BOSTON -- It's the reason Paul Pierce stuck around when the losses mounted and the end was far from clear. The reason Ray Allen was acquired as a draft-day consolation prize. And the reason Kevin Garnett agreed to leave the only pro team he'd ever known.
The Big Three has won the Big One.
The Boston Celtics rode their three All-Stars to their 17th championship on Tuesday night, blowing by the Los Angeles Lakers with a stunning show of second-quarter scoring to win 131-92 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Pierce, the Finals MVP, had 17 points and 10 assists in the clincher, Garnett had 26 points with 14 rebounds, and Allen returned from a red-eye from the coast and a poked eye in the lane to add 26 points, including an NBA Finals record-tying seven 3-pointers.
It was the first NBA title for each of them, and the first for the league's most-decorated franchise since the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish won No. 16 in 1986. Danny Ainge was the point guard for that team and the general manager for the one that won 66 games a season after winning 24 -- the biggest turnaround in NBA history.
"Where we came from a year ago, where I was at, to be here today celebrating with my teammates, putting a stamp on what a great year it was," Pierce told the jubilant fans after accepting the MVP trophy. "Everybody stuck with me throughout all the hard times. I know we didn't have a lot of great years, but you guys stuck with me, and now we bring home a championship to you."
The Celtics joined the 1975 Golden State Warriors and the '77 Trail Blazers as the only teams to win it all a year after missing the playoffs.
And it's not hard to see how they did it.
Last year's team featured Pierce and a passel of young players who showed promise individually but little sign of snapping the longest championship drought in franchise history. After their legendary luck deserted them in the lottery, leaving them with a worst-case fifth pick in a two-star draft, Ainge wheeled the first-rounder for Allen.
That was enough to convince Garnett to accept a trade and sign an extension, allowing Ainge to cobble together an unprecedented 7-for-1 deal for the final piece in the new Big Three.
"We sacrificed so much of what we did throughout our careers to get to this point because we've done everything we've been able to do individually, won all type of awards, but never made it to the mountaintop," Pierce said. "It's like a breath of fresh air."
With the best record in the NBA during the regular season, the Celtics earned home court for the playoffs -- and they needed it. They won all four games at home in the first two rounds to reach the Eastern Conference finals, then dispatched Detroit in six games.
"It seems like everything has worked out all year," Allen said. "We respect each other, and we're here sitting on championship 17."
But not without a few bumps for the Big Three in the Finals.
Pierce was carried off by his teammates after what turned out to be an inconsequential knee injury in Game 1. Despite a six-point, 2-for-14 stinker in his Game 3 return to his home town, he averaged 22 points, six assists and 4.5 rebounds in the finals to earn the Celtics' first Finals MVP award since Larry Bird.
"It means everything," Pierce said. "I'm not living under the shadows of the other greats now. I'm able to make my own history with my time here, and this is something that I wanted to do. If I was going to be one of the best Celtics to ever play, I had to put up a banner, and today we did that."
Allen's shooting deserted him for long stretches, and before Game 5 in Los Angeles he learned that his son had been diagnosed with diabetes. He rushed to the hospital after the game, stayed with his son on Monday and flew all night to get back to Boston.
Then, in the first half, he was raked across the left eye and went to the locker room.
It didn't stop him from going 7-of-9 from 3-point range, giving him a record 22 3-pointers in the NBA Finals.
"I was wondering what happened to Ray," Pierce said. "When Ray got back out there, I think it kind of fueled us. We pushed the lead up to over 20 when he came back, and it was just like, 'Hey, it's about to be lights out.'"
For Garnett, the title was the one thing missing from a potential Hall of Fame career, and the finale gave him a sense of redemption after a Game 5 performance -- 13 points and 14 rebounds, but some key missed free throws down the stretch -- that he called "garbage."
On Tuesday, he went from garbage to garbage time.
All three stars came out -- together -- with 4:01 left in the game, and Pierce went immediately to give coach Doc Rivers an emotional embrace.
"They came in as a group, and I thought we should take them out as a group," Rivers said. "They all said 'Thank you,' and I said 'Thank you' back. Paul ... it's just so sweet. He just kept saying 'Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for sticking with me again,' and I kept saying the same thing to him. So it was really a nice moment."
While the Celtics reserves -- a big advantage for Boston in the series -- continued to build on the lead, the starters yukked it up on the bench just as they did through the laugher of a season.
As soon as the clock stopped, it was Gino time: The scoreboard showed the disco-era American Bandstand clip that the Celtics have been using to celebrate victories all season. A shaggy man in a "Gino" T-shirt danced on the scoreboard, and Pierce stood up on the bench to frolic.