LOS ANGELES – Three NBA officials stood in the Boston Celtics’ tunnel, each clutching large pieces of luggage with heavy airline tags hanging from them. Inside the bags were special 2010 commemorative championship Celtics hats and T-shirts. As soon as time ran out on the Celtics’ 83-79 Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals on Thursday night, they took off running with the bags.
Seconds later, Kevin Garnett(notes) walked down the same tunnel in a daze with his Celtics teammates. A fan taunted Garnett, saying, ”Anything is possible,” mimicking what he exclaimed in 2008 when the Celtics beat the Lakers in the Finals.
One possibility lingers for these Celtics: they won’t be the same group anymore.
Start with their head coach Doc Rivers. He left the Staples Center floor knowing that it could’ve been his last game with the franchise. The 48-year-old is considering leaving the Celtics and returning to Orlando, Fla., so he can spend more time with his four children, who are successful high school and college athletes. Rivers said he has no timeframe on a decision, but plans on attending the team’s summer league games next month in Orlando.
As Rivers got closer to the locker room, he gasped, dipped his head and was engulfed by emotions as co-owner Bob Epstein put his arm around him for comfort. Tears streamed down Rivers’ face, much like his players.
Said Epstein: ”I just talked to him and told him he had a great season. Great season. He’s the best coach around.”
The thought of the popular Rivers leaving doesn’t sit well with his players. ”Doc’s everything. Everything. It’s going to be a rough one,” Garnett said. ”I think everyone wants Doc back. That’s not even an issue.”
A lost championship to the rival Lakers didn’t get the usually stoic Garnett choked up. Instead, it was a question about the end of a run with this group.
”Yeah, it’s difficult,” said Garnett, who exhaled deeply while holding back tears. ”It’s just a difficult time right now for everybody. …
“When you’re around a group of guys for nine months and prepare together so much that you grow to enjoy each other and at the same time get tired of each other. You’re going to call that guy your brother for life.”
Guard Ray Allen(notes) may have played his last game with the Celtics. The veteran sharp-shooter will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. One high-ranking Celtics official told Yahoo! Sports they were uncertain if they could afford to keep Allen, but certainly want to. The Miami Heat could be a strong suitor for Allen, but the 34-year-old has said he’d prefer to stay with the Celtics. If Rasheed Wallace(notes) retires, his $6.3 million salary would be wiped off the team payroll next season and aid hopes of re-signing Allen.
Rivers indicated that Wallace, who signed a three-year $18.9 million contract with a player option in the third season, could be at the end of the line.
Will this be one of the final images of Rasheed Wallace (on floor), who fouled out on this play, in a Celtics uniform or any NBA uniform?
(Mark J. Terrill/AP)
”I don’t know that Rasheed will ever play again,” he said.
While Wallace didn’t speak to the media after the game, he gave goodbyes to his teammates.
Paul Pierce(notes), who began his storied Celtics career in 1998, has a big decision to make this summer. He could join the deep 2010 free-agent class by opting out of the last year of his deal that pays him $21.5 million. Pierce, however, has said he wants to finish his career in Boston. And considering the potential lockout in the summer of 2011, it would probably behoove the 32-year-old to opt out and re-sign a lengthy new deal now or sign an extension.
The Celtics have several other free agents in Tony Allen(notes), Nate Robinson(notes), Brian Scalabrine(notes), Marquis Daniels(notes), Michael Finley(notes) and Shelden Williams(notes).
”I don’t really know what’s happening with things right now,” Pierce said. “I’m just grueling [over] this loss. I’ll sit down with my family, wind down a little bit and then figure it out.”
The Celtics entered Game 7 with the odds against them. Starting center Kendrick Perkins(notes) was out with a major knee injury suffered in Game 6 and Staples Center was revved up and electric in anticipation of Game 7. Even so, the Celtics entered the fourth quarter in position to win their 18th championship, holding a 57-53 lead.
The Lakers, however, seized control and led 74-68 with 2:20 remaining. The fatigued Celtics got within 81-79 after Rajon Rondo’s(notes) desperate 3-pointer, but Boston’s season – that included major knee issues with Garnett and Pierce, underachieving that landed them a fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and stunning playoff series wins over LeBron James(notes) and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Dwight Howard(notes) and the Orlando Magic – ended without the Hollywood ending near Hollywood.
”I know none of you guys in here gave us a chance, and that’s cool,” Garnett said. ”Everybody is entitled to their opinion. We always believed in each other. We saw the work we put in and the preparation. At the end of the day, we knew what we were capable of. There was no surprise to what we did. But we are a gritty team and we’re going to fight to the end. And tonight, we just came up short.”
And what stung the most was the end of a run with familiar faces.
”I told our guys after the game that I couldn’t be more proud of any group that I’ve been around,” Rivers said. ”We’re not going to be the same team next year. Guys are not going to be there, so that was tough for me.”
Marc Spears, Yahoo.com