Ten moments from Boston's new Garden
- Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images2008 NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce leads the charge in one man's top 10 of a decade in Boston.The night the Boston Celtics won their most recent title, crushing the Lakers in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, some fans had come to the game with stogies stashed away, and smoke wafted through the building as the final seconds ticked down. I wrote about the cigar smoke that night, and that scent remains my quintessential Boston memory of the past decade. It was a decade that began with Rick Pitino still calling the shots from the bench, four years after construction workers finished tearing down the remnants of the old Garden on Causeway Street, a site now occupied by the players' parking lot. The 2001-02 team led by Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker and coached by Jim O'Brien made it to the Eastern Conference finals, but from there the decline was steep under Danny Ainge before the C's pulled off the biggest single-season turnaround in NBA history in 2007-08, capping it with a title. It is a decade that will end with the Celtics once again among the league's elite teams. Rasheed Wallace is on board; Kevin Garnett's knee should be healed; Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo are back; and come April, May and June, there will likely be some sort of epic occurrence to match some of the stuff we've witnessed in Boston in recent years. For now, as we move closer toward the turn of the decade, I've come up with my list of the most memorable Boston Garden moments since the new millennium began:
1. Lakers vs. Celtics, Game 6, 2008 NBA FinalsThe Celtics were up four when the second quarter began. Ray Allen started hitting 3s, Rajon Rondo amassed several of Boston's Finals-record 18 steals, and then the signature stretch arrived, in which the tide irrevocably turned: Kobe Bryant threw away a pass and Kevin Garnett scored on a one-handed half-hook shot at the other end, drawing a foul and completing the three-point play to make it 56-35. Kendrick Perkins then blocked a shot at the other end, came downcourt and dunked off a fancy look-away pass from the nether reaches of Garnett's repertoire, and Boston was up by 23 by halftime. It was over, everybody knew it, and the Lakers had no life left in them in the second half. The pivotal point in the series had come back in L.A. in Game 4 when the Celtics came back from a 21-point deficit at the end of the first quarter to win 97-91, and the fans in the new Garden spent the final 24 minutes of Game 6 partying away, not minding a bit that those 24 minutes were so anticlimactic -- especially after the Celtics had been pushed so hard in that postseason, needing the full 14 games to defeat the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers before knocking off Detroit in six in the Eastern Conference finals. "I hope we made you proud," Garnett told Bill Russell after the game, while Celtics coach Doc Rivers pondered Paul Pierce's eight-year journey from lying bleeding from stab wounds on the floor of a Boston nightclub to winning the Finals MVP trophy. Quite a night.
2. Pierce vs. LeBron, Game 7, 2008 Eastern Conference semifinalsGame 7 in the Cleveland-Boston second-round series was an absolute thriller, with Pierce's 41 points besting LeBron James' 45 as the two faced off in their own game of "Can You Top This?" Given the hubbub in June when James left the arena in Orlando without congratulating the Magic or speaking to the media, it is notable how gracious he was in defeat on this night: "Now they have something to remember in Boston other than what Dominique [Wilkins] and Larry [Bird] did. They'll remember what Paul and LeBron did," James said, referencing the shootout that took place two decades earlier -- a game which Rivers was a part of, playing point guard for the Hawks in a 118-116 Game 7 loss that haunts him to this day.
3. Bulls vs. Celtics, 2009 Eastern Conference first roundIt was easily the best first-round series I've seen this decade. Last spring's marathon included four overtime games -- one of which went double overtime, and Game 6 in Chicago went to triple overtime -- before the Celtics won Game 7 on May 2, holding off Chicago's second-half surge led behind the unlikely trio of Eddie House, Stephon Marbury and Brian Scalabrine. Afterward, Rivers told the players to study their scouting reports on their next opponent, Orlando. In a display of confidence he disclosed afterward, Rivers had an assistant place those Magic scouting reports in the players' cars before Game 7 tipped off.
4. Pistons vs. Celtics, Game 5, 2008 Eastern Conference finalsThis wasn't the clincher -- that would come two nights later on the road at The Palace -- but it certainly felt like a clincher in the moments afterward when the crowd streamed out of the exits, many of them whooping and hollering as though the Celtics had already reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987. This was the game in which Ray Allen ended his 2008 postseason disappearing act, when Kevin Garnett nailed the two huge free throws, and Rajon Rondo (13 assists, four steals) and Kendrick Perkins (18 pounds, 16 rebounds) showed that the Men in Green had a lot more weapons than just their fabled Big Three.
5. Nets vs. Celtics, 2002 Eastern Conference finalsSpeaking of 21-point deficits, the Celtics faced one of those going into the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the ECF in Boston, setting the stage for the biggest such comeback in playoff history. Boston outscored New Jersey 41-16 in the quarter to steal Game 3 and take a 2-1 lead in the series. Alas, that was the high point, as the Nets took three straight games to advance to their first NBA Finals. The low points happened in Boston, too, as fans chanted "wife-beater" at New Jersey guard Jason Kidd, who had pled guilty to spousal abuse in 2001. Kidd refused to allow his family to accompany him to Boston to Game 6 of this series -- won by the Nets -- because of the local reaction, and when pressed, Kidd will admit there is one NBA franchise he despises. Hint: They wear green.
6. Paul Pierce interview, 2006Pierce did a double take when I asked him, "What is your level of satisfaction with the roster?" and Delonte West leaned in to listen to the answer as Pierce repeated the question and paused to reflect upon how he wanted to respond. It was no secret that Pierce was unhappy; rumors were circulating that Boston had entertained trade offers for him that previous summer, and it was just generally a bleak time for the Celtics, right before the Celtics would hit rock bottom. Pierce eventually gave a politically correct answer, and later that evening Danny Ainge proclaimed himself happier with the roster than he'd ever been. Boston won only 24 games that season, and the rest, of course, is history -- beginning with Kevin McHale bestowing Garnett upon the Celtics the following summer.
7. The kid with the mopFive years ago when the franchise was in its mid-decade lull, the Celtics were still seating the media in the first row along the baseline right next to the home team's bench. It was a preseason game, and there was a new kid manning the mop beneath the basket, and his instructions (apparently not too detailed) were to soak up the sweat whenever it was making the floor slippery. The kid had to be 14 or 15 and was greener than a leprechaun, and at one point when the Celtics were trying to force-feed Al Jefferson the ball in the low post in a half-court set, the kid ran with his mop out to half court and started mopping up a wet spot as the ball was still in play, much to the amusement of Michael Olowokandi and Brian Scalabrine, who were in stitches at the end of the Boston bench as they watched it all unfold. When the mop kid returned, his supervisor chastised him for running onto the court during the game. "Nobody told me I wasn't supposed to do that!" the kid replied, mortified.
8. Right after Boston won the titleA footnote to that cigar smoke story: Some 15 minutes after the game ended, I was walking through an empty tunnel under the stands when I walked past commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and a couple of other NBA honchos. Stern looked ashen and miserable, like he had been kicked in the gut, and my understanding from talking to people afterward was that he was upset at being booed so lustily by the crowd during the trophy presentation. (The storyline of those Finals had been usurped for a few days by the Tim Donaghy scandal, and Stern's Q score was somewhere in the depths currently occupied by the likes of Kanye West.) This could have been a moment of glee for him, with the Lakers-Celtics Finals bringing higher TV ratings and new fans to the game. But Stern was so morose that it was one of the few times I truly felt sorry for the guy.
9. "I'm Shipping Up to Boston"Dropkick Murphys are a local band whose song "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" is sampled during player intros and then played again in full, usually during a second-half timeout -- and it's my choice for Best Sports Arena Song Ever. The band's style is Irish-inspired rock mixed with some folk and some punk, with a prominent fiddle line that gives the tune a particular Celtic (pronounced Kell-tick) feel.
10. GinoWhen the Celtics win, the scoreboard operators roll an old "American Bandstand" clip from the 1970s in which a bell-bottomed man in a Gino Vannelli T-shirt smiles into the camera, shakes his hips like Travolta and disco-dances away as the Bee Gees song "You Should Be Dancing" is played over the loudspeakers. It's cheesy, but the fans eat it up every time, and it never seems to get old. On most nights, it's the grand finale of what is always one of the best game-night presentations (yes, even with the addition of the dance team, which Red Auerbach resisted for years) at any of the league's 29 venues, simply because of its simplicity. The Celtics don't overdo it with T-shirt guns, Kiss Cams and screaming emcees. They play rock music, they show crowd shots on the scoreboard, and that seems to be more than enough to keep everyone entertained. Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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