They came as three and grew into four.

Five really.

I don’t necessarily have eras to go upon because I grew up in an age where my hometown team won two titles and will always have an invisible asterisk next to them because the Greatest Player In History spent 18 months turning himself into an above-average baseball player. But once both of those died, my allegiances swung to the emergence of LeBron James and the giddy love of the Boston Celtics.

I get what you’re saying. You’re from Houston, you should despise Larry Bird with all of your heart for the two titles he won over you in the 80s. True. But it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a Bird jersey hanging on the door in my room. I heart the East Coast even though I’ve only gotten as far as Atlanta in my lifetime and I’ve never felt as good as a sports fan for a team outside of my city than I do with the Celtics.

Especially these Celtics.

My best friend from the onset had wanted a Boston/San Antoino or Boston/Oklahoma City matchup in the Finals. Mainly for one last run with the C’s and a passing of the torch to how a team is supposed to be put together. I kept exchanging texts with him and another friend from Port Arthur about how Boston just wouldn’t die. That they had too much pride and resolve to lose to “inferior” teams such as Philadelphia & Atlanta.

But the Heat would give them everything and the Celtics would wind up punching them in the mouth on three consecutive occasions. It was supposed to be a sweep, remember? End in five if anything. Yet the Celtics found the Fountain Of Youth on the Jungle’s parque floor and kept on pushing and fighting.

There’s five key pieces here. One, a peerless shooter. Another, an enigmatic leader. A third, loud and unapologetic. A fourth, awkwardly gifted when it mattered most. Then a five, a coach who evolved from being just another coach to arguably the game’s best.

Paul Pierce, awkward scorer, under appreciated in Celtics lore had dealt with the albatross known as Antoine Walker for years until he left. Doc Rivers, coach who got out classed in the first round of the East playoffs in 2004 when the format was stretched to seven games when he was with Orlando and was seen merely as a stop gap to Boston’s constant rebuilding after firing Jim O’Brien. Ray Allen, the man with the game’s sweetest jumper who once averaged 27 a game for Seattle and carried the Bucks to a game of the NBA Finals in 2001. Kevin Garnett had dealt with 12 years of the star-crossed Timberwolves, yearly playoff failures with one breakthrough MVP season in 2004 and Rajon Rondo, a point guard who says very little and gets it all done on the floor in one of the more confusing yet breathtaking displays of athleticism.

I had written earlier this week when the seeds for this Big Three were planted May 23, 2007 and quickly found this run most probable. Even in April when the Celtics had found everything imaginable to make it all work for one last go, I had made it quite certain in my mind that the only way this season could conclude for Boston was either a loss in the ECF, a loss in the Finals or another banner to add to the 17 others.

The above still remains my favorite non-Houston sports moment. Ever.

But last night, it ended quite sadly, in Miami as LeBron James worked through the last bit of magic he had left over from his Game 6 performance. The moment he hit the 30-foot three with his arm aloft in the air and gaze following the ball, it was almost as if the bell had finally run for the Celtics. The rest of the way just seem formal.

Doc Rivers pulled his guys off the court with a few minutes left for a reason. It wasn’t a white flag to the better team but an acknowledgment that the fight was over. For 43 minutes, the Celtics answered every Heat basket with a nod. It was the final five that they couldn’t pull off. We all know the scenario now, Allen & Garnett’s contracts are up. One will come back, the other won’t. Paul Pierce will come back with two years left on his deal but I can’t imagine him getting the power up for a run quite like the “three-year plan that turned five” in the words of Bob Ryan.

It’s Rondo’s baby now and with Doc Rivers his coach, the pieces will be in place for the future of the Celtics to be athletic instead of pick-your-poison as this group was. I contend the Celtics would have gotten a three-peat out of this plan and so do many others but there’s also a reason why the internet is ablaze with memorials to this Celtics team.

Cause we respected them. And in the words of KG in 2008, “they’re certified” as one of the best eras in recent basketball memory.