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Replay

In 1981, the victory cigars had a very sweet taste for the latest Celtics champions

Larry Bird literally took the cigar out of Red Auerbach's mouth in the raucous aftermath of the Celtics' championship victory over the Rockets.
Larry Bird literally took the cigar out of Red Auerbach's mouth in the raucous aftermath of the Celtics' championship victory over the Rockets.O'Brien, Frank Globe Photo/The Boston Globe

Editor’s note: While the games are on pause, the Globe is reaching into its archives to bring you “Replay,” stories and columns from the past that highlight something interesting, timely, or revealing. This column by Leigh Montville on the Celtics’ victory over the Rockets to win their 14th NBA title appeared in the Globe on Friday, May 15, 1981, under the headline, “Boston again king of basketball hill.”

The picture from this one came on the presentation stand. Larry Bird reached downward and plucked the cigar from the little balding man’s mouth and put it in his own mouth.

Smile! Larry Bird smoked Red Auerbach's cigar and the cameras clicked and all was right with the world again, at least that part of it in the faraway New England corner. The Boston Celtics were champions once more.

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"Fantastic!" Auerbach shouted.

The Celtics won the National Basketball Association title for a record 14th time at the noisy Summit last night and they won it with grand style. They outlasted the Houston Rockets, 102-91, to win the best-of-seven series, four games to two. They persevered. They hung on. They won with exuberance and they exploded in the end.

“Pow!” most valuable player Cedric Maxwell shouted as he gave a gigantic high-five slap to forward M.L. Carr.

"Pow-pow!" Carr shouted as he gave two slaps to guard Tiny Archibald.

"Give me some pow," guard Chris Ford asked and, pow, he received more than enough. Pow! Pow-pow! Pow!

"Do you ever get tired of this?" Gary Bender, the CBS television man, asked general manager Auerbach.

“Never . . . never . . . never,” Auerbach said, a mist of champagne covering his sports coat. “We’re off the number 13; we’re on to 14. These guys — all of 'em — they were just fantastic . . .”

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They were different, these Celtics. They were a Celtics team that never had won. There was not one of them who owned a championship ring. They were a collection of veterans who never had taken the full ride and young talent that made everything fit together. Veterans and talent . . . and, of course, the estimable Bird. The bona fide star who made all of the rest of it work.

There was Archibald, who refined his game, who became a passer instead of a scorer. There was Robert Parish, who came from San Francisco just this year to stand tall where Dave Cowens and Bill Russell once stood. There was Ford, the quintessential journeyman, working hard and landing at the far end of a rainbow at the end. There was the rubber-band Maxwell, arms and elbows and snake-charmer ease, the man who blossomed most of all at the end. There was Carr and rookie Kevin McHale and Rick Robey and his brakeless mayhem and Gerry Henderson and Eric Fernsten and, of course, Terry Duerod. Due.

They were brought together by Auerbach, the sly old gambler from the Kenny Rogers song. They were worked together by Bill Fitch, the coaching workaholic, videotapes and extra practice and no loose ends. Ever. They played with a college enthusiasm, hand-claps and hoots, for 99 games and they were the best during the regular season and they were the one-point survivors against the accursed team from Philadelphia and they were victors over both ennui and the Rockets in this anticlimax of a final.

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They were the new Celtics, doing things a new way and ending up where so many of the old Celtics had ended. They were the best. By all measurements possible.

"Just sweet," Parish said at the thought of the end of it all. "Ooooooh. Good God, how sweet it is."

"Bring it to the Bronx," Archibald said, touching the NBA trophy.

"Bring it to Minnesota," McHale said.

"We're bringing it back to Boston," Carr said. "That's where we're bringing it."

The final win was as good as any to show how these Celtics played. With the Rockets coming out fast, playing their best basketball of the series, the Celtics came out even faster. They stayed a step ahead, a step ahead and then blew away to a 17-point lead in the first two minutes of the fourth period.

Robert Parish's first season with the Celtics culminated in a championship.
Robert Parish's first season with the Celtics culminated in a championship.AP/Associated Press

When there was a bit of sloppiness, when the Rockets made a good run, cutting the lead to three points and making the modern arena start to tremble a bit . . . well, there were the Celtics at the end. They were a team that always was best at the end. Bird was always around and Bird and Bird and Bird, and there he was, stuffing in that three-pointer from the far corner with 1:37 left to just about end the game and send announcer Johnny Most into his dog-level high keen.

"If ever a team celebrated, this is the one," Fitch said. "This is their first night off all year."

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The trophy presentation was held in a separate area in the Summit and for this one, all the Celtics came. They stood on the podium together, laughing, giving each other some pow, and looking very much like the US hockey team in its celebration at Lake Placid.

"Pass those cigars around, Red," McHale, the rookie, shouted, and the general manager did just that, emptying his pockets.

"One for one," McHale shouted, again and again, over and over. One championship in one try.

"There is no way to explain about how I feel or how I played or how I contributed," Maxwell said.

“Uhhhh,” Ford simply said. “Uhhhh.”

The trophy was presented by NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien to Celtic owner Harry Mangurian. O’Brien said: “Now for the 14th time . . .” and handed the gold trophy over and as he did, Auerbach peeked from the other side.

"Hey," Auerbach said, examining the trophy, "it's a new one."

Only he would know.