Danny Ainge was a starting shooting guard for the Boston Celtics and helped them win two titles in 1984 and 1986. However, in 2007, Ainge was the general manager of the Celtics. On June 28, 2007, Ainge made his first major move to put the Boston Celtics back in the championship conversation. He decided to trade the 5th overall pick in the draft, along with Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West, to the Seattle SuperSonics for sharp-shooting Ray Allen. Then, on July 31, 2007, Ainge traded for 10-time all-star and 2004 Most Valuable Player, Kevin Garnett, in the single largest trade for one player in NBA history. He was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Boston’s 2009 first-round draft pick and the return of Minnesota’s conditional first-round draft pick previously obtained in the 2006 Ricky Davis-Wally Szczerbiak trade. Although the trades left the roster depleted and depth would be a concern, Ainge believed he could not pass up two all-time greats like Allen and Garnett.
There might have been doubts about the Celtics depth before the season began, however, once it started it became clear that the “big 3” of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were all going to lead the way. Boston matched the best start in franchise history at 20-2 and then matched the best start through 30 games in NBA history with a 27-3 mark. Boston finished with a 66-16 record and posted the best single-season turnaround in NBA history, improving by 42 wins from the previous season.
To improve by so much, and to win so many games, the Celtics came together and, by the end of the season, had a very deep team. With a starting lineup of Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Kendrick Perkins at center and Rajon Rondo at point guard, the Celtics had their core. However, it ended up their depth that helped just as much with Tony Allen, Glen Davis, Eddie House, Leon Powe, James Posey and veterans P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell rounding out the bench. Kevin Garnett would win the defensive player of the year, and Danny Ainge, who executed one of the biggest team turnarounds in NBA history, was named NBA Executive of the Year.
In other league news, 2007-08 was the year that Kobe Bryant won the regular season Most Valuable Player as he led his Los Angeles Lakers to a 57-25 record and the top seed in the West. Kevin Durant would win the Rookie of the Year with the Seattle SuperSonics, and Manu Ginobili won the Sixth Man of the Year award for the San Antonio Spurs. Byron Scott won Coach of the Year helping to lead the New Orleans Hornets to 56 wins.
In the West, it was a major log-jam. Every playoff team won 50 or more games and only seven games separated the top seed from the 8th seed. In the East, it was the opposite. Only the top three seeds won 50 or more games as it was headed by Boston with 66 wins, Detroit with 59 and Orlando with 52.
Despite the weaker records in the East, Boston struggled in the playoffs. It took them seven games to get past Atlanta in the first round. Then it took seven more games to get past the pesky young Cleveland Cavaliers, who had went to the NBA Finals the year before. In the Eastern Conference Finals, it would take six games for the Celtics to dispatch the Detroit Pistons who made it to their sixth consecutive Eastern Conference Final. The Los Angeles Lakers would have an easier time advancing to the Finals by sweeping Denver, eliminating Utah in six games, and taking out the San Antonio Spurs in only five games.
For the first time since 1987, it would be the Boston Celtics against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Lakers were led by their MVP, Kobe Bryant, and the Boston Celtics were led by a “big 3” that were all hungry for their first title. The Celtics would win the first two games and the Lakers would respond with a big win in game #3. However, game #4 would see the second largest comeback in Finals history (after halftime) as Boston overcame an 18-point deficit and took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Paul Pierce would score 38 points in game #5, but the Celtics would still fall to the Lakers to force a game #6 back in Boston. However, the Celtics would simply crush Los Angeles in game #6, 131-92, led by Ray Allen with seven three-pointers. The Boston Celtics won their 17th overall championship and Pierce, Allen and Garnett had their first title.
Lost in the shuffle of the 2008 season, was their head coach, Doc Rivers. Rivers pushed all the right buttons, and let his players do their talking on the court. Kevin Garnett became only the 8th player to record a double-double throughout a Finals series, joining Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Moses Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. Paul Pierce won the Finals MVP and finished a journey that he had led since he was drafted in 1998. Ray Allen made 22 three-pointers in the NBA Finals (which was a record at that point).
For this Boston Celtics team, it was their team chemistry and defense that led the way. Kevin Garnett was the defensive spark-plug and all the pieces fit perfectly. This Celtics core would make a few more runs for another title in the coming years. However, things just never worked out for a second championship. They lost to the Lakers in seven games in 2010, and they developed a “heated” rivalry with Miami once LeBron came to town. Despite not winning a second title, this team will always have a special place in the history of the NBA. When you consider their record and their team chemistry, they are most definitely one of the best NBA teams for a single season. Beyond that, they could defend and fight with any of the greatest teams ever.