The parishioners of the parquet should have taken a good long look as they filed out because it could have been the last time they saw the Celtics' Holy Trinity together on their home court.
The Green, who wrap up the first half on Wednesday against New Orleans in the Big Easy, don't return to their Causeway Street court until a Feb. 23 tilt with the New York Knicks, five days after the NBA's trade deadline.
Yesterday's 96-89 loss to the Orlando Magic was enough to shake the faith of any Celtics fan in the ability of the Big Three to deliver this team back to the promised land. The Celtics out-rebounded Orlando (40-38), had more points in the paint (42-28) and committed fewer turnovers (11 to the Magic's 15) and still lost a game they led by 11 at halftime to drop to 1-3 against the Magic this year.
That should be enough for Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to recognize that he needs to seriously consider rebooting his team and breaking up Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Translation: Cash in Ray Allen and his $19.7 million-plus expiring contract.
Allen would be The One to go because ownership loves Pierce, and Garnett and his troublesome knee are signed through the 2011-12 season.
Plus, more and more this looks like Rajon Rondo's flock to lead. He was Boston's best player yesterday with 17 points, 9 assists and no turnovers. How much longer can the team hold him back to defer to the ailing and aging Big Three?
"It still goes through the Big Three," Rondo insisted. "I’m just increasing my role that I have as a role player. It’s not different from the year we won it."
It is different. The same core pieces are in place that were on the Celtics when they won the title in 2008, the memorable first year of the Garnett-Pierce-Allen alliance, but it's not the same team. Garnett is no longer a dominant presence on either end of the floor. He has become a complementary piece for Pierce and Rondo. At 34, Allen's durability is remarkable, but his body can't take averaging nearly 37 minutes a game (36:42) and he has trouble defending the athletic wing players the Celtics ask him to cover. Making matters worse, the energy he expends trying to do so saps his offensive game.
Allen logged a team-high 39 minutes and 30 seconds yesterday. After a strong first half (11 points on 3 of 5 shooting), Allen shot 1 for 8 the rest of the way and finished with 14 points. During the debacle of a third quarter yesterday, which saw the Celtics start the period up 51-40 and end it down 76-62, Allen was 0 for 4 with no points.
Breaking up the Big Three might remove the Celtics from the championship conversation for this year, but talking like champions is about all this they're doing right now.
"Like one of the guys said, 'We're better than Orlando.' I said, 'No, you're not. That's a bunch of crap. They beat you three games, two at your place. They're better. They knocked you out of the playoffs last year,'" said coach Doc Rivers. "Orlando is better than us right now. Atlanta is better than us right now. LA is better than us right now. Those are the teams that have beaten us. That doesn't mean we can't be better than them at some point, but right now those teams are better than us."
Yesterday's loss dropped the Celtics to 2-8 against the iron of the NBA -- the Magic, the Cavaliers, the Hawks and the Lakers -- with a game left with LA and three with the Cavaliers.
All along, the Celtics have been shrugging off losses and telling us to wait until they get their full complement of players. They had that yesterday, as Marquis "The Missing Link" Daniels returned after 28 games with a torn ligament in his thumb and played well, chipping in with 8 points, and Pierce (13 points on 5 of 12 shooting) played for the first time since suffering a mid-foot sprain on Monday.
That's what made this defeat more sobering. They had no excuses.
"I like the fact now that there are not excuses. You're intact," said Rivers. "I don't want to hear the excuses. I didn't want to hear them when we were injured, so I definitely don't want to hear them now."
He didn't want to hear them after the game either. A fed up Rivers lit into his team, and the players held a team meeting led by the Big Three.
What precipitated both occurrences was possibly the most disappointing quarter of basketball the Celtics have played all season, when an 11-point lead went up in smoke faster than one of Red Auerbach's cigars. On their way to a 36-point third quarter, the Magic reeled off 19 straight unanswered after Rondo beat the shot clock with a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 60-51 lead with 7:16 left in the quarter. That was the Celtics' last basket of the period.
The game may have also been the last (home) stand for the Big Three.
"Right now, we can't say that we're better than Orlando. We can't say that we're better than Atlanta. We can't say that we're better than the Lakers," said Allen. "They beat us. It's all about what's in the pudding, and right now we don't have the proof."
Actually, Ainge has mounting proof that he needs to make a big change.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.