is remarkable in itself. In Game 2 of the 2008 Finals, Powe scored 21 points off the bench. No one saw it coming, especially not Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who wasn't all that sure who Powe was, calling him Leon "Pow" (as in "ow") in the postgame press conference.
-- The role players: Other memorable role players in the Big Three era include Eddie House (whom Doc Rivers recently said entered the game firing because if he didn't make shots, "he knew he was coming out"), James Posey, P.J. Brown, Powe, Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Glen Davis, and Nate Robinson. Brown famously dunked on the Lakers to end the third quarter of that comeback game. Bass had 27 points in Game 5 of this year's Philadelphia series. Posey averaged 6.7 points per game during the 2008 postseason. He was 4 of 4 from the field in Game 6 of the Finals, 3 of 3 from 3-point range.
-- Allen in Game 6: Game 6 of the 2008 Finals was a coronation for the Celtics, a 131-92 drubbing of the Lakers at TD Garden. Dealing with a health crisis with his young son, Ray Allen made 7 of 9 3-pointers. Allen is a creature of habit, but he came through in season's biggest game despite his routine being shattered.
-- Pierce passing Bird: Paul Pierce passed Larry Bird for No. 2 on the Celtics' all-time scoring list in 2012, eclipsing Bird's 21,791 points in a game against Charlotte on Feb. 7. It was a big moment for Pierce, who took a step toward more complete recognition as one of the all-time Celtics greats. Pierce now trails only John Havlicek, who holds the high mark among all Celtics scorers with 26,395 points.
-- Pierce's transformation: The transformation from the perception of selfish scorer to the leader of a winning team has been one of the more gratifying story lines of the Big Three Era. On the court, Pierce's attempts dipped by almost five shots per game after the arrivals of Allen and Garnett. Off it, he went from being the team's only spokesman to sharing the podium with Garnett after every game. He still had his individual moments, both good and bad, but Celtics fans watched the Pierce they knew so well grow to be the Pierce they knew and loved.
-- Allen, Game 2 in 2010 Finals: Ray Allen made an NBA Finals record eight 3-pointers in a 103-94 win over the Lakers in Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals as the Celtics tied the series at one. Allen made 8 of 11 3-pointers and led all scorers with 32 points. It was his last, great performance in a game of that magnitude, and boy was it special.
Click the Full Entry button for more memorable moments.
-- "Anything's possible": Kevin Garnett's infamous quote after the Celtics won the franchise's 17th championship might be the most-replayed moment of their entire run. The 5-second emotional release by Garnett perfectly encapsulates the improbability of this whole thing, from how the Big Three came together in the first place to how they were able to blend so well together in their first season. Also, what Garnett was supposed to say was, "Impossible is nothing", which is an Adidas plug. Seems like it worked out the way it was supposed to.
-- Allen 3-point record: It was fitting that Ray Allen broke Reggie Miller's all-time 3-point mark against the Lakers. In a game vs. Los Angeles on Feb. 10, 2011, Allen made the 2,561st 3-pointer of his NBA career, with Miller in attendance. Allen hugged Miller, hugged his mother, and got an embrace from Kobe Bryant, who not-so-secretly has not been his best friend over the years.
-- Garnett's bluster: This is not one moment but rather a collection of them. Kevin Garnett is quietly focused before a game, a raving madman during it, and a sort of nonsensical prophet after it. His postgame interviews have become legendary. In one of them this season, he compares a game to a bar fight. In another, he says the Celtics win because of "grit and balls." After Game 5 of the conference finals vs. Miami, he offered up a memorable interview (left) to ESPN's Doris Burke.
-- The parade: When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in Boston before the 2007 season, Celtics coach Doc Rivers took the team on a duck boat tour around the city of Boston (you'd hope Garnett limited his cursing if there were any kids around). The Celtics boarded the boats again after winning the title, and the team's parade was a cathartic release of 22 years of frustration for fans of the winningest team in professional basketball. The sea of green from the North End to Back Bay was a welcome sight.
-- "Shrek and Donkey": Backups Nate Robinson and Glen Davis -- goofballs, both -- combined for 30 points in a win over the Lakers in Game 4 of the 2010 Finals against the Lakers. After the game, Robinson compared he and Davis to "Shrek and Donkey" from the animated movie Shrek. T-shirts were made. It was a thing.
-- The press conference: We've got to go back to that initial press conference for just a minute. It all happened so fast. The trade that brought Garnett to Boston for seven players was announced on July 31, 2007, and the press conference was called for later that day. As Garnett, Allen, and Pierce walked into the Legends courtside club at TD Garden, many in the room applauded. Later, when they players held up their Celtics jerseys, the visual was striking. Garnett couldn't stop bouncing, couldn't stop smiling. To his left, Pierce had, for the first time in his career, two right-hand men.
-- Doc: I'm coming back: The biggest question surrounding the Celtics after losing to the Heat in five games in the 2011 playoffs concerned Doc Rivers and his status for the following season. Rivers's contract was up, and it was assumed that he might take a few days or a few weeks, see what the Celtics were planning in the offseason, to make decision. But as reporters were scrambling to write their stories in the media room in the immediate aftermath of Game 5, Rivers just came right out with it.
"I'm leaning heavily toward coming back," said Rivers. "I haven't made that decision, but I can tell you, I probably will. I've kind of come to that over the last couple of weeks. You know I'm a Celtic and I love our guys. And I want to win again here. I'm competitive as hell and I have a competitive group."
-- Rondo playing through injury: When Dwyane Wade grabbed Rajon Rondo and pulled the Celtics guard to the ground in Game 3 of the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals, it didn't look like Rondo would be coming back. Kevin Garnett was more concerned that Rondo was hyperventilating, telling Rondo, "Breathe!" But a team doctor popped Rondo's elbow back into its socket, and Rondo returned to the game a short time later, playing with one arm and leading the Celtics to a 97-81 victory. Rondo would play out the series with the injury.
-- Rondo's emergence/big performances: Another gratifying part of this whole process has been seeing Rondo's development from an accessory piece to Boston's most important player. Playing with and learning from the Big Three has certainly helped. Rondo has 10 career playoff triple doubles, his game rising with the moment. In a game against the Knicks during the 2011 playoffs, he put up a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 20 assists. He had 44 points in Game 2 against Miami, showing an ability to score in big moments as well as distribute. After that game, Ray Allen put it simply: 'We feed off him now."
-- Garnett's injury: Not all the moments have been good ones. When Kevin Garnett came up hobbling with a right knee injury during a Feb. 19, 2009 game against Utah, it effectively ended Boston's chances for the season (Garnett would miss the playoffs) and severely limited their chances for the following two as Garnett recovered.
-- Ending LeBron's Cleveland career: For a while, TD Garden was a house of horrors for LeBron James. Pierce outdueled him in Game 7 in 2008, and the Celtics sent James's Cavaliers packing in the second round of the 2010 playoffs. James famously ripped off his Cavs jersey on the way to the locker room, a symbolic gesture considering he would soon be leaving Cleveland for South Beach.
-- Loss to Lakers in Game 7: The Celtics may not have played a more hyped game during their five-year run. Tickets for the game at the Staples Center were, at that time, the most expensive for any game ever in any sport. The Big Three had a chance to win their second title and cement their team's legacy in league history. Pierce, Allen, and Garnett would have been in the conversation with Bird, McHale, and Parish as authors of multiple Celtics championships. Still recovering from knee surgery, Garnett was badly outplayed by Pau Gasol in Game 7 -- the rebounds were 18-3 in favor of Pau -- as the Celtics ran out of gas. It was their last, best chance at another title.
-- Loss to Heat in Game 7: The loss in Miami will be seen as the end of this whole thing. Garnett may be back, but it's unlikely both he and Allen will be. If either player returns, they'll return to a team led by Rondo. The entire series will be seen as valiant last stand. The Celtics led, 3-2, and they entered the fourth quarter of Game 7 tied at 73. They made it one hell of a series. In the end, maybe that's all they could have done.