Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Luck Of The Irish: Celtics Thump & Pimp Slap Lakers To End Title Drought...

Celtics Wins 17th NBA Title With 131-92 Rout Of Lakers

The Boston Celtics rolled over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday to clinch their first N.B.A. championship in 22 years.
Photo: Elsa/Getty Images


BOSTON (AP)—With Russell and Havlicek sitting courtside, and Red surely lighting up a victory cigar somewhere, these Boston Celtics returned to glory like the great teams before them.

Dominant in every way.

On a new parquet floor below aging championship banners hung in the rafters two decades back, the 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.

Lifted by ear-splitting chants of “Beat L.A.” early and cries of “Seven-teen” in the closing seconds by their adoring crowd, 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.

“It means so much more because these are the guys, the Havliceks, the Bill Russells, the Cousys,” Pierce said. “These guys started what’s going on with those banners. They don’t hang up any other banners but championship ones.

“And now I’m a part of it.”

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 who shook off a sprained right knee sustained in Game 1, added 17 as the Celtics, a 24-win team a year ago, wrapped up their first title since 1986.

Rajon Rondo had 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals as the Celtics, who built a 23-point halftime lead and obliterated the Lakers, who were trying to become the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals.

They didn’t stand a 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.

In the final minute, 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 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. Rivers lost his father at the beginning of this remarkable run, a season no one expected.

By the time Rivers was handed the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it was June 18—his late father’s birthday.

When the game clock reached zeros, Rivers reflected on his dad.

“My first thought was what would my dad say,” Rivers said, “and honestly I started laughing because I thought he would probably say, if you knew my dad, `It’s about time. What have you been waiting for?”’

It’s was Boston’s first title since the passing of Auerbach, whose presence 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.

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.

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

Bryant, the regular season MVP, finished with 22 points on 7-of-22 shooting.

He started 4-of-5 from the field and seemed intent on forcing a Game 7. But he missed seven shots in a row and everywhere he went, L.A.’s No. 24 ran smack into a wall of Boston defense as high as the Green Monster.

“They were definitely the best defense I’ve seen the entire playoffs,” Bryant said. “I’ve seen some pretty stiff ones and this was right up there with them. The goal was to win a championship, it wasn’t to win MVP or anything like that, it was to win a championship.”

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.

They resisted being called The Big Three, a nickname given to Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish two decades ago.

“This is the reason we came here,” Garnett said. “This is the reason we got together, and Danny made it go down. This is it right now.”

With Garnett scoring 17 points and Pierce adding 10, Boston built a 58-35 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 never stopped.

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

No team had to work harder for a championship than these Celtics, who were playing in their record 26th post season game after being pushed to seven games by Atlanta and Cleveland before taking care of Detroit in six to win the Eastern Conference title.

They entered Game 6 slowed by injuries as Pierce, Kendrick Perkins (shoulder) and 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 and was diagnosed with diabetes. The Celtics needed three planes to get back from L.A. and didn’t get home until late Monday night.

But there were no excuses, and 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. 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 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. … The Celtics went 48-7 at home, including 13-1 in the postseason.


Boston Cheers as Celtics Rout Lakers

By HOWARD BECK of the NY Times

The Celtics went from having the worst record in the N.B.A. in 2007 to having the league's best record in 2008, after a busy offseason in which the team acquired Ray Allen,center, and Kevin Garnett, right, to help Paul Pierce, left.
Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

BOSTON – The sights, smells and happy chaos were familiar, as if borrowed from another era and another arena: Stale cigar smoke filled the air. Champagne soaked the locker-room carpets. Green and white confetti was everywhere.

Red Auerbach was not present for the moment in which the Boston Celtics restored their lost glory, but the party they threw Tuesday night at TD Banknorth Garden was unmistakably stamped with his outsize personality.

The Celtics did not just beat the Los Angeles Lakers, they crushed them – and left no doubt that the Larry O'Brien trophy belonged back in Boston after a 22-year hiatus.

Accompanied by chants of "Seventeen!" the Celtics routed their longtime rivals 131-92 to close out the finals in six games. Sixteen green-and-white banners will soon have company in the rafters.

Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce – three stars who had known individual glory but not gratification – will soon have their first championship rings. So will Coach Doc Rivers, who deftly blended their talents after they were united last summer.

It took Pierce, the longtime Celtics captain, 10 years to get here. Garnett waited 13 years for the moment, Allen 12. They all checked out of the game together, with 4 minutes 1 second left. They could not hug each other enough.

"Knowing that you were at rock bottom a year ago today, and to climb all the way to the top, this is a dream come true," said Pierce, who averaged 21.8 points in the finals and was unanimously named the most valuable player. "I'm going to cherish this forever."

They earned the moment with relentless defense that held Kobe Bryant, perhaps the game's premier scorer, to 40 percent shooting in the series. He had 22 points in the finale but just 11 points in the final three quarters.

Unbridled emotion came over the Celtics as the final buzzer sounded. Eddie House, the sharpshooting reserve, fell to his knees at one free-throw line. Garnett kneeled at center court and kissed the Celtics logo.

"I just want to say, other than my kid being born, this has got to be the happiest day of my life right now," said Garnett, one of the greatest power forwards of his era, whose intensity helped transform the Celtics this season.

In the din and the smoke, the Celtics paid homage their franchise patriarch.

"This win is for Red Auerbach," Wyc Grousbeck, the managing partner, said during a raucous trophy presentation on the court.

Moments earlier, Grousbeck had been shown on the video scoreboard chewing on a cigar, to the delight of the crowd.

After a taut series of wild comebacks, near-comebacks and tense fourth quarters, the finale proved anticlimactic – albeit exhilarating for the 18,624 green-clad fans, who hardly used their seats all night.

The Celtics had an 11-point lead in the middle of the second quarter, a 23-point lead at halftime, a 31-point lead by the middle of the third and very little to worry about for most of the night.

Allen buried the Lakers with his 3-point stroke and finished with 26 points. Garnett set the tone with a 10-point first quarter and finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists. Pierce had 17 points and 10 assists.

The Lakers never did win a road game in the series, and the Celtics finished their run with a 13-1 record at home. The 39-point margin of victory was the largest for a title-clinching game.

"We're disappointed," said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. "Our fans are disappointed. I think everybody is disappointed that we didn't get a game out of this, give ourselves a chance."

The game was lost in the first half, when the Lakers failed to grab a single offensive rebound and shot 29.6 percent from the field. Garnett mowed over Pau Gasol, Allen bounced back from a poked eye (courtesy of Lamar Odom) and the Celtics put the game away early, with a 35-14 second quarter.

"We just didn't have it in us, I guess, tonight to be able to match that effort and that intensity," said Gasol, who finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds.

The story of the series, and the season, was the Celtics' commitment to relentless defense. They turned Bryant into a jumpshooter, made him work for every point and forced his teammates to do something spectacular. With few exceptions, they were not up to the task. Odom and Gasol seemed to shrink in the face of the Celtics' ferocity. A young bench anchored by Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar seemed overmatched and outwitted by a Boston bench that featured the savvy veterans P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell.

After much prodding, Bryant conceded that the Celtics' defense was the best he had seen in the playoffs.

"Just upset more than anything, frustrated," Bryant said. "But I'm proud. I'm proud of the way that we performed all year. I'm proud of my guys. I'm proud of the effort that we gave."

The city was primed for the moment. The arena boomed with "Beat L.A." chants in the first quarter. They booed Bryant's image on the scoreboard even earlier — during the national anthem. Fans amused themselves early in the fourth quarter by singing "Where is Kobe?"

The championship was ready to be claimed Tuesday, if only the Celtics could fight through exhaustion, attrition and whatever Bryant unleashed upon them. Over 48 hours, the Celtics had endured a sobering Game 5 defeat, a delayed flight and a sick child, all layered on top of the accumulated aches from a long playoff run.

Allen's youngest son had fallen ill in Los Angeles two nights earlier, which led him to miss the team flight back to Boston. Pierce played the final five games of the series with a sprained knee. Center Kendrick Perkins finished the series with shoulder and ankle injuries and point guard Rajon Rondo with a sprained ankle.

It took 26 games for Boston to win the championship, an NBA record. They were not always the most convincing contenders, going 3-9 on the road and requiring seven games to beat Atlanta and Cleveland in the early rounds.

But the Celtics were persistent, and unified, staying true to the South African theme of "ubuntu" that they established last fall. The word, introduced to the team by Rivers, literally means "I am because we are" and was invoked when the Celtics opened training camp, with the newcomers Garnett and Allen joining Pierce.

"They came in with no egos," Brown said. "Everything was about one thing — they came here to win a championship. It went throughout the whole team. Everybody bought in."

As an added bonus for the Celtics, they denied Jackson a 10th title, which would have broken his tie with Auerbach. That was, Danny Ainge admitted, a fringe benefit: "We wanted to keep Red's nine championships intact and not let Phil pass him."

Ainge was a vital role player when the Celtics won their last title in 1986 and is now their general manager. He absorbed Auerbach's wisdom, acquired the kinds of players who were worthy of his legacy, then watched them dismantle the franchise's greatest rival.

"Beating the Lakers," Ainge said, "is an added bonus. Yeah."

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