Celtics

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the Celtics' 26-point comeback vs Nets in 2002 playoffs

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the Celtics' 26-point comeback vs Nets in 2002 playoffs

Do you remember where you were on this day 17 years ago? 

Celtics fans most likely do, because it's the day Paul Pierce led a 26-point comeback against the New Jersey Nets to win Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals. 

The Nets featured Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn and Kenyon Martin as the top seed in the East, while the Celtics were headed by Pierce, Antoine Walker and Kenny Anderson. 

With the series tied at 1-1 after a split in New Jersey, the Nets dominated Boston in the first half, where the Celtics only managed 13 points in the first quarter. The Nets led by as many as 26 in the third quarter, until Pierce outscored their entire team 19-16 in the fourth quarter to lead Boston to the win. 

Pierce finished the game with 28 points in 45 minutes of playing time, and the Celtics outscored the Nets 41-16 in the fourth quarter. 

The comeback is tied for the fourth largest comeback in playoff history and gave the Celtics a chance at an NBA Finals appearance for the first time since 1987. It wasn't meant to be though, and the Nets ended up winning three straight games to close out the series and set up a clash with the two-time defending champion Lakers. LA swept the Nets to complete the first three-peat in the NBA since the days of Michael Jordan. 

Pierce would have to wait six years to finally get his chance at a championship, but this game was one of the future Hall-of-Famer's signature performances. The Truth earned his reputation in clutch spots and his fourth-quarter explosion in 2002 was particularly on brand. 

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Danny Ainge reveals why he initially rejected Celtics GM job offer

Danny Ainge reveals why he initially rejected Celtics GM job offer

Seventeen years ago, the Boston Celtics hired Danny Ainge to be their executive director of basketball operations and general manager.

Getting Ainge on board wasn't an easy task, though.

After spending seven-and-a-half seasons as a player on the C's in the 1980s, one would think Ainge would pounce on the opportunity to run one of the NBA's most iconic franchises. However, that was not the case as he was comfortable with his role as an analyst on TNT's NBA broadcast.

Celtics owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca extended the job offer to Ainge twice, but he rejected it both times before finally accepting it in May of 2003. Ainge explained in more detail why he was hesitant to take the job in a recent conversation with Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe.

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“They (Grousbeck and Pagliuca) told me that (former Celtics president) Red (Auerbach) had recommended that they hire me,” Ainge told Washburn. “I was flattered and I told them thank you. My three older kids had graduated from high school. I have my three youngest at home, so life is a little bit different. I told them I was not interested in the job and I gave them names of people in the league and some former Celtic players they should interview.

“I didn’t jump at it. It wasn’t anything I was looking to really do. As time went on, they had come a second time and a third time while I was broadcasting. I sensed my wife was warming up to the idea. Eventually, I said yes.”

With Ainge at the helm, the Celtics later won their 17th NBA title in 2008. After the championship season, Ainge was promoted to president of basketball operations.

Seems like taking the job turned out to be the right choice.

For Celtics, restart would quench long desire to see how good they can be

For Celtics, restart would quench long desire to see how good they can be

Before the Boston Celtics played their final game on March 10, Brad Stevens lamented how, "We haven’t been fully healthy very often. It almost always feels like we’ve had one of Kemba [Walker], Jayson [Tatum], Jaylen [Brown] or Gordon [Hayward] out.”

In fact, you would have had to rewind another month before that to find the last time the Celtics played with their top 7 players healthy.

What’s more, Boston had that top core rotation intact only eight times in the 64 games the team played before the coronavirus pandemic forced pro sports to shut down. One of the common refrains from the Celtics — both before the season paused, and in this awkward period since -- was a desire to find out how just good they could be when their top players are fully healthy.

Maybe they’ll actually get a chance to find out.

The NBA announced Saturday that it is in “exploratory conversations” with Disney about restarting the season in Orlando in late July. Even as momentum seemed to be growing about a potential resumption, the league’s acknowledgment made it seem just a bit more real.

There are undoubtedly plenty of hurdles to navigate — coronavirus testing, chief among them — before the NBA can truly position itself to resume games but it feels even safer to start thinking about that day now.

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The news definitely will energize Celtics players. Even with mix-and-match personnel due to injuries and illness, the Celtics still owned the fifth-best record in basketball before play paused. They had the fifth-best offensive rating, the fourth-best defensive rating, and fifth-best net rating. Boston had positioned itself for a top 3 spot in the Eastern Conference and showed that, when healthy, it could compete with any of the league’s elite.

After Enes Kanter hurt his leg on opening night, the Celtics didn’t have their top 7 healthy again until after Christmas (Dec. 28 vs. Raptors). A three-game stretch from Jan. 8-11 was the longest clip with its core healthy and Boston went just 1-2 in those games. Still, when Boston had its top 7 intact on Jan. 20 against the Lakers, it produced one of the team’s signature wins of the season.

We already ran down some of the biggest questions the Celtics will face if the season resumes. Sustained health is no guarantee, even if players will have had roughly three months to heal up before teams start to reconvene.

But the big fear the past two months is that these Celtics wouldn’t even get a chance to see how good they can be. That all the positive vibes and all the potential of the 2019-20 squad would be lost if the season was unable to resume.

It goes beyond the mere potential of the team. During a Zoom conference with Celtics reporters on Thursday, rookie Grant Williams noted the initial suspension of play stung Celtics players because, “especially with this group that we have, who enjoy each other, we enjoy being around each other, we were having so much fun during the year.” Players have openly craved simply getting back in the gym together because of how much they enjoyed each other’s company.

Players have made it clear that safety must be the first priority. If the league can ensure that and the season can resume, we can all embrace getting to see this team again. Before the season paused, the big question was whether the team had enough talent to truly make a push (with some lamenting the team’s lack of deadline and buyout activity).

All Celtics players ever wanted was a chance to answer that question, to see how good this roster could be at full strength. There will be some new variables in the equation given the unique circumstances of a restart but, as optimism about a restart grows, these 2019-20 Celtics might finally get their chance to determine their potential.