There were legendary Celtics sitting in the stands, with names like Russell, Havlicek, Heinsohn, Maxwell, Ainge, and White, who could all tell stories about the days when they touched the NBA championship trophy, sprayed champagne on each other, and watched Red Auerbach proudly puff on a victory cigar.
After a 22-year wait that included the retirement of Larry Bird, lots of lean years, and the death of Auerbach, the Celtics have new legends named Pierce, Allen, and Garnett, who now can tell their stories about touching the trophy, spraying champagne, and wishing Red were here to witness it.
The Celtics were finally able to make room in the rafters for their league-best 17th championship banner, claiming the NBA title last night by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers, 131-92, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at TD Banknorth Garden.
"Oh, it's a great feeling, man," said Finals MVP Paul Pierce, "just knowing that these guys, what they accomplished and those things that hang over our head every day, and for us to go out there and make history in front of those guys. It means so much more because these are the guys, the Havliceks, the Bill Russells, the Cousys. These guys started what's going on today with those banners.
"They don't hang up any other banners but championship ones, and now I'm a part of it. And just all the years talking to Bill and John, Cousy, finally I feel like we've come out of that shadow now and created our own, and now we can stand up and look them eye to eye and say, 'Hey, we accomplished it, too.' "
The Celtics, winning this series, four games to two, are now 9-2 in Finals history against their bitter rivals, the Lakers. They finished these playoffs with a 13-1 record at home and played an NBA-record 26 postseason games.
The All-Star trio of Pierce (17 points), Kevin Garnett (26 points, 14 rebounds), and Ray Allen (26 points) won a championship in their first season together.
"We just ignored the Big Three talk, and if people are going to place the stigma on the team after we won, everyone is going to be fine with it because we did win," Allen said.
Just over a year ago, Pierce begged Celtics management for help, as his team was finishing with the second-worst record in the league. He was rewarded with the addition of Garnett and Allen, among others. Pierce rewarded management by having a superb Finals in which he averaged 21.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.5 rebounds in the six games.
"I give that credit to my teammates," Pierce said. "I just worked so hard to be here, and I'm just so happy."
The Celtics also kept Lakers coach Phil Jackson from earning a 10th title, which would have broken a tie with Auerbach for most in NBA history by a coach. Auerbach, whose name is on the parquet floor, died in October of 2006.
"I'm sure Red is up there right now feeling how it feels to win one of these," Havlicek said. "We never forget Red."
Said Jackson, "Congratulations to them, their staff, their players. They showed their strength tonight in winning this decisive game."
The Celtics finished the first quarter with a 24-20 lead but temporarily lost Allen after he was poked in his left eye during a lay-in. Boston outscored the Lakers, 34-15, in the second quarter after shooting 57.9 percent from the field and nailing four 3-pointers to take a 23-point halftime lead, 58-35.
An Allen 3-pointer gave Boston a mammoth 27-point lead, 73-46, with 7:37 left in the third quarter. After going 22:26 without a field goal, Kobe Bryant hit a jumper to trim the deficit to to 25 (73-48).
Two Pierce free throws gave Boston a 31-point lead, 84-53, with 4:03 remaining. The Celtics finished the third quarter with a very comfortable 89-60 advantage, just 12 minutes from an NBA title.
Rajon Rondo's lay-in with 11:31 left gave Boston a 30-point lead, 91-61, and soon the crowd started chanting, "Where is Kobe?" Two Allen 3-pointers gave the Celtics a 104-70 lead with nine minutes left. Shortly thereafter, Celtics guard Eddie House asked one of the ball boys to go to the locker room and retrieve his camera to capture the moment.
"I don't know what the final score is," Jackson said.
With 4:01 remaining, coach Doc Rivers poetically took Pierce, Garnett, and Allen out at the same time, with the Lakers behind, 116-81. The trio hugged Rivers, then hugged each other. And soon after that, Pierce opened a bucket of Gatorade and doused Rivers.
"They all said, 'Thank you,' and I said, 'Thank you' back," Rivers said. "Paul, obviously, we . . . it's just so sweet. He just kept saying, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you for sticking with me again,' and I kept saying the same thing to him. So it was really a nice moment."
As the buzzer sounded, Garnett went to the middle of the floor and kissed the Celtics logo. With tears in his eyes, Bryant (22 points) congratulated several Celtics before leaving the floor.
Garnett was given a hug and some words from Bill Russell, and as the Celtics took the championship podium with NBA commissioner David Stern, Rivers held a cigar in the air.
"Other than my kid being born, this has got to be the happiest day of my life right now," said Garnett. "I'm going to be hoarse. I don't plan on sleeping for a week, months."
"It means everything," Pierce said. "You know, I'm not living under the shadows of the other greats now. I'm able to make my own history with my time here, and like I said, this is something that I wanted to do.
"If I was going to be one of the best Celtics to ever play, I had to put up a banner, and today we did that."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org