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Grande: Book On 'New Big Three' Era Officially Closes With Rondo's Return To Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- You may wonder what the 2008 Celtics, and the New Big Three Era has to do with Don Mattingly.

It's a fair question.

And so is this: Why not blog about Rajon Rondo today? Everyone else is going to.

Then again, that kind of answers the question. Besides, I wrote about in the immediate aftermath.

I mean, of course it's going to be odd. I just finished my game chart and physically wrote his name in blue for the first time. But it will be memorable, and wonderful and all of it. Of course it will. But as you may have gleaned by now, I'm not much for doing what other people do, saying what other people say or thinking what other people think. Makes for a lonely existence sometimes.

But I digress.

Point is, you don't need another Rondo piece today.

But as we finished up the postgame show Wednesday afternoon and turned our attention to the Dallas game tonight, something occurred to me. This isn't just the return of Rajon Rondo. It's the end of the era.

The last goodbye.

Kendrick Perkins came back in a different uniform. Ray Allen came back in a really different uniform. Then Doc came back. Paul and Kevin together. Thibs, Baby, Posey, heck even Scal came home, tipped their cap and felt the love.

At some point in 2008, as the records started to pile up, I knew we were going to need something to call the time period. So I came up with "New Big Three Era," admittedly not my most creative moment, but it stuck. And what it lacked in creativity, it had in brevity. I mean, it was shorter than the "the years Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came to play with Paul Pierce as the Celtics were like really, really good again." I didn't know if the name was right or not, but I did know one thing. Someday it, whatever we decided to call it, would end.

It could have ended the day after Game 7 in 2010. When I'll forever be convinced a flight that began with that intent, changed somewhere between L.A. and Boston, and the band decided to play on. Some people thought the Perk trade would be the end. For my money, it was on June 9, 2012.

It was my feeling that night, before during and after Game 7 in Miami that that was it. The true end, a 15-17 start that morphed into an improbable, bald-tires, on-fumes ride to the brink of a third NBA Finals. This was my open from that night, just in case you don't believe me.

Ray Allen jumped ship four weeks later. The following year gave us another winter to watch Paul and KG play with Rondo. To see the No. 3 3-point shooter in history, Jason Terry, replace the No. 1. Some nights, it felt less like a basketball team than a basketball museum.

Last winter, the emotional returns of the Captain, the Ticket and the Coach.

But really, it ends tonight. Paul Pierce last week called Rondo "the last of the Mohicans".

So tonight, the last goodbye.

I didn't forget about Don Mattingly. And not, kids, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, the one who sits in the dugout, individual hairs turning gray every time Yasiel Puig goes Yasiel Puig. I mean the Yankee first baseman of my childhood. And one lasting image.

As that first Fall ... November and December of 2007 was going on, the Celtics weren't beating teams; they were beating them up. 8-0, 20-2, 29-3. It defied what we thought we knew about the game (see below). And as I called them, the Ray Allen buzzer beater in Toronto, the hellacious beatdown of the Knicks at the Garden, the other Ray Allen winner in Charlotte, both blowouts of the Lakers, I remember thinking, "Does anyone realize what's happening here?" I mean, it's hard, very hard to shuffle the cards of the here and now into the deck of history in real time.

But there were times it just felt like we were witness to this thing that defied reality.

That a team that just months earlier had lost 18 straight, was winning every night ... and by knockout.

That a team that in May had come up short in the conference final halftime draft lottery, was now on its way to playing in the game instead.

That a team that just months earlier had been playing Allen Ray at shooting guard, now had Ray Allen.

I mean, who in their right mind would have believed us if we told them that was possible? Like this little kid must have felt when he saw Don Mattingly share his popcorn:

Don Mattingly helps himself to a young fan's popcorn by MLB on YouTube

Think anyone believed him until they saw the tape?

(Quick aside, I mean, it's my blog, so I'll just say it. I love that it's Tim Raines at the plate for that moment. This is a Hall of Gamer. It shouldn't take this long. Top 50 player all-time? No. Top 100? Yes.)

Hey, we've got anniversaries of the '08 team ahead. Reunions, celebrations. But this is the last in real time. This is the last goodbye.

The gifts of the New Big Three Era were not only the championship, not only six years that the Celtics became the Celtics again, when it seemed that idea was fading with the memories of Bird and McHale. The gift wasn't just the resuscitation of the franchise. Not just the idea that we could live that time again, that it could happen.

But the idea that one day it can happen again.

In the meantime, tonight we open our hearts to Rajon Rondo, but finally close the book of the New Big Three Era.

It was a spectacular read.

Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen at All-Star weekend in 2011. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)


For perspective, the championship Celtics of 2008 were historic, start to finish. Put aside the fact they won the championship without ever trailing. In the division, in the conference, in the league or in any playoff series. They were a new team. And new, despite Hall of Fame talent, doesn't always yield great starts. Over the last ten-plus years, we've had the Kobe-Shaq-Payton-Malone Lakers, the LeBron-Wade-Bosh Heat and now the LeBron-Love-Kyrie big three in Cleveland. With that group now 32 games in, seems like a good time to remember just how fast it came together seven years ago…

2004 Lakers 21-11
2008 Celtics 29-3
2011 Heat 23-9
2015 Cavs 18-14

It finished pretty well, too. Sixty-six wins, plus this little nugget, maybe the best statistical evidence of just how dominant that team was. The 2007-2008 Celtics are the only team since 1972 without Michael Jordan on the roster to go through an entire season with a double-digit scoring differential.

The only one.


1996 CHICAGO 72-10 (13.4)
1997 CHICAGO 69-13 (11.9)
1992 CHICAGO 67-15 (11.0)
2008 BOSTON 66-16 (10.3)
1996 SEATTLE 64-18 (9.6)
1991 CHICAGO 61-21 (9.4)
1970 NEW YORK 60-22 (9.3)
1999 SAN ANTONIO 37-13* (9.2)
2013 OKLAHOMA CITY 60-22 (9.2)

Sean Grande has been calling Boston Celtics games since 2001. Hear his call of the games alongside Cedric Maxwell on 98.5 The Sports Hub starting 30 minutes prior to tipoff! Click here for a list of affiliates on the Celtics Radio Network.


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