- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett has hated it from day one.
Oh, he's gone along with it -- fooling around with various nicknames in an ESPN commercial, posing with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on magazine covers, sitting for interviews with his two star teammates.
Garnett understands the way the marketing game is played, that somebody has to feed the media beast.
But in his heart, in the Celtics' locker room, on the club's practice court, the team plane, KG has always been anti-Big Three. If you want to throw in Rajon Rondo, then KG is anti-Big Four, or Big Three Plus One, or Rondo and The Big Three, or whatever other terms folks are using these days to separate the best of the Celtics from the rest of the Celtics.
Ever since Garnett joined Boston on that franchise-turning day of July 31, 2007, he's instead been promoting the notion of a Big 15. No class divisions, no separate agendas, no Us and Them.
With their inspirational leader pounding that point home every chance he gets, the Celtics have become the NBA's best example of a true team. Who's going to lead them in scoring? Who knows? Who's going to be their Player of the Game? It's anybody's guess.
The Celtics entered their second Finals in three years having gone 17 straight postseason games without the same leading scorer in consecutive contests. Their depth, their unity, their egalitarianism was never more evident than in Game 4 on Thursday night, when reserves Glen Davis, Nate Robinson, Tony Allen and Rasheed Wallace keyed a fourth-quarter surge that led the Celtics to a series-evening 96-89 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
While Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and starting center Kendrick Perkins sat on the sideline, those four subs plus Ray Allen played the first 9 minutes, 9 seconds of the final quarter and outscored Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the rest of the Lakers 25-17.
And while Davis muscled in layups over Lamar Odom, while Wallace drained a 3 and suffocated Gasol on defense, while Tony Allen covered Kobe like a rash and Robinson hopped around like an over-caffeinated break-dancer, Garnett, Pierce and Rondo rooted them on as if wearing skirts and cheer shoes. They stood, they shouted, they pumped their fists. Heck, they looked like high school scrubs just happy to be on the squad.
"Just think about it," Tony Allen said. "Kevin Garnett's telling you, 'Good job, keep going!' That's big for a blue-collar guy like myself. That's why I love Kevin Garnett."
Pierce wasn't sulking or worrying that he'd scored only 12 points up to that point. Garnett's ego wasn't bruised, nor was he concerned that Gasol would once again outdo him on the stat sheet. And Rondo didn't care that he hadn't lived up to his new billing as one of the league's top point guards. Their team was winning and that's all that mattered.
"They were fine," Rivers said of his starters. "They were cheering. This is a good team. I don't think guys really care, and that's what makes us -- that's why we're here. It really is. Hell, Rondo and all of them, they were begging me to keep guys in, [saying] 'Don't take them out! Don't take them out!' It was great. That was the loudest I've seen our bench, and it was our starters cheering from the bench. I thought it was terrific."
That's the attitude that's allowed the Celtics to remain on top even as their three stars age and lose some of their greatness. The youngsters aren't eager to push them aside. The elders aren't paranoid about losing their juice. There's no intrasquad battle between the old and the new, no turf war to see who's more deserving of the marquee.
The starters' play once Rivers finally put them back in the game made it clear how energized they were by the bench's performance. Pierce hit a jumper, a driving layup and three free throws. Garnett made a steal and two foul shots. Rondo had a bucket and a steal.
As soon as the Celtics got into the locker room following their victory, Garnett gathered everyone in a circle and let them know it would take more teamwork to close the deal.
"It feels like we're in somebody else's neighborhood and we're gonna have to fight to get out of it," Garnett told them passionately. "We gotta fight, we gotta fight, we gotta fight to get out of this neighborhood."
His teammates knew exactly what he was talking about. In a gang fight, you're a unified front. Everybody's muscle is needed. No one gets left behind.
"He meant it's going to take all of us to do this," Tony Allen said. "That for us to reach our ultimate goal, it's going to take all of us. This whole year, he's been talking about team, team, team. He always says something that makes you sit back and think, 'Ah yeah, he meant everybody.'"
This is nothing new, either. It's not something KG picked up as his impact diminished. Before the Celtics went to Italy for training camp in 2008, Garnett was organizing full-roster outings to New England Patriots games. And when in Rome, the entire club hung out together on the Spanish Steps.
Over the past few seasons, when he and Pierce have been expected to conduct their every postgame interview at the podium, KG has always been quick to point out when a teammate deserved to be up there instead of him.
"We just try to keep it team," Perkins said. "Obviously, we've got the future Hall of Famers and we've got Rondo, an All-Star who had a great year. But we keep it one goal, one team. Doc does a great job making sure everybody stays doing their roles, not caring who gets the credit. All of them preach that, especially KG. He don't like it when they say it's 'The Big Three' or 'The Big Four.' He likes it when it's team. That's all he preaches is team."
Obviously, his congregation is listening.
What Big Three? The Celtics are getting through the playoffs thanks to a Big 15.