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’Nique highlights Big 3 staying power

ATLANTA — Dominique Wilkins can only shake his head when first he tries to put the continued accomplishments of Paul Pierce [stats], Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen into context.And this is a guy who played in the NBA until he was 39, three years older than Allen is now. ’Nique was in many ways an athletic marvel himself, but his athleticism was severely curtailed by the time he finished up with Orlando during the 1998-99 season after some overseas work.Now he’s watching the Celtics [team stats] trio make a concerted run in these playoffs and, again, Wilkins shakes his head. “I’ll tell you how good their veterans are,” he said. “Just look at how well they’re still playing and how they’re still winning.“You look at a team like this that’s won a championship, who’s been on every level, and this season they come in and everybody counted them out . . . and they struggled early in the year. But a team like this, they always do just enough to get to the playoffs. Then when they get to the playoffs, they turn it up.“So this is a very dangerous team. You can’t take anything for granted against them.”Wilkins needed to stop and think before putting the new Big Three into perspective, but there was no hesitation when asked if he thought Pierce, Garnett and Allen still would be together at this point after joining forces in 2007.“No,” Wilkins said flatly. “I didn’t think so. I really didn’t think so. But again, this shows you the professionalism that they have. First of all, they enjoy playing with one another. There’s no ego as far as who gets the stats. That’s what makes them special.“You can look at what they’ve done, and that’s pretty special right there. But then you add in the way they’ve done it — the way they’ve played the game — and that’s really something.”Wilkins, once the “Human Highlight Film,” had a brief stint with the Celtics and was a mere outtake by the time he hung up his sneakers. He averaged 5.0 points in 9.3 minutes for the Magic in his final season.But it’s important to note that even though he was older, his 1,074 career regular-season games are fewer than Garnett’s 1,255 and Allen’s 1,148. And 34-year-old Paul Pierce is at 1,025.“It’s hard to walk away from this, man,” Wilkins said. “It’s hard. But the important thing here is that these guys are in good shape. When that’s the case, then you get to decide for yourself when you want to walk away. If your body can stay healthy, you really can play as long as you want up to a certain point.“These guys now, they’ve slowed down a lot. There’s no question about that. But they can still play at a high level, and they’re still a very efficient team.”But that efficiency can take time to get in gear, according to ’Nique. While the Celtics leaders were expecting the team to come out strong after the lockout, the opposite was the case.“The thing is, when you’re of the age these guys are, you can’t have a long period where you don’t train and you don’t really play,” Wilkins said. “Sometimes you can train, but they have to be playing, too. If you don’t, your body doesn’t react the same. It takes you longer to get back in game shape.“I think that’s why they started off so slow this year. But once they got going and once they got in shape, they were something to be dealt with.”

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