- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Go ahead, label Tuesday night's season-opening showdown between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat at TD Garden "The Battle of the Big Threes." You wouldn't be wrong, but even the folks inside Boston's locker room would be hard-pressed to argue that such a matchup is much of a battle.
No, the Celtics will acknowledge -- in so many words, at least -- that at this point in their basketball lives, Miami's triumvirate of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is superior to Boston's threesome of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
The members of the James-Wade-Bosh troika are in their prime, with Wade the oldest at 28 (with Bosh 26 and James 25), while the Pierce-Garnett-Allen triad has 41 combined seasons of experience and a closing window of opportunity (even if Pierce, the youngest at 33, suggests that window is open for at least the next four years that he is under contract with Boston).
Now, you can debate until you're blue in the face whether the 2010 Miami Thrice could have hung with a fictional Boston Three Party assembled in, say, 2004 (Garnett's MVP season with the Timberwolves). But this season, it's really no contest.
As Pierce said on the eve of the NBA's epic season opener: "Nobody has seen that type of talent on one team."
True, no one has seen three players of this stature -- and at this stage of their careers -- come together during one offseason. But while Miami stole all the offseason headlines this year, the Celtics are hanging their hat on a below-the-radar offseason in which they assembled what they believe is the deepest team in the league.
And if you're talking about a Battle of Big 15s, the Celtics like their chances.
Quietly, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge took a team that was six minutes shy of its 18th world championship last June and not only kept its veteran core intact (re-upping Pierce and Allen among 11 offseason signings), but also, with limited resources, brought in the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and Delonte West to shore up an inconsistent bench.
The Celtics now have the luxury of trotting out a second unit that could challenge many starting units in the league (Boston's starters have learned that firsthand during practices).
So, even with Boston's star three nearing the twilight of their NBA careers, the Celtics have as much optimism as the day the trio was united.
"Truthfully, I had the same feeling about this team [before the
2007-08 season], when we got Kevin on the team and Ray," said Pierce.
"The additions that we made -- Shaq, Jermaine, Delonte and some of the other rookies -- this is one of the most talented teams, top to bottom. It's more talented than the teams that I've been on."
Added Garnett: "I'm really excited, really excited. I don't like us, I love us. I like how we are, I like our depth, and I'm eager to start."
The Heat, of course, made the biggest summer splash by luring both James and Bosh to South Beach and retaining Wade. They supplemented that core by splurging on Mike Miller, enticing Udonis Haslem to stick around, and convincing the likes of Eddie House and Juwan Howard to join on at the veteran's minimum salary.
With the 2010-11 season set to tip off, two questions linger: Will the Heat find the sort of chemistry that Boston forged straight out of the gates in 2007, and, even if they do, is there enough talent deeper on the roster to get through a loaded Eastern Conference?
Boston's Big Three seems to think Miami will have no problem with question No. 1. The Celtics hope they can be the roadblock to completing No. 2.
"They're a special talent," said Pierce. "Dwyane Wade is special, Bosh is special, LeBron is special. I mean, on their worst days, they're better than a lot of people in the league. Regardless of their chemistry, these guys understand the game. They have high basketball IQs and they'll figure it out. Maybe they'll figure it out faster, maybe they won't. We can't take them for granted. Even though [Wade] has only practiced a couple days, we have to expect them to be at their best."
It seems impossible that the Heat can mesh as quickly and thoroughly as the Celtics did. The 2007-08 Celtics bonded under the umbrella of "Ubuntu" during a European preseason trip that helped catapult them to a 29-3 start and eventually the NBA title.
Rajon Rondo, possibly the biggest reason why the "Battle of the Big Three" storyline fails, seems skeptical that any team could match that.
"That was a different team. The personnel is different [in Miami]," said Rondo. "[Miami's] big three is at a different stage of their careers than our big three was."
Many believe Boston's Big Three -- along with the role players on the team -- sacrificed individual goals for the common pursuit of a world title in a way that Miami's younger superstars might not yet be willing to.
Regardless, the Celtics brushed off much of the talk about the Heat as the season opener approached, putting the focus on what they themselves can control.
In fact, the Celtics almost seem to enjoy the fact that Miami has taken the giant bull's-eye that otherwise would have been on Boston's back. When else could a championship-caliber team add the pieces Boston did -- particularly the larger-than-life personality of Shaq -- and not be the biggest story of the offseason?
But Miami's moves were so grand in nature -- and so over-the-top in presentation -- that they masked what the Celtics (and even the two-time defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers) did to reload this offseason.
Which is why Garnett snapped a bit when a reporter repeatedly inquired about the Heat and their "retooling" in the days leading up to Tuesday's opener.
"Who cares?" said Garnett. "We did some retooling ourselves."
Enough retooling, in fact, to leave the Celtics willing to put their "Big 15" against any other roster in the league.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
The Celtics are confident they will show the Heat that 15 is greater than 3.