When the Boston Celtics assembled their new Big Three in the summer of 2007, they suddenly had three different options on offense - too many for opponents to handle, it turned out, and the league's most-decorated franchise drove to its unprecedented 17th NBA championship.
So far in this year's NBA finals, though, the trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen has been more like the Big One-at-a-Time: Three All-Stars, taking turns making contributions but never all clicking at once.
"It would be great if all three and Rondo and everyone got it going in one game," coach Doc Rivers said Saturday before the Celtics practiced for Game 5 of the NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. "I'd feel very good about that game if that happens. We're certainly going to try."
The idea of having three scoring threats hasn't quite worked out in the first four games against the Lakers, as one after the other of the Big Three - and emerging star Rajon Rondo, too - has struggled. But the Celtics have managed to tie the series 2-2 heading into Sunday night's Game 5 because they've found other ways to contribute.
"You know what, they're a real sound defensive team and they're going to take some things away, and that's what it is," Garnett said. "The series is a series of adjustments, and I feel like with each game comes a new set of adjustments. One game, it can be Paul, one game can be myself, one game can be Ray, it can be Rajon. But at the end of the day you have to be aggressive, take what they give you, and I think for the most part we've done just that."
When Garnett struggled in the second game, Rivers made it his goal to get the biggest member of the Big Three going early in Game 3. It took Garnett only 75 seconds to match his Game 2 total of six points, and he finished with 25.
Pierce shot just 2 for 11 in Game 2, but scored 15 points - making 3 of 4 from 3-point range - the next game and then had a more characteristic 19 points with six rebounds and five assists when Boston won 96-89 to even the best-of-seven series at two games.
Allen hit eight 3-pointers to set an NBA record and score 32 points in Game 2, but in Game 3, he was 0 for 13 from the floor - one miss away from the worst shooting performance in NBA finals history - and he didn't snap out of it until late in the third quarter of Thursday's Game 4.
But it isn't just a shooting slump that's caused the numbers to fluctuate.
Allen seemed to struggle most when Derek Fisher was covering him, and it didn't help that Allen was running ragged at the other end of the floor chasing Kobe Bryant around. Players wind up in foul trouble, costing them minutes and also making it difficult for them to be aggressive driving the lane.
"As far as having a great game from all of us, it's real unpredictable," Pierce said. "Teams have their scouting reports, and some things they want to take away from us each and every night, some guys more than others. So it's hard to predict the other team's game plan and what they want to give and what they want to take away."
The players all insist that they aren't worried about their point total as long as they are contributing elsewhere - whether it's a denied entry pass on defense or a well-timed pick that sets someone else up for the score. But there's also a possibility that the poor shooting will affect their confidence at the other end, too.
"It was important to me to feel like I was actually in the game," Garnett said. "I couldn't care less about getting the ball, I couldn't care less about scoring. But if I need to be effective in the post presence, then I need to do that. I thought Doc did a good job of just obviously consolidating the ball, giving me a chance to be aggressive."
That's when having three stars can be an advantage - even if they're not all hitting their shots.
"We have multiple options on offense, but on defense we try to be as one," Garnett said. "Absolutely it helps to have two, three other guys who can take the scoring burden and carry it, and you just focus on two or three other different things. It's definitely a joy, I can say that."
This program aired on June 13, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.