Boston's Big Three Chase Second Title

{eot} Staff
10/24/2008 10:27:01 AM
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Heading into last season it had been more than 20 years since the Boston Celtics last captured the Larry O'Brien Trophy as the NBA's top team.  They were coming off a campaign in which they finished dead last in the East, and the fan base that once followed the team religiously had turned their attention instead to the New England Patriots or the Boston Red Sox.

Realizing that the team was in danger of becoming irrelevant, general manager Danny Ainge set out to aggressively rebuild the roster.  His first big move came at the draft, when Ainge acquired sharp-shooting Ray Allen from the Supersonics in exchange for Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West.  Ainge then made the most critical move by any NBA general manager last year by sending Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, two first-round draft picks and cash considerations to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the Big Ticket, Kevin Garnett.

Suddenly the team had a pair of superstars to complement perennial All-Star Paul Pierce.  Immediately, the attitude in Boston changed as the team unveiled their new "Big Three."  The Celtics had simply skipped the rebuilding process and immediately became the favourite in the East.

When they hit the court the team did not disappoint.  They became the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth and finished with a record of 66-16 and captured the division crown.

While they stumbled out of the gate in the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics recovered to eliminate the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987. They were then able to dispatch the Los Angeles Lakers in six games and capture the 17th NBA championship in franchise history, with Pierce earning MVP honours.

While the Celtics may have been the biggest story last season, there were plenty of other teams of note. 

After winning their first ever division crown in 2007, the Toronto Raptors regressed slightly, finishing at .500 and exiting in the first round of the playoffs once again.  Can they bounce back and pressure the ageing Celtics or will their off-season moves go all for naught?

And what of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers?  They got so close to the title that they desired, and now they will have a full season with Pau Gasol and (hopefully) a healthy Andrew Bynum to challenge Boston for NBA supremacy.

Will the Hornets, Jazz and 76ers continue to rise?  Are the Suns, Spurs and Pistons on the decline?

With so many questions before the season begins, it's prediction time for our experts.  Where do they expect the Toronto Raptors to finish in the East?   Who are their early picks for Eastern and Western Conference champions? And of course, who will win it all?

2008-09 NBA Preview (Photo: Getty Images)


(Photo: Getty Images)
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