They are not your old man’s Celtics. No black canvas high-tops. No cigar smoke wafting toward the Garden rafters from the Boston bench. No behind-the-back passes from Cooz, and no Larry Legend smashing his face on the parquet floor.
But the 2007-08 Boston Celtics are champions of the world, worthy successors to the men your dad always told you about.
The Celtics returned to glory last night, winning their 17th NBA title - their first banner since 1986 - with a 131-92 Game 6 dismemberment of the soft-shell Lakers at the Causeway Street Gym.
No smoking laws were waived in the New Garden when NBA commissioner David Stern presented the Larry O'Brien Trophy to Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck at 12:03 this morning.
"Someplace, Red is lighting up a cigar," said Stern.
"This win is for Red Auerbach," said Grousbeck.
It felt like a restoration of the natural order of the basketball universe.
The finale, Boston's record 26th postseason game of 2008, was an homage to the 12-man selflessness, teamwork, and ferocious defense that marked the golden days of Green dominance. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen led the champs with 26 points apiece while second-year guard Rajon Rondo scored 21 to go with 7 rebounds and 8 assists.
Celtics captain and Finals MVP Paul Pierce scored 17 points and had 10 assists, and Boston's bench won the game in a 34-15 second quarter that demoralized the visitors and made the second half more coronation than competition.
In bygone days when dinosaurs ruled the earth and Bill Russell roamed the paint, the Celtics were the signature franchise in pro ball. Internationally famous, they won 16 championships between 1957 and 1986, including eight straight with Auerbach on the bench.
They disappeared from the local sports landscape in recent seasons, but re-emerged in full championship fury after general manager Danny Ainge acquired Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007. Boston won 66 games in the regular season and went 13-1 at home during the 68-day postseason tournament.
Russell, John Havlicek, and JoJo White were in the house for the last loud roar. Auerbach, Walter Brown, Dennis Johnson, Reggie Lewis, Johnny Most and a few other gods of Green watched from a higher place as role players named James Posey, Eddie House, and P.J. Brown helped the starters methodically erase the Lakers. Don Cherry would have loved it. Kobe Bryant scored 22 for the losers, but ultimately LA just had too many Europeans.
Brilliantly coached by Doc Rivers, sculpted with Auerbachian guts and guile by Ainge (who learned it all at the right hand of Red), the Celtics won the title one year after a 24-58 campaign, which included an 18-game losing streak. The champs struggled in seven-game series against the Hawks and Cavaliers (0-6 on the road) before finding their voice in a six-game set against the formidable Pistons.
"This is unreal," Pierce told the crowd. "I'm just happy that . . . everybody, the city of Boston stuck with me throughout all the hard times. I know we didn't have a lot of great years, but you guys stuck with me, and now we bring home a championship to you."
The Lakers had a much smoother path to the Finals and were consensus favorites of national experts who'd been blinded by West Coast sunsets. It didn't take long to discover that the run-and-shoot Western Conference champs were no match for the brawlers from the East.
The never-gracious Auerbach no doubt is smiling somewhere, safe in the knowledge that Phil Jackson did not win a record 10th championship (both Auerbach and Jackson had nine as coaches) on the Red Auerbach court.
"I think everybody is disappointed that we didn't get a game out of this, give ourselves a chance," said Jackson. "I thought we played on our heels from the very get-go. They overran us."
The victory cements Boston's claim as Titletown, USA. Boston is home of the world champion Celtics and the world champion Red Sox. Now if only that slacker team in Foxborough can get with the program.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick watched Game 6 from the first row of the baseline by the Celtics bench. I think I saw him scribbling notes when the Celtics were playing defense.
Boston made only 9 of 24 shots in an erratic first quarter, but led, 24-20, thanks to the hot hand of Garnett. Called out by peers (Ron Artest) and NBA watchers from coast to coast, Garnett scored 10 in the quarter, and paced the Celtics to an early lead despite poor shooting.
The Celtic bench (more kudos for Ainge) took back the night in the second. Posey (11 points, one of five Celtics in double figures) and House hit back-to-back treys from the left corner to put the Celtics up by 9 and force Jackson to call a panic timeout.
It didn't help. The Celtics effectively won the championship with a 15-2 quarter-closing run to make it 58-35 at intermission. The Lakers spit back whopping leads on their home court. The Celtics do not.
The Celtics ran to a 79-48 lead midway through the third while the poet on the Laker bench just stood back and let it all be.
The Vault was a victory Garden in the final 12 minutes. Rivers took out his starters when it was 116-81 with 4:01 left. The lead peaked at 43 when Tony Allen flushed home a reverse dunk to make it 129-86.
Late in the fourth, while some fans lit cigars, Ainge's image appeared on the big board and he refused to even crack a smile. He was a bum at this time a year ago. Now he's a hero on a par with Belichick and Theo Epstein.
Light it up. The Boston Celtics, once synonymous with sports supremacy, are back where they belong, and Boston gets to party like it's 1959.