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From the archives | 2008

In one year, Celtics go from bottom to the top

Twelve months ago, franchise was forlorn

Paul Pierce, left,  and Kevin Garnett hug GM Danny Ainge during the waning moments of the Game 6 win.

Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Paul Pierce, left, and Kevin Garnett hug GM Danny Ainge during the waning moments of the Game 6 win.

131-92.

Embrace it. Ogle it. Relish it.

Continue reading below

But, above all, believe it.

The Boston Celtics did not just win franchise championship No. 17 last night. They snatched it. They swallowed it. They demanded it.

So they've done it. They have claimed the honor of having the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history. One year ago today, the franchise could accurately be described as forlorn. The Celtics were coming off a 24-58 season punctuated by an 18-game losing streak. They had been cruelly treated by the draft lottery, which left them with nothing better than the fifth pick.

And now they are champions. Again.

Lordy, Lordy, what hath Danny and Doc wrought?

It was a wire-to-wire championship that began with a 103-83 dismissal of the Washington Wizards back on Nov. 2 and came to fruition at the TD Banknorth Garden with perhaps their greatest combination of offensive play, defensive play, bench play, and just plain basketball in any game of the entire 116-game exhibition/regular season/playoff season.

131-92.

The Celtics started the season 8-0. They had such records as 20-2, 40-9, and, finally, 66-16. They never trailed in any playoff series. They won every playoff game they had to win. And they saved their absolute best for last, blowing away the Western Conference champion Lakers with a truly phenomenal display of all-around basketball that left no doubt just which was the best basketball team in the known universe.

It was over at the half, when the Celtics went into the locker room up by 23 (58-35) after ending the second quarter with a 26-6 run. The second half was simply a glorious celebration of Boston Celtics basketball, and, specifically, of Three Amigos basketball. The lead grew and grew until the standard sellout crowd of 18,624 found itself looking at a scoreboard bearing the unimaginably happy news that the Celtics were actually 43 points ahead of the hated Left Coasters (129-86 on a Tony Allen reverse alley-oop dunk off an Eddie House feed with 1:22 remaining).

Even in a game with such a lopsided final score, there are key moments. The first key to this game was a first-quarter flurry from Kevin Garnett, who scored three straight baskets (a tough turnaround, a face-up jumper, and another tough turnaround) when LA led by an 18-16 score. When he was done, the Celtics were up, 22-18, and they would never trail again.

The second key juncture came a little more than four minutes into the second quarter, with the Celtics clinging to a 32-29 lead. That's when bench energizers James Posey and Eddie House hit back-to-back threes to ignite that extraordinary 26-6 demonstration of Celtics basketball superiority.

Soon it was 43-29 and the building was reverberating with the vaunted "Beat LA" cheer. And then it was 53-35 on a scoop shot by the effervescent Rajon Rondo, who rebounded from an injury-plagued, almost wasted trip to Los Angeles with as spectacular a game as anyone could ask from a 22-year-old point guard (21 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 6 credited steals).

And then came the play that resoundingly emphasized it was Boston's night, and not LA's. Garnett (26 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists) was already in a transcendent mode when he took a pass from series MVP Paul Pierce and banked home a pumping, hanging something-or-other for an old-fashioned 3-point play. It was Pierce's ninth assist of the half, and you want to talk N-O-I-S-E . . .

You've heard about two of the Three Amigos. The third wasn't bad, either. Ray Allen was off to a solid start when he was accidentally poked in the eye by Lamar Odom in the first quarter as he drove baseline. He went to the locker room and didn't re-emerge until the 6:05 mark of the second quarter. Allen finished with a Finals-record seven 3-pointers. That 13-game, 9-for-51 drought he had back in the middle of the playoffs seems like so much science fiction now, doesn't it?

But the most intriguing story of this game might very well have been the Other Guys. Rondo, of course, was magnificent. Kendrick Perkins didn't get much love from the officials, but he made himself known. That leaves the bench.

One great constant in this series was the way the bench play helped dictate the outcome. That was once again the case last night, as Doc Rivers's substitutes totally outplayed Phil Jackson's, with a particular emphasis on the second quarter. At the half, the Boston bench had 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists, compared with LA's totals of 9-0-0.

After 116 games, Rivers is still searching for a so-called rotation. Guess he doesn't need one. Old Reliable James Posey was his only bench staple, and Posey came through once again last night with 11 points (4-for-4 shooting) and flypaper D on the sadly ineffective Kobe Bryant, who started off by scoring 11 points on 4-for-5 long-distance shooting in the first 6:31 and who shot 3 for 17 thereafter. Kobe went 22:20 without a field goal. He scored field goal No. 4 to put LA ahead, 13-12. When he scored field goal No. 5, it reduced the Laker deficit to 25 (73-48). You can supply your own punch line.

So there was Posey being Posey, but as the Celtics were putting the game away in the second quarter, guess who else was out there. Try Eddie House, who had been a completely forgotten entity for long stretches of the playoffs, and then try none other than Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who was summoned when P.J. Brown picked up his second foul in relief of Perkins, who, naturally, already had two himself.

Between them, House and Big Baby had racked up a combined 15 playoff DNPs. Big Baby had been DNP'd eight consecutive games, not seeing action since Game 4 against Detroit. But the beefy lad from LSU gave his team 14 valuable minutes, laying that big body on Pau Gasol, just as he had put it on luminaries such as Tim Duncan during the regular season.

The Celtics have been about defense all season, as Rivers continually points out. So how about this? One minute into the third period, the Lakers had shot 8 for 30 from the floor and were down by 27 (63-36). What is there to say?

What we had, ladies and gentlemen, was the first six-game sweep in NBA Finals history. The Celtics dominated the three games in Boston, and they absolutely, positively could have won all three games in LA. But isn't it fortunate for the fans that they didn't? How many times do home fans get to see an NBA coach get the Gatorade bucket treatment, as Rivers got from Pierce with 30 seconds to go?

131-92.

That's a score you'll never, ever forget.

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