These two teams are not only fighting to advance in the playoffs, they're fighting to remain intact. The loser of this series is ripe for revisions. Either the Chosen One will choose to play elsewhere or the Big Three will lose a member.
Leading three games to two in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Celtics have a chance to deliver the finishing blow to the Cavaliers and the opening salvo in the Summer of LeBron. If the top-seeded Cavs bow out in the second round then the King will have a new court next season, one he feels gives him a better chance of being crowned NBA champion.
LeBron has been discussed, dissected and dissed across every media platform since his apathetic and just plain pathetic 3-for-14 performance in Game 5, which ended with Cleveland fans not defending the veracity of Bron-Bron's boo-boo, instead booing him and his teammates off the court at the Q, which one Cleveland Plain-Dealer writer referred to as The Quit.
You don't have to tell Boston sports fans how quickly the fortunes and fates in a series can change -- how about those Philadelphia Flyers, eh? -- and while all the scrutiny is focused on the end of an era for the Cavaliers there remains the possibility that tonight's game at TD Garden could be the last time we see the Big Three together on the hallowed parquet.
If the Celtics lose Game 6 tonight on their homecourt to the Cavs, then they have to go back to Cleveland for Game 7 on Sunday. It would be a Yao Ming-sized task to win three times on Cleveland's home court. It's certainly not impossible with the way the Celtics have played on the road in this series, but between the referees and LeBron it's definitely not a favorable scenario.
"[Tonight] it's the biggest game of the series, close-out game," said the Celtics' Glen Davis. "People don't realize how much we have on our back. If we lose this game at home we have to go back to Cleveland. Even though we know we can win there, that's their house. That's their environment. It's a tough situation. It's hard to win three games on the road ... we got to win this game, and we got to show the fans that we can protect home court."
If Boston blew a 3-2 lead to be eliminated in the second round for the second consecutive year, then there would be both calls and legitimate cause to look at breaking up Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and retooling the team around Rajon Rondo, who has been the most dynamic player in this series, LeBron included.
History says that aging champions like the Celtics don't get surpassed by younger teams, keep the same core together and suddenly surge back to Eastern Conference eminence. The Bird-McHale-Parish Celtics in the late 1980s and the Bad Boys Pistons in the early 1990s were both overtaken and never returned to an NBA Finals.
Celtics executive director of basketball operations/general manager Danny Ainge is not the type to just sit around and watch his team decline. He would do something about it. Ainge explored deals for Allen at the trading deadline. He didn't see any suitable swaps, so he wisely kept the ageless Allen in tow and hoped his team would turn it around when it counted most.
That has happened. Consider the switch flipped, but understand that not even the Celtics, who spouted off all season about the relative unimportance of the 82-game regular season, were sure they would congeal when it counted.
"It's tough. It's tough. You don't know what's going to happen," said Davis. "We didn't know we were going to play like this. We knew we capable of it, but we didn't know that we were going to gel this well in the playoffs."
With two years left on his deal at a total of $40 million, Garnett isn't going anywhere. His contract is untradeable and his importance to the team as a vocal leader, defensive anchor and frontcourt offensive threat is undeniable. Garnett has been outstanding in this series, averaging 18.2 points per game and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 50.6 percent from the field.
Allen will be a free agent after this season. He is the most disposable of the Big Three, simply because of his contract situation. But he is also the most durable. Shooting is always en vogue in the NBA and that's something Sugar Ray will be able to do when he's 50. There will be interest in Allen in the offseason, and it will be interesting to see how much of a pay cut he's willing to take from his $19.7 million salary this season to stay in Boston.
The most desirable member of the Big Three for other teams would be Paul Pierce. He's the youngest (turns 33 in October) and the best overall player. He is also the one who might age the worst. This has been a tough series for Pierce, with the unenviable task of having to bang with LeBron every night, but he finally delivered on the offensive end in Game 5.
Ownership will not want to move Pierce, who has one year left on his contract at $21.2 million but can opt-out like James this summer, under any scenario. However, if this series fell apart and the Celtics couldn't agree on a long-term deal with Pierce, Ainge would be compelled to at least listen to offers for Pierce. Remember, five years ago Ainge entertained moving Pierce for the opportunity to draft Chris Paul.
KG was right; the Celtics do have to play tonight like it's the last game of the series. Because if they don't it might be the last game this current team plays together at the Garden.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.