BOSTON For the most die-hard Boston Celtics fan, the thought seems real but inconceivable at the same time.
When the Celtics take to the floor tonight in Game 7 of their second round playoff series against Philadelphia, it could very well be the last time the Big Four - Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo - play together.
Garnett and Allen will become unrestricted free agents this summer, and are sure to draw considerable attention from teams besides the Celtics. There's no telling if Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will look to potential trades involving Pierce or Rondo in his efforts to bolster the C's roster.
It adds another dimension of uncertainty heading into a game that would not be happening if the C's played with the kind of consistency one expects from a veteran team whose core players have won a championship, facing a team as young and inexperienced as the Sixers who are getting their postseason baptism by fire.
Allen, who has been on the trading block more than any other member of the Big Four, is well aware that tonight's game may very well be his last in a Celtics uniform.
It is something that Allen says he has given no serious thought to simply because it is part of the been-there, answered-that line of questioning he and the rest of the Big Four usually get this time of year.
"It seems like we've been ruled out so many times before, so many years before," Allen said. "It's just another opportunity to go out and be who we are. So we're not worried about what's beyond today, what's beyond tomorrow. We'll worry about what we have in the present day."
Said Rondo: "I don't think about it at all. I just try to focus on the task at hand with the guys we have, which is Paul, Kevin, myself and the rest of the guys. Right now, we're excited about playing Game Seven."
Of the Big Four, Garnett's future is the one that's most intriguing. After there was some talk early in the season that he'd give some thought to retiring, Garnett turned back the hands of time and turned up his level of production after the all-star break.
And all talk about his future, he has quickly dismissed it and immediately shifted talks back towards this team, this season.
The focus right now is the playoffs," Garnett said. "I havent given it that much thought, to be honest. Were definitely aware of it."
Especially Pierce, who has probably talked more candidly about this being the potential final run for the Big Four before some - if not all - go their separate ways.
Pretty much the last couple of years weve been feeling like that," said Pierce, who added that the goal is to, "win another championship, regardless of whether this is going to be our last time together. We dont know what the future is going to hold for all of us, with KG in the last year of his contract, Ray in the last year of his contract; trade speculations have been going on, theres talk about rebuilding. There is a sense of urgency with us.