By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON And then there were five.
Five members still remain from the 2008 championship team, one that has endured its share of ups and downs since then.
There have been injuries, suspensions, tough losses and terrific wins along the way for this team that has the market cornered on future Hall of Famers.
But the true indicator of greatness isn't in how many scoring titles or rebounding crowns you can lay claim to.
For this group, it always comes back to one thing - winning a championship.
And so the journey begins on Sunday at 7 p.m., as the Celtics open up their first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks with the end-goal being to bring home Banner 18.
Glen Davis is one of five Celtics still around from the 2008 team.
A rookie at the time, the 6-foot-9 forward has played with the title-or-bust expectations throughout his NBA career.
It's a goal that every team sets out to achieve at the beginning of the season.
"Here in Boston, you try to win more than one championship," Davis said. "You win one, that's OK. You win two, you'll be a hero here."
As much as the Celtics' veteran bunch are trying to stay ahead of Father Time, they are just as committed to racing toward Celtics immortality as being remembered as one of the great Celtics teams.
And the only way they can lay claim to that, is to win at least one more championship.
"That's what makes being a Celtic so special," Paul Pierce told CSNNE.com. "You're part of a family that's all about greatness. Not just individual greatness, but team greatness. Here, people remember you for the team you played on. For this franchise, it's all about team goals, championships."
That team-first mantra starts with their head coach Doc Rivers.
"It has to be that way," he said. "You don't win at this level without being a team. You may not always play like it or look like it, but at the end of the day, the best team - not always the best players, but the best team - usually comes out on top."
That's why the Celtics didn't flinch as the Miami Heat added LeBron James and Chris Bosh to a team already led by Dwyane Wade. That's why they didn't raise an eyebrow when the Orlando Magic underwent major changes. And even as Chicago and their league MVP-in-waiting Derek Rose took the NBA by storm, the C's have remained calm.
Because it's the playoffs, a time when they tend to lock in like few teams do.
"That's a veteran, championship-caliber ball club over there," former Celtics guard Chauncey Billups, now with the New York Knicks, told CSNNE.com. "They've been through all the battles, so there's nothing you can put them through that they haven't been through before. It's going to be a challenging series for us, no doubt."
While the sixth-seeded Knicks will certainly come into this series as underdogs, the Celtics know all too well not to take them lightly.
It's hard to take them lightly when you consider they feature Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, two of the NBA's top scoring big men, along with Billups who was the NBA Finals MVP in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons.
"Chauncey is that one player that can take a game over," said Kevin Garnett, a former teammate of Billups in Minnesota. "He understands pace, he understands flow."
The same can be said for Rajon Rondo, although his play of late hasn't been nearly as efficient as it was at the start of the season.
His matchup with Billups will be among the keys to determining who wins this series.
The two spent some time together this past summer as part of Team USA.
Even before they got to spend some time together, Billups said he has been a fan of Rondo's game for a while now.
"He's just a unique player," Billups said. "He has the ability to dominate games without scoring. Not a lot of guys in my years have played, other than Jason Kidd, Rondo guys that don't really need to score the ball to dominate. He's special. He has an uncanny ability to do that. He's one of my favorite point guards out there."
A strong series for Rondo would certainly bode well in the Celtics' chances of advancing past the Knicks, which would move them one step closer towards their goal - their only goal this season.
Even as attention shifts to various one-on-one matchups in this series, the C's say they aren't going to get caught up in all that stuff, nor are they in need of any kind of pep talk-like speeches.
"You should be self-motivated," Rondo said. "We all have one goal and that's to win a championship."