Back Where They Belong: Celtics Return To NBA Finals
On his way to the postgame press conference, after walking about 200 yards of white hallway between the Celtics' locker room and the marshalling area at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and exhausted Kevin Garnett asked Director of Team Security Phil Lynch, "Damn. We ain't there yet??"
Not yet, Kevin. But you're close. Damn close.
After winning the Eastern Conference Championship in Detroit, Doc Rivers told his troops, "We don't want the silver ball, we want the gold ball."
Peter F. Stringer/Boston Celtics
With Friday night's 89-81 win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics punched their ticket to the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance since 1987 when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-2.
Guess who's lying in wait: Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA is Fantastic again.
"To me, I think that's what pretty much got me started in basketball, growing up in Los Angeles, watching the Lakers and the Celtics, and it's ironic, just being a Celtic, growing up, now you're playing against the Lakers in The Finals," Pierce said.
"As a kid, I hated the Celtics," Pierce added.
Garnett also recalls the Celtics-Lakers matchups of his childhood vividly.
"I'm looking forward to it, all the things I used to watch on Sunday, that big plate of food in front of me watching the Lakers and Celtics play on Sunday, Hubie Brown and Dick Stockton doing the game," Garnett said. "I remember that like it was yesterday."
What seems like decades ago is an injury-littered, train wreck of a 24-win season that appeared to doom the team when they drew the fifth pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, only to parlay that choice into Ray Allen and open the door for Garnett's arrival. Before they knew it, Pierce, Garnett, Allen and company were in Rome laying the foundation for a 66-win team that set it's eyes on the Conference Finals.
Just minutes after posing with the Eastern Conference championship trophy in a cramped room in the bowels of the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Celtics retired to their equally cramped locker room, where it started to sink in. Clad in Eastern Conference Champions T-shirts and hats, and mile-wide grins, guys seemed confused as to what to do next. Peel their uniform off like Rajon Rondo, find a bucket of ice for your ankles like Ray Allen, or just holler and scream at the nearest guy and revel in the moment -- they all did that at one point.
There were hugs, teammate to teammate, player to coach, player to staff.
PR chief Jeff Twiss, hired by Red Auerbach himself, is one of the franchise's last remaining staffers to have been there for the Bird-era titles and to have survived a 15-win season, a handful of coaches and lean years that would have made Job throw in the towel. In a quiet moment, Twiss put his hands across Paul Pierce's shoulders, drew him in and whispered a few things in his ear that had The Truth welling up with tears.
There was a time when Pierce was ready to chase a chance at the title with another team.
"It makes me think about a year ago today what I was doing," Pierce said. "To be in this position with the same team going to The Finals, it's nothing I can really put into words."
A year ago, he wanted to move on and leave the Celtics. Friday night, Pierce finally moved on -- to lead the Celtics to the NBA Finals.
When the Celtics' jet landed just before 3 a.m. on Saturday, the team was greeted by friends, family, Range Rovers bedazzled by balloons and bellowing loud rap music. The song? California Love, a catchy tune with a simple refrain: "California, knows how to party."
As the Red Sox and Patriots have proven over the last few years, Boston knows how to party. The Boston Celtics are looking to give you an excuse this June.
The Finals start Thursday, June 5 at the Garden.