Though they haven’t made an NBA Finals appearance in five years, or won a title in seven, the Boston Celtics remain at the top of the throne as the league’s most successful franchise. So that begs the question: who belongs in their all-time starting five?
Bob Cousy was as flashy as they came. The six-time champion used his nifty passing and incredible court vision to make life much easier for his teammates. His 6,945 assists rank him No.1 in franchise history. Cousy was rewarded with some fancy hardware after averaging 20.6 points, 7.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds in the 1956-57 season. The MVP award preceded his first title celebration, capping off a highly successful season.
In his career, Cousy averaged 18.4 points, 7.5 assists and 5.2 rebounds, and he a shot a respectable 80 percent from the charity stripe.
It would be a crime not to have Paul Pierce in this conversation. Asserting that he isn’t one of the greatest Celtics of all time certainly wouldn’t be “The Truth.” His ability to seize the moment in the waning moments of games is certainly worthy of adulation. Not everyone is built for crunch time, but Pierce will tell you, “that’s why they brought me here.”
The patience he exhibited during the Celtics’ grueling stretch during the last decade paid dividends, as Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen eventually came on board to help him win his first title. KG might be recognized as the heart and soul of the team during their title runs, but Pierce was most definitely their rock and foundation.
Pierce has played the third-most games in Celtics history en route to the most threes, steals and made free throws in franchise history. He also ranks second in points, third in defensive rebounding and fifth in assists.
You might remember him for his dramatic comeback in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Lakers when a knee injury forced him into a wheelchair. He quickly returned and immediately hit a three-pointer. You also may recall when he “called game” against the Hawks during the postseason when his game-winning bank shot sent the crowd home happy.
But the moment that should never be forgotten is when he hoisted the Finals MVP award at the conclusion of that ’08 series against the Lakers. It was well deserved and definitely why the Celtics brought him there.
Up until this past season, the world considered Larry Bird to be the greatest shooter ever. He was incredibly gifted. Giving him any breathing room on defense left the opposition destined for failure.
The three-time champion wasn’t limited to just three-point shooting, as he was an exceptional post player, good rebounder and a lockdown defender (earlier in his career). After winning the regular-season MVP in the 1983-84 season, he won the Finals MVP in his first postseason matchup against Magic Johnson.
Bird averaged 24.3 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists while shooting 49.6 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from downtown in his career. In Celtics franchise history, he ranks second in defensive rebounds, third in points, assists, blocks and offensive rebounds, and fourth in three-pointers and free throws made.
Kevin McHale now patrols the sidelines of the Houston Rockets, but his notoriety comes from being the greatest power forward in Boston Celtics history. He wasn’t a product of the talent he was surrounded by; McHale was the real deal.
He averaged 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in his career to go along with 55 percent shooting from the field. His dominance in the paint solidified him as one of the best big men in the game.
McHale also established himself as an excellent defensive anchor for the Celtics, as he intimidated opposing players.
Bill Russell was pretty decent, eh? The Finals MVP award is named after him. He only has 11 NBA titles. The only two years he failed to win were ’58 and ’67, and he went a mediocre 11-0 in Game 7s in his career, including a 30-point, 40-rebound performance in Game 7 of the ’62 Finals.
Though Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the best player to ever touch a basketball, Russell is the greatest winner. The 15.1 points per game on 44 percent shooting might not be that great, but the 22.5 rebounds per gme? That’s otherworldly.
Like every player on this list, it’s difficult to put into words how great Russell was. He was great defensively with his impeccable shot-blocking ability (although that wasn’t a recorded stat back then) and as mentioned, a dominant rebounder. A true force in the middle.
So there you have it. Bob Cousy, Paul Pierce, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Bill Russell. The first four players have 13 rings between them. Bill Russell has 11 himself. This franchise knows a thing or two about winning.