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Boston Celtics History



Fast Facts



NBA Titles:
1956-57, 1958-59, 1959-60, 1960-61, 1961-62, 1962-63, 1963-64, 1964-65, 1965-66, 1967-68, 1968-69, 1973-74, 1975-76, 1980-81, 1983-84, 1985-86

Retired Numbers:
(00) Robert Parish, (1) Walter Brown, (2) Arnold "Red" Auerbach, (3) Dennis Johnson, (6) Bill Russell, (10) Jo Jo White, (14) Bob Cousy, (15) Tom Heinsohn, (16) Tom "Satch" Sanders, (17) John Havlicek, (18) Dave Cowens, (19) Don Nelson, (21) Bill Sharman, (22) Ed Macauley, (23) Frank Ramsey, (24) Sam Jones(25) K.C. Jones, (32) Kevin McHale, (33) Larry Bird, (35) Reggie Lewis, (Loscy)* Jim Loscutoff, (Microphone) Johnny Most
*-Loscutoff's jersey was retired, but number 18 was kept active for Dave Cowens


Season Recaps


The Most Successful Franchise In Professional Sports History
1946: Birth Of The Celtics
1946-50: A Four-Year Struggle
1950-51: Celtics Become A Contender Almost Overnight
1951-54: Sharman Joins Boston Backcourt
1954-56: Instant Offense, But No Defense
1956-57: Boston Gets Its Big Man
1957-58: Beginning Of A Dynasty
1958-59: Celtics Get Another Jones And Another Title
1959-62: Wilt Arrives, But Celtics Prove That Five Stars Are Better Than One
1962-63: Cousy Retires With Yet Another Ring
1963-65: Russell Keeps Dynasty Going
1965-66: Eight Straight
1966-69: Sixers And Celtics Clash In East
1969-74: Russell Retires, And Dynasty Dies
1974-75: One Of The Greatest Finals Ever
1975-76: Westphal Nearly Returns To Haunt Celtics
1976-78: A Two-Year Dry Spell
1978-79: Boston Acquires Rights To Bird
1979-80: From Worst To First
1980-81: Parish, McHale Join Celtics Front Line
1981-84: Celtics Stumble; Regroup
1984-85: Lakers Finally End Celtics Hex
1985-86: Bird Soars To Third MVP Award; Celtics Sail To NBA Title
1986-88: A Season Of Sorrow And Celebration
1988-92: Boston Struggles Without Flightless Bird
1991-92: A Legend Retires
1992-93: Disappointment On The Court, Tragedy Off Of It
1993-94: A Steep Decline
1994-95: Garden Era Ends In Boston
1995-96: Celtics Struggle Continues
1996-97: C's Endure Painful Year; Then Land Pitino
1997-98: The Return of Celtic Pride
1998-99: And a Rookie Shall Lead Them
1999-2000: Two Young Stars Begin To Develop
2000-2001: The Two Twenty-something Stars Take Over; O'Brien Takes Over For Pitino
2001-2002: Celtics post first 40-win season in a decade; Pierce and Walker Continue to Dominate
2002-2003: New Ownership, Pierce and Walker Both Average 20+ Points Per Game For Third Straight Season and Team Returns To Post-Season Play




The Most Successful Franchise In Professional Sports History

Quite simply, the Boston Celtics are "the Franchise," Celtics Green is "the Color," and the winking leprechaun that serves as the team's logo symbolizes five decades of NBA tradition. A charter member of the Basketball Association of America (which evolved into the NBA), Boston flies more title banners from the rafters of its home arena than any other franchise.

Although the Celtics have known some tough years, no other professional sports franchise can match the team for its record of success. Certainly no other team has ever dominated a league the way Boston did from 1957 to 1969, when the club won 11 NBA Championships. For those 13 years, the team was "the Dynasty."

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1946: Birth Of The Celtics

The Celtics came into being on June 6, 1946. On that day 11 men (all of whom owned either professional hockey teams, large arenas in major cities, or both) met to discuss the formation of a new professional basketball league. They christened the new league the Basketball Association of America and modeled its season-which featured a 60-game schedule and a series of playoffs-after the National Hockey League's. The game itself was based on college basketball, but with the contests lengthened to 48 minutes rather than the 40 played in college.

A driving force behind the BAA was Celtics owner Walter Brown, who ran the Boston Garden and was part of the NHL's Boston Bruins organization. Brown hired John "Honey" Russell as his first coach, and the Celtics' maiden home game was played on November 5, 1946. The contest began an hour behind schedule because Boston's Chuck Connors (later the star of television's The Rifleman) splintered a wooden backboard with a practice dunk before the game. Boston lost to the Chicago Stags, 57-55, but the 4,329 fans in attendance not only got to see the Celtics' first-ever home game but also witnessed the first broken backboard in professional basketball history.

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1946-50: A Four-Year Struggle

The franchise struggled for respectability during its first four years. The inaugural 1946-47 campaign yielded a 22-38 record and a last-place tie with the Toronto Huskies in the BAA's Eastern Division. Connie Simmons, a 6-8 center, led the Celtics in scoring with 10.3 points per game.

The team fared slightly better the following year, managing to make the playoffs with a 20-28 record. Appearing in their first postseason contest, the Celtics lost Game 1 to the Chicago Stags, but they came back to beat the Stags, 81-77, on March 31, 1948, to claim the franchise's first-ever playoff win. Their playoff hopes were short-lived, however, as the Stags eliminated the Celtics two nights later.

For the 1948-49 campaign Brown hired a new coach, Alvin "Doggie" Julian, who had guided Holy Cross to an NCAA Championship the year before. But the results were pretty much the same. Boston's roster was populated with little-remembered players such as Gene Stump, Dutch Garfinkel, and Hank Beenders, just 3 of the 18 cagers who wore Celtics Green that season. The club finished out of the playoffs with a 25-35 mark.

The BAA merged with the rival National Basketball League prior to the 1949-50 season. The new league, christened the National Basketball Association, fielded 17 teams. Julian was back at Boston's helm for a second year, and the Celtics once again finished out of the playoffs with a 22-46 record that earned them the last-place spot in the Eastern Division.

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1950-51: Celtics Become A Contender Almost Overnight

In 1950 a series of offseason events completely transformed the Celtics. The NBA underwent a reorganization that reduced the league to 11 teams, with the best players from the six disbanded franchises distributed among the remaining teams. Boston hit the jackpot not once but twice. When the St. Louis Bombers folded, the New York Knicks tried to buy the franchise for $50,000 in order to acquire promising young center Ed Macauley. The league blocked the sale, however, and awarded Macauley to Boston in an effort to strengthen one of the weakest franchises in the circuit.

The second key acquisition was even more fortuitous. When the Chicago Stags called it quits, the franchise's players were distributed in a dispersal draft. Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were allowed to choose between a trio of guards: veterans Max Zaslofsky and Andy Phillip, and rookie Bob Cousy. None of the teams wanted the rookie, so the three names were thrown into a hat. Boston drew Cousy.

There were other new faces on the team as well. Red Auerbach, who had led the Washington Capitols to the BAA Finals two years earlier, took over as head coach. On April 25, 1950, the Boston Celtics drafted Duquesne star Charles Cooper, the first black player ever selected by an NBA team and one of three African-Americans to enter the league that year. (Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton went to the Knicks, and Earl Lloyd joined the Capitols.)

Auerbach had serious doubts about Cousy, but the 6-1 Holy Cross graduate instantly established himself as a star. No one had ever seen anything like the behind-the-back dribbling and no-look passes that Cousy brought to the game. In his 1950-51 debut season he averaged 15.6 points and finished fourth in the league in assists with 4.9 per game. Teammate Ed Macauley added 20.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, while Cooper contributed 9.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest.

Auerbach encouraged the Celtics to play an up-tempo, fast-breaking game. The team led the league in assists in 1950-51 and ranked near the top in points per game. A 39-30 record was the franchise's first above the .500 mark. But Boston was upset by New York in the first round of the playoffs as the Knicks swept the best-of-three series by an average of 14 points per game.

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1951-54: Sharman Joins Boston Backcourt

The Celtics made an important addition to their roster during the offseason by acquiring sharp-shooting guard Bill Sharman. Boston improved to 39-27 in the 1951-52 campaign, just one game behind the first-place Syracuse Nationals in the Eastern Division. Bob Cousy raised his numbers to 21.7 points and 6.7 assists per game, third and second in the NBA, respectively. The postseason began with a rematch of the previous season's Celtics-Knicks series. The teams split the first two games before New York eliminated Boston with an overtime win in Game 3.

The 1952-53 season saw Boston, Syracuse, and New York battle for the top spot in the Eastern Division. The Nats and the Knicks ended the season tied with 47 wins, while the Celtics trailed by a single victory. Behind Cousy, Macauley, and Sharman, Boston employed a high-powered offense that paced the NBA in both points and assists. However, the team was weak on defense, ranking near the bottom of the circuit in points allowed.

Boston beat the Nationals in Game 1 of the Eastern Division Semifinals. Game 2 was a four-overtime classic. Cousy scored 50 points, 30 of them from the foul line (the two teams combined for 107 fouls in the game), and the Celtics pulled out a 111-105 victory to claim the first playoff series win in franchise history. The division finals pitted the Celtics against the Knicks, and once again New York ended Boston's season, this time in four games.

Boston's 1953-54 season followed the same pattern as the year before. The Celtics, Knicks, and Nationals fought it out for the Eastern Division title, and the Knicks came out on top by a narrow margin. Boston led the league in points per game, with Cousy, Macauley, and Sharman all finishing among the NBA's top scorers. Cousy also led the circuit with 7.2 assists per game. The club was still weak defensively, however, and after surviving a round-robin tournament in the first round of the playoffs, Boston fell to Syracuse in the Eastern Division Finals.

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1954-56: Instant Offense, But No Defense

During the offseason the Celtics picked up Frank Ramsey, a 6-3 rookie from Kentucky who could play either guard or forward. Coach Red Auerbach pioneered the sixth-man role the following year by bringing Ramsey off the bench to provide instant offense.

In 1954-55 the Celtics became the first team in NBA history to average more than 100 points. The club made more field goals, sank more free throws, and handed out more assists than any other team in the league, but Boston also allowed opponents a record number of points, giving up 101.5 per game. The result was a 36-36 record and an early exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Syracuse Nationals.

The Celtics' defensive woes continued during the 1955-56 season. The team added rookie forward Jim Loscutoff, who provided some much-needed muscle and toughness, but Boston was still an offensively impressive and defensively suspect squad. Bob Cousy, Ed Macauley, and Bill Sharman were all top-10 scorers, and the team once again led the league in both points scored and points allowed. Boston put together a 39-33 season, then fell in the first round of the playoffs to Syracuse for the second straight year.

After six years of watching his team post decent regular-season records before bowing out of the playoffs in the early rounds, Auerbach decided that what he needed was a big man in the middle who could provide the team with defense and rebounding. The ideal player came into the 1956 Draft in the form of 6-10 Bill Russell, a defensive standout who had carried the University of San Francisco to consecutive unbeaten seasons.

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1956-57: Boston Gets Its Big Man

Before the 1956 NBA Draft began, Boston made Tom Heinsohn of Holy Cross a territorial pick. The territorial system allowed a team to lay automatic claim to a local college player in exchange for giving up its first-round draft position. Yet even though the Celtics had forfeited their first-round pick, Auerbach still had his sights set on Russell. He got his man when Boston dealt Macauley and rookie Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks in exchange for Russell, whom the Hawks had drafted at No. 2 (behind Sihugo Green).

In the second round Auerbach drafted K. C. Jones. Although Jones couldn't join the Celtics for two years because of military service, Auerbach had assembled all the pieces for what was to become the most dominating franchise in the history of American professional sports.

Because Russell was busy helping the U.S. Olympic Team to a gold medal in Melbourne, Australia, he didn't join the Celtics until late December. Auerbach added some veterans to the club, including 34-year-old guard Andy Phillip, 32-year-old center Arnie Risen, and 30-year-old forward Jack Nichols. The team was already 16-8 when Russell played his first NBA game on December 22, 1956.

Russell instantly revolutionized the game. His ability to block shots or snare rebounds and then make quick outlet passes to Bob Cousy triggered the Celtics' fast break and turned Boston into an unstoppable force. With a solid rookie season from Heinsohn (who averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds) and additional help on the boards from Loscutoff (10.4 rpg), plus an enviable backcourt tandem of Cousy and Bill Sharman (both of whom averaged better than 20 points), Boston became the best team in the league virtually overnight. At season's end, Cousy was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player, and Heinsohn won the league's Rookie of the Year Award.

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1957-58: Beginning Of A Dynasty

The Celtics reached the 1957 Playoffs with a league-best 44-28 record. They advanced through the early rounds to face the St. Louis Hawks in the 1957 NBA Finals. Boston was heavily favored, but the Hawks pulled off an upset in Game 1 with a 125-123 double-overtime win. The Celtics evened the series the following night, and then the two teams split a pair of games in St. Louis. After four games the series was tied at two apiece.

Boston won Game 5, 124-109, and was poised to take the championship in Game 6 two nights later. But Hawks forward Cliff Hagan tipped in a Bob Pettit miss at the buzzer to give St. Louis a 96-94 win, forcing a seventh and deciding game.

Game 7 ranks among the most memorable NBA games ever played. The afternoon contest, the first to be seen by a large national television audience, was a closely played affair. The Celtics had the upper hand throughout most of the game, but the Hawks kept battling back. Pettit sank a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to send the game into overtime. Boston led by two points late in the first extra period, but St. Louis forced another overtime when the Hawks scored with just a few ticks left on the clock. Jim Loscutoff sank a free throw in the final moments of the second overtime to put the Celtics up by two points, and when Pettit's buzzer-beater caromed off the rim, the Celtics had a 125-123 win and the franchise's first championship.

Boston tore through the league during the 1957-58 season. With Bill Russell patrolling the middle, the guards were free to take risks defensively, and the result was a team that offered breakneck offense fueled by tenacious trapping defense. Boston posted the best record in the league for the second year in a row, with Bob Cousy the NBA's leading assists man and Russell the league's top rebounder. Russell was named NBA Most Valuable Player, the first of five such honors he would receive in his illustrious career. The 1958 NBA Finals was a rematch between Boston and St. Louis. As in the previous year, the series was tied after four games. Russell had suffered an ankle injury in Game 3, but when the Hawks pulled out a two-point win in Game 5 he was forced to make an appearance in Game 6, even though the sore ankle left him with very little mobility. The injury rendered Russell ineffective, and the Hawks' Bob Pettit poured in 50 points to give St. Louis a 110-109 victory and the championship.

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1958-59: Celtics Get Another Jones And Another Title

Boston only got better when the next season rolled around. K. C. Jones joined the team after a two-year stint in the Army, and second-year player Sam Jones was blossoming into a solid contributor. The Celtics posted a 52-20 mark in 1958-59 and led the NBA in field goals made, rebounds, assists, and points per game. Cousy paced the circuit in assists (6.8 apg), and Russell led the league in rebounds (23.0 rpg).

Boston faced a surprisingly troublesome Syracuse team in the Eastern Division Finals. The Nationals' roster included veteran players George Yardley, Dolph Schayes, and Larry Costello, plus a promising young guard in Hal Greer. The series went the distance before the Celtics prevailed in Game 7, 130-125.

Instead of the anticipated renewal of the St. Louis-Boston rivalry in the NBA Finals, the Celtics faced the upstart Minneapolis Lakers, a young team riding on the heroics of rookie star Elgin Baylor. The Lakers were no match for the Celtics, however, and Boston swept the series to reclaim the championship.

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1959-62: Wilt Arrives, But Celtics Prove That Five Stars Are Better Than One

The Celtics' success continued in the following season. Each of the five starters-Frank Ramsey, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Russell, Bill Sharman, and Bob Cousy-averaged better than 15 points, and Auerbach had a bench that included Sam Jones, K. C. Jones, and Gene Conley, who was an All-Star pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason. The 1959-60 Celtics reeled off a 17-game winning streak on their way to winning the division title by 10 games.

The Eastern Division Finals featured a matchup between rookie sensation Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors and Russell of the Celtics. Chamberlain had turned the league upside down, averaging 37.6 points and 27.0 rebounds during the regular season and claiming the NBA Most Valuable Player Award. But even a superstar wasn't enough to defeat the formidable Celtics, as Boston prevailed in six games.

Boston's victory set up a Hawks-Celtics Finals for the third time in four years. The 1960 matchup saw the two teams split the first four games once again. Boston whipped St. Louis by 25 points in Game 5, but the Hawks responded with a three-point win in Game 6. In the seventh and deciding game at Boston Garden the Celtics pulled out all the stops-Russell snared 35 rebounds, and Boston repeated as champions by virtue of a 122-103 victory.

The club marched to another Eastern Division crown in the 1960-61 season. The roster was basically the same, although Bill Sharman saw a little less time when Sam Jones moved into the starting lineup and K. C. Jones took over as the Celtics' sixth man. The results were almost identical to the season before, as the team chalked up 57 wins.

That year's playoff run proved to be the Celtics' easiest to date-Boston lost only two games on the way to a third straight championship. Facing St. Louis in the Finals yet again, the Celtics dashed any hopes of a Hawks upset by winning the first two games by an average of 21 points. The Hawks staved off a sweep with a win in Game 3, but that was all they would get-Boston took the next two games to win the series. In postseason honors, Russell claimed his second NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

When the 1961-62 season got underway there was a new professional circuit, the American Basketball League. Bill Sharman ended his career with the Celtics to become head coach of the new league's Los Angeles franchise. Otherwise, it was business as usual for "the Team in Green." Bob Cousy averaged 15.7 points and 7.8 assists, while Russell pulled down 23.6 rebounds per game and became the league's first repeat MVP. Second-year player Thomas "Satch" Sanders snared 9.5 rebounds per contest at one forward position, while Tom Heinsohn matched Sanders's rebounding numbers and added 22.1 points per game at the other. Frank Ramsey contributed 15.3 points per contest off the bench. The Celtics became the first team in NBA history to win 60 games in a season. They finished with their sixth consecutive Eastern Division title, besting Philadelphia by 11 games.

If the previous year's playoffs had been a cakewalk, the 1962 postseason was like running a gauntlet for the Celtics. Wilt Chamberlain had averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds for the Philadelphia Warriors that year, and he gave the Celtics all they could handle in the Eastern Division Finals. With the series tied at three games apiece, the teams battled it out in a closely played Game 7. Sam Jones hit a basket with two seconds remaining and the Celtics held on to win, 109-107.

Boston faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Elgin Baylor had powered Los Angeles to a 54-26 record during the regular season, and after he scored 61 points in Game 5 the Lakers led the series, three games to two. But the Celtics weren't ready to give up the throne, beating the Lakers, 119-105, in Game 6. In Game 7, after the fourth period ended with the game tied at 100, Boston pulled ahead in overtime to beat Los Angeles, 110-107. The Celtics had now won a record four straight championships and five in the previous six seasons.

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1962-63: Cousy Retires With Yet Another Ring

As the 1962-63 campaign began, Bob Cousy, at age 34, announced that the season would be his last. It was clear that Boston was ready for the future, however, when rookie John Havlicek joined the Celtics as the team's first-round draft pick. Boston also added 33-year-old Clyde Lovellette, an experienced center who could provide solid backup for Bill Russell. The season went according to form. Boston posted a 58-22 mark and won the Eastern Division by 10 games, and Russell won his third straight MVP Award. The Cincinnati Royals gave the Celtics a bit of a scare in the division finals, thanks to the brilliant play of Oscar Robertson. After surviving a seven-game matchup with the Royals, Boston moved on to the NBA Finals and dispatched the Lakers in six games.
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1963-65: Russell Keeps Dynasty Going

The big question for the Celtics as the 1963-64 campaign rolled around was how the loss of Cousy would affect the team. For years aficionados of the game had debated whether it was Cousy or Russell who provided the foundation for the Celtics' dynasty. Russell answered the question by leading the club to a 59-win season.

Yet as important as Russell's contributions were, Boston prospered by virtue of a total team effort. The guard tandem of Sam Jones and K. C. Jones offered the perfect balance of scoring and defense, while Tom Heinsohn and Satch Sanders anchored the forward positions. The team's highest scorer didn't even start-Havlicek came off the bench to average 19.9 points. Boston waltzed through postseason play to a sixth straight championship, ousting the Cincinnati Royals in five games and then defeating Wilt Chamberlain and the San Francisco Warriors in the title series.

Owner Walter Brown passed away before the 1964-65 season. Brown, one of the founding fathers of modern professional basketball, had owned the Celtics since starting the team in 1946. The club dedicated its season to him and kicked it off with 11 straight victories. Overall, Boston won 62 games and ended the regular season with a 14-game cushion over second-place Cincinnati.

Boston faced the Philadelphia 76ers (formerly the Syracuse Nationals) in the opening round of the playoffs. Philadelphia had established itself as a contender with the acquisition of Wilt Chamberlain from San Francisco midway through the season. The teams traded victories, with Boston winning Games 1, 3, and 5 and Philadelphia claiming Games 2, 4, and 6.

Holding a seven-point lead with 2:00 left in Game 7, Boston appeared to have the contest in hand, but then Chamberlain scored six quick points to pull the 76ers within one at 110-109. With five seconds left, Russell inbounded the ball with a pass that hit a wire supporting the basket, and possession went to Philadelphia. But when the Sixers' Hal Greer threw the ball in to Chet Walker, John Havlicek stepped in and snatched the pass, inciting announcer Johnny Most's legendary shouts of "Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball!"

By comparison, Boston's NBA Finals matchup with Los Angeles seemed anticlimactic. The Lakers were playing without the injured Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West by himself was no match for the Celtics. Boston won Game 1 by 32 points and Game 5 by 34. In between, the Celtics lost only once as they earned their seventh consecutive championship. Red Auerbach was named NBA Coach of the Year.

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1965-66: Eight Straight

The following season marked the beginning of a transitional period for the Celtics. Tom Heinsohn retired before the 1965-66 campaign, and three of the team's five starters-Sam Jones, K. C. Jones, and Bill Russell-were more than 30 years old and nearing retirement. Midway through the year Auerbach announced that it would be his final campaign as the team's head coach. (The following season he assumed the post of general manager for the club.)

After a season-long battle for the Eastern Division crown, the Philadelphia 76ers won 18 of their final 21 games. They posted a 55-25 record to edge the Celtics by a single game, ending Boston's 10-year reign as the top team in the East.

The second-place finish meant that the Celtics had to get past Cincinnati in the first round of the playoffs in order to face the 76ers in the Eastern Division Finals. Boston lost two of the first three games to the Royals, then took the final two to advance. Seasoned by the tough five-game series, the Celtics sliced right through the 76ers in the second round, losing only one game.

The 1966 NBA Finals once again pitted Los Angeles against Boston. After the Lakers' surprise overtime victory in Game 1, Auerbach announced that the team would be coached the following year by none other than Bill Russell, a move that inspired the club to win the next three games. Los Angeles managed to extend the series with a victory in Game 6, but the Celtics finished off the Lakers in Game 7, 95-93. Auerbach stepped down as coach with an unprecedented record of eight consecutive championships.

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1966-69: Sixers And Celtics Clash In East

Auerbach's retirement as coach coincided with the emergence of the 76ers as the powerhouse of the NBA. The 1966-67 Philadelphia club steamrolled through the league behind Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Chet Walker, and Billy Cunningham, at one point posting a 45-4 record en route to a season mark of 68-13.

Boston actually improved under player-coach Russell. General Manager Auerbach added a pair of veterans in Bailey Howell and Wayne Embry. Russell piloted the team to 60 wins, good for a second-place finish behind Philadelphia. After ousting the New York Knicks in the division semifinals, the Celtics earned a shot at the 76ers in the Eastern Division Finals. Philadelphia won the first three games and then smashed the Celtics in Game 5 to take the series. That defeat ended the most impressive championship streak in American sports history. It was the first time in 10 seasons that the Celtics had failed to reach the NBA Finals, and it ended a string of eight straight NBA titles.

The Celtics' dynasty seemed to be on the wane. The club took the floor at the start of the 1967-68 season with an aging lineup. K. C. Jones had retired during the offseason, but Russell rallied the team. After the Celtics posted a 54-28 record during the regular season to finish eight games behind the 76ers, the two teams squared off in the Eastern Division Finals for the fourth straight season.

Heavily favored Philadelphia jumped out to lead the series after four games, but Boston rallied to take the next two contests. Game 7 was a thriller. The Celtics were holding a two-point lead with less than a minute to play when Russell took over the game-sinking a free throw, blocking a shot, grabbing a rebound, and then dishing out an assist to secure the victory. Once again the Celtics were on their way to the championship round, in which they beat the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Boston had captured its ninth title in 10 years.

As the 1968-69 season began the Celtics seemed to have lost their spark. Sam Jones was now 35 years old, Russell 34. The team won 48 games, its lowest win total since the 1956-57 campaign when it played a 72-game schedule. Once again, however, Boston turned on the magic during the playoffs, making short work of the 76ers in the division semifinals and then outlasting the Knicks in the Eastern Division Finals.

Boston moved on to face Los Angeles in the NBA Finals. It was the sixth time in eight years that the two teams had butted heads for the right to wear the crown, and the Celtics had yet to lose. But the Lakers, featuring Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor, entered the series as the favorites and took the first two games. Boston won Game 3 and then eked out a win in Game 4 when Sam Jones hit a shot at the buzzer to give the Celtics an 89-88 victory. The teams split the next two contests. In Game 7, played at The Forum in Los Angeles, the Celtics built a 17-point fourth-quarter lead, then held off a Lakers rally to win the championship by two points, 108-106.

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1969-74: Russell Retires, And Dynasty Dies

The following season the inevitable finally occurred: Bill Russell retired after having won 11 championships in 13 years. Sam Jones's retirement was a loss to the team as well. Although the Celtics had a promising youngster in rookie guard Jo Jo White, a journeyman fourth-year 7-footer named Henry Finkel didn't exactly fill the gap that Russell left in the middle. The 1969-70 Celtics, under new head coach Tom Heinsohn, went 34-48 and finished out of the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. The dynasty was officially dead.

The Celtics made wholesale changes before the 1970-71 campaign. Their new center was 6-9 rookie Dave Cowens. John Havlicek and nine-year veteran Don Nelson occupied the forward positions, and Don Chaney and Jo Jo White, a pair of 24-year-olds, provided both defense and scoring at the guard positions. The Celtics improved to 44-38 but finished out of the playoffs for the second year in a row. Cowens shared NBA Rookie of the Year honors with Portland's Geoff Petrie, marking the only time two players have tied for the award.

It didn't take the Celtics long to return to contention. Fielding the same lineup for the 1971-72 season, they climbed all the way back to the top spot in the Atlantic Division with a 56-26 record. Havlicek was now Boston's undisputed star. He finished third in the league in scoring (27.5 ppg) and fifth in assists (7.5 apg). Cowens snared 15.2 rebounds per game to rank fifth in the NBA. But the team was not yet ready to make a convincing playoff run-Boston survived a six-game conference semifinal series against Atlanta, then fell to the New York Knicks in the conference finals.

The 1972-73 Celtics put together a remarkable regular season. The only change on the court was the addition of Paul Silas, a solid rebounder who came to Boston from the Phoenix Suns. Havlicek had another fine year (23.8 ppg), but Cowens emerged as the engine that drove the team, earning NBA Most Valuable Player honors by averaging 20.5 points and 16.2 rebounds.

The team looked much like the Celtics of legend-a fast-breaking club that could outrun, outrebound, and outpass any opponent. Boston finished the regular season with a 68-14 record, just one victory shy of the NBA's all-time win mark. Still, the club wasn't quite championship caliber. The 1973 Playoffs were a repeat of the previous postseason, as Boston got by Atlanta in the conference semifinals before losing to the Knicks in the next round.

It had taken only a couple of years for the Celtics to become a balanced, seasoned team, and they were hungry for a championship. The lineup stayed the same for the 1973-74 campaign-John Havlicek, Paul Silas, and Dave Cowens up front, Don Chaney and Jo Jo White in the backcourt. Don Nelson and Paul Westphal provided support off the bench. After placing first in the Atlantic Division with a 56-26 record, Boston eliminated the young Buffalo Braves and then got past the Knicks easily in an Eastern Conference Finals matchup.

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1974-75: One Of The Greatest Finals Ever

The NBA Finals saw the Celtics face off against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks. It was one of the greatest Finals in NBA history. The teams split the first four games, and after the Celtics won Game 5 in Milwaukee they headed back to Boston leading three games to two, with a chance to claim the title on their home court. But the Bucks won Game 6 when Abdul-Jabbar nestled in a hook shot with three seconds left in the game's second overtime, and the series returned to Milwaukee. Cowens was the hero in Game 7, scoring 28 points as the Celtics brought the title back to Boston for the first time in five years.

The Celtics used the same formula in the 1974-75 season to claim another Atlantic Division crown. With an emphasis on team balance, Boston continued to win without a giant in the middle. The team showed its depth by playing well even after losing Cowens to a broken foot halfway through the season. When he returned the club cruised to a 60-22 record. In the playoffs, however, Boston was ousted by the Washington Bullets (who had also posted a 60-22 mark) in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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1975-76: Westphal Nearly Returns To Haunt Celtics

The Celtics lost Don Chaney to the American Basketball Association before the 1975-76 season. To fill the gap in the backcourt they traded Paul Westphal to Phoenix for Charlie Scott, who had averaged more than 20 points in each of the previous three seasons. Despite an uncharacteristically weak bench, the Celtics finished in first place in their division with a 54-28 record, second best in the league. Boston earned a shot at another NBA title by defeating Buffalo and then the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs.

Boston's opponents in the NBA Finals were the Phoenix Suns, who had posted a 42-40 regular-season record. The Team in Green was the oddsmakers' choice in the contest. The Celtics took the first two games at Boston Garden, but the Suns came right back to win Games 3 and 4 on their home court. Game 5 ranks among the all-time thrillers in NBA history. The Suns trailed by five points with less than a minute left on the clock, but Westphal made up the deficit almost single-handedly, sending the game into a first overtime period, which ended in a tie.

John Havlicek's basket with two seconds remaining in double overtime gave the Celtics a one-point lead, which Boston stretched to two points after sinking a technical foul shot. Then the Suns' Garfield Heard hit a last-second basket to send the contest into a third overtime. The longest game in NBA Finals history finally ended, after three extra periods, with the Celtics winning, 128-126. Two days later Boston captured yet another NBA championship, the 13th in franchise history.

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1976-78: A Two-Year Dry Spell

After owning the top spot in the Atlantic Division for five years running, the Celtics entered a short period of decline with the 1976-77 season. John Havlicek, at age 36, was slowing down. Bad luck also played a role, as Charlie Scott missed almost half the season with a broken arm and Dave Cowens took a two-month leave of absence for personal reasons. Boston had an entirely new frontcourt in Sidney Wicks (acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers) and Curtis Rowe (who came from the Detroit Pistons in a three-way trade that sent Paul Silas to the Denver Nuggets); both players struggled with the new system.

The Celtics finished in second place with a 44-38 record. After bouncing San Antonio with a two-game sweep in a first-round series, Boston was eliminated by the Philadelphia 76ers in a seven-game conference semifinal matchup.

The 1977-78 campaign was a total failure. After an 11-23 start Head Coach Tom Heinsohn was replaced by former Celtics player Satch Sanders. Partway through the season Boston sent Charlie Scott to Los Angeles for Don Chaney and Kermit Washington (who had spent 60 days on the suspended list after seriously injuring the Houston Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich in an early-season fight). Adding to the team's woes, Jo Jo White missed 36 games with a broken foot. Ultimately, Boston won only 32 games, the team's lowest total since the 1949-50 season.

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1978-79: Boston Acquires Rights To Bird

Prior to the 1978-79 campaign the Celtics were involved in an unusual deal that saw owner Irv Levin, a California businessman who was very unpopular in Boston, trade franchises with John Y. Brown, owner of the struggling Buffalo Braves. Levin was anxious to own a club that played in his home state, and the NBA let him take the Braves to San Diego, where they became the Clippers.

The deal included a complicated seven-player trade in which Boston acquired Nate Archibald, Billy Knight, Marvin Barnes, and two future draft choices and San Diego received Freeman Williams (who was the Celtics' first-round selection in the 1978 NBA Draft), backup center Kevin Kunnert, and power forwards Kermit Washington and Sidney Wicks. Most importantly, Boston retained the draft rights to Larry Bird, although he didn't join the Celtics until the following year.

For all the wheeling and dealing, the Celtics had a dreadful season. John Havlicek had retired, and the Celtics won only 2 of their first 14 games, prompting the dismissal of Coach Sanders. Dave Cowens was named player-coach but he couldn't do much to improve the team, and the Celtics finished in the Atlantic Division cellar with a 29-53 record.

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1979-80: From Worst To First

Boston went from worst to first the following season. The catalyst for the turnaround was Bird. Red Auerbach had waited patiently while Bird returned to Indiana State for the 1978-79 season to lead the Sycamores to the NCAA title game, which they lost to Michigan State and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. When Bird and Johnson entered the league together for the 1979-80 season (Johnson with the Los Angeles Lakers), it marked the beginning of an era of unprecedented popularity for the NBA.

Although Johnson came away with an NBA championship in his first pro season, Bird earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors after putting up stellar first-year numbers: 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. Out of the ashes of the previous two seasons, the Celtics emerged with a solid core of players. Third-year veteran Cedric Maxwell teamed up with Bird in the frontcourt, and Cowens continued to patrol the middle. The guards were Chris Ford, who had come to the Celtics the season before from Detroit, and Nate "Tiny" Archibald, who shook off injuries that had slowed him the previous three years to finish second in the league in assists with 8.4 per game.

After winning only 29 games the season before, the Celtics roared back in 1979-80 to post a 61-21 record. The 32-game improvement was a league record (later surpassed by San Antonio in 1989-90), and new coach Bill Fitch was named NBA Coach of the Year. Back in the playoffs after a two-year hiatus, Boston swept Houston in the conference semifinals before losing to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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1980-81: Parish, McHale Join Celtics Front Line

The prelude to the 1980-81 season brought big changes for the franchise. The Celtics owned the No. 1 pick in the 1980 NBA Draft, which they sent with the No. 13 pick to the Golden State Warriors for Robert Parish and the No. 3 selection. Boston then used the No. 3 pick to select Kevin McHale. Later, in training camp, Dave Cowens stunned the club by announcing his retirement.

Even without Cowens, however, the Celtics had all the pieces in place: Bird, Maxwell, and Parish up front; Ford and Archibald at the guard positions; and a deep bench that included McHale, Gerald Henderson, Rick Robey, and M. L. Carr. Boston and Philadelphia battled all season for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, and the Celtics' win over the 76ers on the final day gave them the title with a 62-20 record.

The two teams faced off in the Eastern Conference Finals. Behind Julius Erving, Philadelphia took the lead after four games, but Boston evened the series with back-to-back two-point wins in Games 5 and 6. Bird nailed a jump shot late in Game 7 to give the Celtics a 91-90 victory and a trip to the Finals.

Boston faced an upstart Houston squad in the Finals. The Rockets, who had finished the regular season with a 40-42 record, had somehow emerged victorious from the Western Conference. Behind center Moses Malone, Houston put up a surprisingly tough fight, but the Celtics came away with yet another championship banner.

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1981-84: Celtics Stumble; Regroup

By Boston's standards, the next two seasons were disappointing. The Celtics won 63 games during the 1981-82 season, but they lost the chance to repeat as champions when they were eliminated by the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The next year saw them slip to second place in the Atlantic Division behind Philadelphia and then stumble out of the playoffs at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, who swept the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The team's playoff failures and growing dissension among the players cost Bill Fitch his coaching job. Red Auerbach brought in K. C. Jones to stabilize the club for the 1983-84 season. Jones left the frontcourt of Larry Bird, Cedric Maxwell, and Robert Parish intact, but he remade the backcourt, bringing over Dennis Johnson from Phoenix and moving Gerald Henderson into the starting lineup. Kevin McHale provided instant offense off the bench.

The Celtics won 62 games during the regular season. Bird won the first of three consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, and McHale won the first of two straight NBA Sixth Man Awards. With the first-round bye privilege eliminated from the playoffs, Boston downed Washington, New York, and Milwaukee to earn the right to play the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals.

Los Angeles rolled into the Finals with an 11-3 postseason record and beat Boston handily in Game 1. A last-second steal and layup by Gerald Henderson put the Celtics into overtime in the next contest, and they came away with a 124-121 victory. After a drubbing in Game 3, Boston eked out yet another overtime win in Game 4 to even the series at two games apiece. The teams then traded wins in Games 5 and 6. The Celtics had never lost a seventh game in the NBA Finals, and Los Angeles was unable to break the string. Boston triumphed in Game 7, 111-102.

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1984-85: Lakers Finally End Celtics Hex

K. C. Jones did some tinkering with his powerful team during the offseason, sending Gerald Henderson to the Seattle SuperSonics and installing Danny Ainge in the starting lineup. Bird continued to get better, raising his scoring average to 28.7 points and winning a second straight MVP Award. McHale contributed 19.8 points per game and won the Sixth Man Award, also for the second consecutive year. The entire 1984-85 regular season seemed to be a prelude to a rematch of the previous year's Finals, as Boston powered its way to 63 wins and Los Angeles notched 62 victories. Neither team was challenged in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

The Boston-Los Angeles matchup in the NBA Finals marked the ninth time that the two teams had squared off in the championship round. In each of the eight previous encounters the Celtics had come away winners. After a 148-114 victory in Game 1-a contest tagged "the Memorial Day Massacre"-Boston looked like a sure bet to chalk up a ninth triumph. But Los Angeles fought back behind the awesome play of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and took four of the next five games to finally wrest the crown away from the Celtics.

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1985-86: Bird Soars To Third MVP Award; Celtics Sail To NBA Title

If there was any doubt that Larry Bird deserved to be ranked among the greatest players in basketball history, he dispelled it with a masterful 1985-86 season. Bird did everything that year, finishing fourth in the league in points (25.8 ppg), seventh in rebounds (9.8 rpg), and ninth in steals (2.02 per game). He led the league in free throw percentage (.896) and finished fourth in three-point field goal percentage (.423). He also led his team in assists with 6.8 per game. Bird's stellar numbers earned him a third consecutive MVP Award. Only two other players had claimed Most Valuable Player honors three years running: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

Bird wasn't the only Boston player to have a good year. Kevin McHale averaged 21.3 points, and the Celtics got a good performance out of Bill Walton, newly acquired from the Clippers, who resurrected an injury-plagued career by appearing in 80 games and contributing 7.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Walton earned the NBA Sixth Man Award at season's end. Boston rode roughshod over the league, then lost only one game in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Los Angeles had been stunned by Houston in the Western Conference Finals, so the Celtics found themselves facing the Rockets in the 1986 NBA Finals. Despite Houston's "Twin Towers," Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, Boston took the series in six games. It was the club's 16th NBA title.

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1986-88: A Season Of Sorrow And Celebration

Boston owned the No. 2 pick in the 1986 NBA Draft and took forward Len Bias, a promising young player from Maryland. Two days later Bias died from a cocaine overdose. The selection of Bias had been designed to rejuvenate an aging Celtics lineup. Injuries to key bench players forced Coach K. C. Jones to rely almost exclusively on his starters in 1986-87. By the time the playoffs rolled around, the wear and tear was beginning to take its toll.

Larry Bird, however, provided one of the greatest moments in playoff history in the conference finals against Detroit. The Pistons had a one-point lead and possession of the ball with five seconds left in the pivotal Game 5 at Boston Garden. Bird stole an inbounds pass from Isiah Thomas and fed Dennis Johnson for a layup and a shocking victory. Detroit won Game 6, but the Celtics prevailed in Game 7, 117-114, to advance.

After surviving their duel with the Pistons, Boston faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals for the third time in four seasons. The Lakers' "Showtime" offense was firing on all cylinders, however, and Los Angeles took the series in six games.

The Celtics team that took the floor for the 1987-88 season was not a youthful squad. Only Danny Ainge was younger than 30; Robert Parish was already 34, and Dennis Johnson was 33. Age didn't seem to slow the team much during the regular season, however. Larry Bird just missed breaking the 30-point barrier by scoring 29.9 points per game. Kevin McHale kicked in 22.6 points per game, and Johnson handed out 7.8 assists per contest. Boston's 57-25 record gave the team a 19-game margin of victory over Washington and New York in the Atlantic Division, but the Celtics were no match for a strong young Detroit Pistons team in the Eastern Conference Finals, and they bowed out after a hard-fought six-game series.

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1988-92: Boston Struggles Without Flightless Bird

A period of decline had set in, and Coach K. C. Jones gave way to Jimmy Rodgers before the 1988-89 campaign. The Celtics' slim hopes of a good season slipped away when, after only six games, Bird opted for surgery to remove painful bone spurs from his feet. The Celtics had averaged 61 wins a season in his nine years with the team; they fell to 42 victories without their star and were swept in the first round of the playoffs by Detroit. The one bright spot for Boston was the emergence of second-year forward Reggie Lewis. In his rookie year he had averaged just 4.5 points in 8.3 minutes per game, but in his second season Lewis filled in admirably for the missing Bird, scoring 18.5 points per contest.

Bird was back and healthy for the 1989-90 season, but the Celtics lost guard Brian Shaw, who left the team to play in Italy. At age 36 Robert Parish continued to perform at a high level, averaging 15.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. The club showed a 10-game improvement over the previous season, finishing second to Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division with a 52-30 record. Facing the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, Boston jumped out to a two-games-to-none lead after running up 157 points in Game 2. But the Celtics couldn't keep up with New York and Patrick Ewing, and the Knicks eliminated them with three straight victories.

Chris Ford took over the coaching reins prior to the 1990-91 season. He installed a running offense that was triggered by the return of Shaw, who, together with Reggie Lewis, gave the Celtics a pair of athletic young speedsters in the backcourt. The team had rookie guard Dee Brown coming off the bench as well. Boston zoomed out to a 29-5 record but struggled through the second half of the season when Larry Bird developed back problems. The slump carried over into the playoffs, in which Indiana and Chuck Person took Boston to the limit in the first round. The Celtics advanced, but they fell to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Ford somehow coaxed a first-place finish out of his 1991-92 team. It was an improbable feat, as Bird, Brown, and Kevin McHale all missed a considerable number of games because of injuries. Lewis emerged as the team's leader, averaging 20.8 points and driving the Celtics to 15 wins in the season's final 16 games. Boston and New York finished with identical 51-31 records, but the Celtics owned the tie-breaking advantage and claimed the division title.

The Celtics swept the Indiana Pacers in the opening round of the postseason but were bounced by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference semifinals. Bird managed to play in only four playoff games.

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1992: A Legend Retires

After playing for the United States Dream Team at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Larry Bird finally succumbed to his back problems and retired just before the 1992-93 season. One of the greatest careers in NBA history had come to a close. In his 13 seasons, Bird had scored 21,791 points and had earned three Most Valuable Player Awards, three NBA championships, 12 All-Star selections, nine All-NBA First Team selections, and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.

More importantly, Bird had fanned the flames of a cross-country rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics that boosted the NBA's popularity. The three NBA Finals battles between Bird's Celtics and Magic Johnson's Lakers will be remembered as among the greatest championship series ever played. Bird's all-around talents, clutch play, and ability to inspire the players around him were considered by many to be unsurpassed in NBA history.

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1992-93: Disappointment On The Court, Tragedy Off Of It

Prior to the 1992-93 season the Celtics picked up Xavier McDaniel as a free agent from New York. But with Bird gone, Robert Parish nearly 40 years old, and 35-year-old Kevin McHale playing on sore ankles, it looked like a long season for the club. The team started slowly, dropping 8 of its first 10 games. A loss in the final contest of 1992 gave the Celtics a 12-17 record. After the new year, however, they played inspired basketball, going 36-17 the rest of the way to finish with a 48-34 record, a remarkable performance given the circumstances.

The playoffs, however, were a disappointment. The Celtics faced the Charlotte Hornets, the second of the four recent expansion teams to make the playoffs, and the Hornets eliminated Boston in four games. In Game 1 of the series Reggie Lewis collapsed on the court. He was later diagnosed with arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat), a condition that brought tragic results in the offseason. On July 27, 1993, while shooting baskets at Brandeis University in Boston, the 27-year-old Lewis collapsed again. He was found by paramedics in complete cardiac arrest and died shortly thereafter.

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1993-94: A Steep Decline

Reggie Lewis's death and the retirement of Kevin McHale led to the Celtics' worst season since 1978-79, the year before Larry Bird's debut in the NBA. The 1993-94 Celtics finished 32-50 and out of the playoffs.

Rookie Dino Radja offered some promise. The 6-11 forward from Croatia ranked second on the team in scoring (15.1 ppg) and earned a berth on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. He became the sixth rookie in Celtics history to amass 1,000 points, joining Bird, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Dave Cowens, and John Havlicek. Dee Brown led Boston with 15.5 points per game, and Sherman Douglas ranked seventh in the league in assists with 8.8 per game.

The offseason brought the end of an era when Robert Parish left the team to sign with the Charlotte Hornets as a free agent. Parish was the last remaining member of the Celtics' 1986 championship team. Boston did some maneuvering of its own, naming former Celtics player M. L. Carr as general manager and signing free agents Dominique Wilkins and Pervis Ellison prior to the 1994-95 season.

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1994-95: Garden Era Ends In Boston

In their final season at Boston Garden, the Celtics went on a season-ending tear to grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston eventually lost to the Orlando Magic in four games in the first round of the playoffs. Despite making it into the postseason, Boston finished the regular season at 35-47 and 22 games out of first place.

The 1994-95 campaign may have been the year that Boston's young backcourt came of age. Sherman Douglas missed 17 games with an injury but played well in the season's second half, finishing with averages of 14.7 points and 6.9 assists per game. Guard Dee Brown put up career numbers, averaging 15.6 points while playing more minutes than any Celtics teammate.

First-round draft choice Eric Montross acquitted himself well, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. The ninth overall selection in the 1994 NBA Draft, Montross started at center and averaged 10.0 points and 7.3 rebounds for the season. He shot .534 from the floor to rank 13th in the league and tops among first-year players. The Celtics also received big performances from forwards Dominique Wilkins (17.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Dino Radja (17.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg). Wilkins, who came into the season with a career average of 26.5 points per game, posted his lowest scoring numbers to date.

At season's end the Celtics relieved Chris Ford of his coaching duties. In five years at the helm, Ford had compiled a 222-188 record.

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1995-96: Celtics Struggles Continue

The Celtics started 1995-96 with a new coach (former player M.L. Carr) and a new home (the brand new FleetCenter). On the court, though, it was pretty much the same old story as the Celtics compiled their third straight losing season. It marked the first time since 1946-50 that the Celtics had suffered as many as three consecutive losing seasons.

They did have some highlights on the way to a 33-49 season. In December, the Celtics reeled off six straight wins, and on April 4, Boston overcame a 19-point deficit to upset the Magic in Orlando, 100-98. That snapped the Magic's string of 51 straight wins at home against Eastern Conference opponents.

Individual highlights included an NBA record by guard Dana Barros, who sank at least one three-point field goal in 89 straight games before the New York Knicks stopped him on January 12. Dino Radja was the most prolific Celtic, averaging 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest before his season was cut short by an ankle sprain on February 28 vs. Charlotte.

Guard David Wesley picked up the late-season scoring slack, averaging 18.1 points in March and leading Boston to an 8-8 record, its first .500 month of the season. Eric Williams, showed promise in his rookie season, averaging 10.7 ppg and earning a berth in the Rookie Game at All-Star Weekend.

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1996-97: C's Endure Painful Year; Then Land Pitino

The 1996-97 Boston Celtics made history in their 50th NBA season, but they will not boast of the 471 games missed to injury, the most in the 11 years that statistic has been kept. Literally and figuratively, it was a painful year for the Celtics, who hobbled to a franchise-worst 15-67 record.

Rookie Antoine Walker and forward Eric Williams were bright spots during a season in which five other key players (Frank Brickowski, Dee Brown, Dana Barros, Dino Radja and Greg Minor) were each limited to fewer than 30 games with injuries.

Walker's scoring average of 17.5 ppg was third among all NBA rookies. He became only the seventh Celtics rookie to score 1,000 points. Williams, meanwhile, averaged 15 ppg and continued to show promise at forward. Rick Fox and David Wesley finished among the top 10 in steals, and Fox set a team single season steals record with 167, surpassing the 166 snared by Larry Bird during the 1995-96 season.

Fox and Wesley were among 10 free agents who left the Celtics after the season. That was not the most sweeping change within the organization. That occurred when Rick Pitino was installed as the Celtics' head coach and president. Pitino, who led the University of Kentucky to a national championship in 1995, was called on by the Celtics to restore the franchise to the dominance it had enjoyed for many of its first 50 years in the NBA.

With the luxury of the third and sixth overall picks in the 1997 draft, Pitino tabbed point guard Chauncey Billups and forward Ron Mercer (who played for Pitino at Kentucky) to lead the team into the new era. M.L. Carr, who endured two rebuilding seasons behind the bench, moved to the front office to become the Director of Corporate Development.

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1997-98: The Return of Celtic Pride

When Rick Pitino became head coach and president of the Boston Celtics in 1997, he made a promise to the storied franchise and its many fans to work even harder than Coach (Red) Auerbach to bring back this organization to the championship level.

If year one was any indication, the Celtics are clearly on the right track. Boston made an emphatic statement with a 92-85 victory over the defending NBA champion Chicago Bulls on opening day, and finished the season at 36-46, a21-game improvement over the previous season.

The Celtics' opening day roster was the youngest and least experienced in the NBA this season, but didn't play like it. The Celtics led the NBA in forced turnovers (20.56 pg) and also ranked first in steals per game (12.0 spg). Like their charismatic coach, the Celtics had a strong work ethic and bounced back from several losing steaks throughout the year. Their enthusiasm was evident in Antoine Walker, the team's young star.

The 21-year-old was Boston's leading scorer and rebounder with 22.4 ppg (5th in the NBA) and 10.2 rpg (7th), He scored 49 points at Washington on January 7, tying the record for most points scored by a Celtic in the 1990's, and was the first Celtic to participate in the All-Star Game since 1992.

Rookie Ron Mercer (who like Walker and forward Walter McCarty played for Pitino at Kentucky) had a strong first season and proved he can both score and defend in the NBA. He ranked second on the team in scoring at 15.3 ppg and had his biggest game against Houston on March 19 with career highs in points (31) and steals (6).

In February, Pitino delivered a first-rate point guard to complement the skills of his young forwards. In a seven-player trade with the Toronto Raptors, Boston sent guards Chauncey Billups and Dee Brown, forward John Thomas and center Roy Rogers to Toronto in exchange for veteran playmaker Kenny Anderson, forward Popeye Jones and center Zan Tabak. Though slowed by injury, Anderson led the Celtics to an 8-8 record in his 16 games with Boston.

Even the team's luck got an overhaul. One year after losing the Tim Duncan sweepstakes in the 1997 Draft, the Celtics nabbed highly-touted Paul Pierce with the 10th pick in the 1998 Draft. Pierce, a projected top three pick, somehow fell into Boston's lap, giving fans cause for continued optimism in 1998-99.

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1998-99: And a Rookie Shall Lead Them

When Paul Pierce was still available at the 10th pick of the 1998 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics did a double-take--and then jumped all over the junior from Kansas.

Pierce burst from the gates and was named Rookie of the Month in February, the first month of the lockout-shortened season. He didn't slow down, averaging 16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.71 steals for the year.

Pierce, a unanimous selection to the All-Rookie First Team, teamed with Antoine Walker (18.7 ppg) and Ron Mercer (17.0 ppg) to form a high-scoring trio. The Celtics, however, still had their struggles and finished 19-31.

The Celtics landed a new starting center on March 11 when they acquired Vitaly Potapenko from Cleveland for Andrew DeClerq and a first-round pick. Potapenko averaged 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in 33 games with Boston.

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1999-2000: Two Young Stars Begin To Develop

Celtics fans started to get a glimpse of the promise and leadership of their top two young stars, Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, as the dynamic duo finish the regular season 1-2 in seven of the team's statistical categories. Walker paced the team averaging 20.5 points per game, while Pierce was right on his heels averaging 19.5 points per game. Walker, along with veteran point guard Kenny Anderson, were the only two players to start and play in all 82 regular season games. The hard-working and durable Co-captain Walker was the lone Celtics player to log more than 3,000 minutes (3,003) during the season.

Boston became known for quick hands and opportunistic play as they led the NBA in steals per game (795), an average of 9.7 steals per contest. Pierce became the leader on the team in this department and he would conclude the season second-best in the league (152), an average of 2.08 per game.

The Celtics finished the campaign with a 35-47 record and a 5th place position in the Atlantic Division.

The Green and White took care of business on their FleetCenter home court as they posted a respectable home record of 26-15 (the most wins at home in a season at the FleetCenter), but struggled on the road compiling a 9-32 mark away from home. Boston captured nine of their last 13 games at home, which also qualified as their best home record since the 1992-93 team finished 28-13 at home.

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2000-2001: The Two Twenty-something Stars Take Over; O'Brien Takes Over For Pitino

Led by two twenty-year old stars, Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, they both finish the 2000-2001 season averaging over twenty+ points per game. What a way to start a new century, as Pierce leads the Green and White with a 25.3 points per game average (his career-best and 8th-best in the NBA) and Walker supported his teammate following up with an average of 23.4 points per contest (11th-best in the league). Pierce was also the lone Celtics player to start and play in all 82 games; however Walker started and played in every game he appeared (81). He missed his first game since 5/1/99 to attend a funeral, snapping a streak of 129 consecutive games played.

Pierce became the first Celtics player to score 2,000 points (2,071) since Larry Bird (2,275) completed the feat in the 1987-88 season. He also set a team record for free throws attempted in a season (738), eclipsing the mark set by Cedric Maxwell (716) in the 1978-79 campaign. For the month of March, Pierce received league-wide recognition being named the NBA Player of the Month, averaging 30.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.60 steals for the month.

Walker set the team record for three-point field goals made (221) and attempted (603) in a season, as well as leading the entire NBA in both categories. The Celtics co-captain was the only player in the league to finish in the top 20 in points (23.4), rebounds (8.9), assists (5.5) and steals (1.70) per game. He finished first on the team and ranked third in the NBA in minutes per game (41.9).

The dynamic duo of Pierce and Walker combined to average 48.7 points per game, second to only the Los Angeles Lakers tandem of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, who combined to average 57.2 points per outing.

On January 8th, Jim O'Brien was named Interim Head Coach succeeding Rick Pitino (who had resigned). The record stood at 12-22 when O'Brien took the helm. but after he recorded his first NBA victory on January 10th, O'Brien led the Green and White to a .500 record over the last 48 games of the season. With this all-around success, O'Brien was named Head Coach on April 24th, making him just the 14th man to hold the prestigious title in team history.

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2001-2002: Celtics post first 40-win season in a decade; Pierce and Walker Continue to Dominate

The Celtics, under the direction of Head Coach Jim O'Brien, posted the team's first 40-win season (49-33) since the 1991-92 campaign when Chris Ford lead the Green and White to 51-31 record. With a 22-19 road record, it marked the team's winningest road campaign since the 1989-90 season, a team that also won 22 games. The year also featured Boston making a strong return to the NBA Playoffs (first time since the 1994-95 season) and posting a 9-7 slate, before bowing to the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals. A key trade with the Phoenix Suns on February 20th, in which Boston received Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk in exchange for Randy Brown, Joe Johnson, Milt Palacio and a conditional 2002 first round draft pick, helped propel the Celtics season down the stretch drive.

As has been the case in the previous few seasons, the co-captains Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker led Boston. Pierce, the only player to start and appear in all 82 games, became the first Celtic in team history to finish as the league leader in total points scored (2,144). He also became the first Celtics player since Larry Bird to score 2,000 points in consecutive seasons (Bird tallied 2,000 points four straight years from 1985-88).

Walker, who started and appeared in 81 games (missed one game due to injury), finished the season as one of only four players in the NBA to average 20+ points (22.1), 7+ rebounds (8.0) and 5+ assists (5.0). For the second consecutive year, he led the league in three-pointers made (222) and attempted (645). Walker and Pierce were deservingly named the NBA's Eastern Conference Co-Players of the Month for January. Both players also represented Boston on the NBA's Eastern Conference All-Star Team.

This team also boasted two important traits. The Celtics ranked fifth in the league in fewest turnovers per game, less than 14 times per game. In fact, the Celtics finished with the fewest turnovers (1,114) of any Celtics team since 1973-74. The other fact was this team finished the year first in the NBA in steals per game (9.67).

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2002-2003: New Ownership, Pierce and Walker Both Average 20+ Points Per Game For Third Straight Season and Team Returns To Post-Season Play

As the calendar made the turn from 2002 to 2003, the Boston Celtics franchise received new ownership. Boston Basketball Partners L.L.C., led by H. Irving Grousbeck, Wycliffe Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca, Robert Epstein and David Epstein, completed the purchase of the team from Paul Gaston on December 31, 2002. Gaston had owned the team since 1992. The new ownership became the first local owners since 1964, when Walter Brown owned the legendary organization until his death.

For the third consecutive season, co-captains Paul Pierce (25.9 points per game) and Antoine Walker (20.1 points per game) average more than 20 points per outing and led the team to their second straight 40+-win season (44-38). It marked the first time the Celtics have won 40 or more games in consecutive seasons in a decade (since 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons). Despite the scoring heroics of both players, playing time added up as Walker logged 3,235 minutes (41.5 per game-4th highest in the NBA) and Pierce played in 3,096 minutes (an average of 39.2 per game). Pierce became just the second Celtics player to record three straight 2,000-point seasons (2,048); Larry Bird recorded four straight from 1984-87. Pierce and Walker combined for 47.6% of the team's points in 2002-03 and both players were named the NBA's Eastern Conference Player of Week on two different occasions during the regular season. The co-captains were both named to the NBA Eastern Conference All-Star Team. Pierce ranked first in the NBA and broke the franchise record in free throws made and attempted, shooting 604-for-753 (80.2%) and he was a member of the United States 2002 World Championship team.

The Celtics ranked 4th in the NBA in steals per game with an average of 8.78 per contest, while they took care of the basketball, ranking 7th in turnovers per game (13.99 per game). The Celtics used the three-point line to their advantage as well, leading the NBA in three point field goals made and attempted, shooting 719-for-2, 155 (.33.4%). The 2002-03 Celtics now hold the NBA record for three's attempted in a season, as they surpassed the Dallas Mavericks 2,039 treys attempted in the 1995-96 season.

The Green and White were one of sixteen teams to make the NBA Playoffs. Boston defeated the Indiana Pacers in the First Round however were stopped, for the second consecutive year, by the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

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