- Associated Press - Monday, June 4, 2012

Their faces are pockmarked with ever-expanding wrinkles, their bodies seem to ache all the time _ the telltale signs of an athletic career marching glumly toward its final chapter.

Yet there’s a bounce the steps of Boston’s Big Three, a determination in their eyes, an overwhelming sense that they aren’t going to let this partnership go down without one helluva fight.

They are still underdogs to LeBron & Co, but Team Geezer may have one last hurrah, after all.

“Early on in the season, when we were losing, people were getting conditioning mixed up with age,” coach Doc Rivers said Monday, an off day in the Eastern Conference final. “They kept saying we were too old and I’d say, `No, we’re out of shape. We’ll find out how good we are later.’ I didn’t really know, either, but sometimes, as a coach, you have a feel about a team. I know we’re a good team and we can play with anybody.”

Four games into a series the Miami Heat surely thought would be firmly under control by now, and it’s all tied up. While LeBron James desperately wants to win his first NBA title _ and his team still has home-court advantage, it must be noted _ the guys in green are playing with an even greater purpose.

There may be no country for old men, but there may be room for another championship in Beantown.

“We have a chance of winning this series,” said 34-year-old Paul Pierce, who’s nicknamed “The Truth” and knows how to speak it. “It’s not going to be easy. You know, a good ol’ classic bar fight. Going into it, you’ve got to expect every game to be like this. Coming down to the wire, both teams trying to find an edge.”

Around the nation, they’re jumping on the bandwagon.

ESPN recorded its highest cable rating ever for an NBA playoff game Sunday night, as millions tuned in to watch the Celtics hold off the Heat 93-91 in overtime, an especially gutsy performance by a team that absolutely oozes with that particular trait.

Sure, there’s plenty of people who just want to see James and Miami’s own version of the Big Three go down in flames again, and there was plenty of chatter about the King passing up another potential game-winning shot.

But there’s more to it than just the anti-LeBron factor. Admit it, anyone who lives outside of South Beach, San Antonio or Oklahoma City:

The Celtics have become America’s Team.

At the very least, they’re the team representin’ a very hefty portion of America that’s been told, “Hey, ol’ dude, call it a day. It’s time to let someone younger take your place.”

There’s Pierce, still sporting that old-school headband and perpetual grimace. There’s 36-year-old Kevin Garnett, still banging and trash-talking after all these seasons. There’s Ray Allen, also 36 and still launching those smooth jumpers, even with an ailing right ankle that was headed for a date with a scalpel just a few weeks ago.

“It starts with our leadership,” backup Keyon Dooling said. “We have a bunch of gritty guys. Our superstars are gritty. They wear their hard hat everyday and come to work. They set a tone and set a tempo for our whole team.”

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