Celtics on top of NBA again

Published 6:28 pm Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On a new parquet floor below aging championship banners, the Boston Celtics won their 17th NBA title and a first one — at last — for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — their Big Three for a new generation.

After 22 long years, the NBA has gone green.

Carried by ear-splitting chants of “Beat L.A.” early and cries of “Seven-teen” in the closing seconds by their adoring crowd, which included Boston legends Bill Russell and John Havlicek, the Celtics concluded a shocking rebound of a season with a stunning 131-92 blowout over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

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With the outcome assured, Boston fans sang into the night as if they were in a pub on nearby Canal Street. They serenaded the newest champs in this city of champs, and taunted Kobe Bryant and his Lakers, who drowned in a green-and-white wave for 48 minutes.

Garnett scored 26 points with 14 rebounds, Allen scored 26 and Pierce, the finals MVP, added 17 as the Celtics, a 24-win team a year ago, wrapped up their first title since 1986.

This was total domination. The Celtics obliterated the Lakers, who were trying to become the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals.

No way. No how. No chance.

Boston’s 39-point win surpassed the NBA record for the biggest margin of victory in a championship clincher; the Celtics beat the Lakers 129-96 in Game 5 of the 1965 NBA finals.

Pierce doused Celtics coach Doc Rivers with red Gatorade. Owner Wyc Grousbeck, who named his group Banner 17 to leave no doubt about his goal, put an unlit cigar in his mouth — a tribute to Red Auerbach, the patriarch who had a hand in the franchise’s first 16 titles.

Garnett dropped to the parquet and kissed the leprechaun at center court and then found Russell, the Hall of Famer who taught him the Celtic way, for a long embrace.

“I got my own. I got my own,” Garnett said. “I hope we made you proud.”

“You sure did,” Russell said.

Rivers pulled Pierce, Garnett and Allen with 4:01 left and they shared a group hug with their coach, who was nearly run out of town last season. In the final minute, Rivers, who lost his father at the beginning of this remarkable season, was soaked by Pierce, the Celtics’ captain who decided to stay when things were bad and was rewarded for his loyalty

It’s was Boston’s first title since the passing of Auerbach, whose signature victory cigar was the only thing missing on this night. Even Auerbach, who died in 2006, got some satisfaction. Led by Rivers, Auerbach’s beloved team denied Lakers coach Phil Jackson from overtaking him with a 10th championship.

A perfect ending: a 17th title on the 17th of June.

The Boston-Los Angeles rivalry, nothing more than black-and-white footage from the 60s and TV highlights of players wearing short shorts in the 80s to young hoops fans, remains tilted toward the Atlantic Ocean. The Celtics are 9-2 against the Lakers in the finals.

They missed their first crack at closing out the series in Game 5, but didn’t miss on their second swing, running the Lakers out of their gym.

Bryant, the regular season MVP, finished with 22 points.

Garnett and Allen were All-Stars in other cities, stuck in Minnesota and Seattle, respectively, on teams going nowhere. But brought together in trades last summer by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, a member of the ’86 Celtics champions, they joined Pierce and formed an unbreakable bond, a trio as tight as the club’s lucky shamrock logo.

With Garnett scoring 17 points and Pierce adding 10, Boston built a 23-point halftime lead, and unlike Game 2 when they let the Lakers trim a 24-point lead to two in the fourth quarter before recovering, the Celtics kept coming in waves.

They pushed their lead to 31 in the third quarter, and with Boston still up by 29 after three quarters, plastic sheets started going up in the Celtics’ locker room in preparation for a champagne celebration.

Bryant started 4-of-5 from the field, but he missed seven shots in a row and went only 7-of-22, capping a forgettable finals. Everywhere he went, L.A.’s No. 24 ran smack into a wall of Boston defense as high as the Green Monster a few miles away at Fenway Park.

“Defense,” Rivers said before the game. “Is what we do.”

In the second half, Celtics fans chanted “You’re not (Michael) Jordan” at Bryant, who will have to wait for his fourth title and first without former teammate Shaquille O’Neal. The Lakers, who stole Pau Gasol away from Memphis in a mid-season trade to help Bryant, will have the all summer to think about what went wrong.

No team had to work harder for a championship than these Celtics, who were playing in their record 26th postseason game. They were pushed to seven games in the first round by Atlanta, another seven by Cleveland and then took care of Detroit in six to win the Eastern Conference title.

They entered Game 6 of the finals slowed by injuries as Pierce, Kendrick Perkins (shoulder) and Rajon Rondo (ankle) were less than 100 percent. There was also uncertainty surrounding Allen, who stayed behind in Los Angeles following Game 5 after his youngest son became ill.

But just as they had while winning 66 games during the regular season, the Celtics got plenty of help from their bench as P.J. Brown, James Posey, Leon Powe and rookie Glen “Big Baby” Davis came in and contributed.

It was a group effort by this gang in green, which bonded behind Rivers, who borrowed an African word ubuntu (pronounced Ooh-BOON-too) and roughly means “I am, because we are” in English, as the Celtics’ unifying team motto.

The Celtics gave the Lakers a 12-minute crash course of ubuntu in the second quarter.

Boston outscored Los Angeles 34-19, getting 11 field goals on 11 assists while holding Bryant to three points, all on free throws. The Celtics toyed with the Lakers, outworking the Western Conference’s best inside and out and showing the same kind of heart that made Boston the center of pro basketball’s universe in the ’60s.

House and Posey made 3-pointers to put the Celtics ahead by 12 points and baskets by Pierce, Garnett and Rondo put Boston ahead by 18.

In the final minute, Garnett floated in the lane, banked in a one-handed runner and was fouled. His free throw made it 56-35, and after Perkins scored, the Celtics ran to the locker room leading by 23.

On his way off the floor, Garnett screamed, “That’s that.” And so it was. The Celtics didn’t get back to Boston until late Monday night. They sat on the runway at LAX for nearly four hours, a delay Rivers joked may have been caused by some gremlins under orders from Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and Jackson.

Allen stayed behind to be with his youngest son, who had taken ill during Game 5 in Los Angeles and had to be hospitalized. Allen didn’t arrive until Tuesday, taking an early morning flight from the West Coast and missing the team’s shootaround.

That was one red eye, he got another in the first quarter when he got poked in the left eye by Lamar Odom while scoring on a layup. Allen doubled over in pain and was taken to the locker room. By the time he came back to the bench — much like Pierce did from a knee injury in Game 1 — the Celtics were up comfortably ahead and on their way to restoring their glory.

Notes: The Lakers had won their previous eight straight Game 6s in the finals. … Since the finals began in 1947, 16 have gone seven games, the most recent in 2005 when San Antonio had to go the distance to beat Detroit. … It was the second biggest margin in finals history behind Chicago’s 96-54 win over Utah in 1998. … It wasn’t as starry as L.A.’s crowd, but Game 6 brought out celebrities including Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who got a huge ovation when he was shown on the scoreboard, and Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade.