BOSTON(AP) Banner No. 17 is up in the rafters, and win No. 1 is in the books.
NBA finals MVP Paul Pierce scored 27 points as the defending champion Boston Celtics followed an emotional ring ceremony and banner raising with a 90-85 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. LeBron James scored 22, but he missed a driving layup with 41 seconds left and two free throws in the last 11 seconds.
In their first meaningful game since beating the Los Angeles Lakers at the new Boston Garden to clinch their record 17th NBA title, the Celtics began the festivities with a 20-minute ceremony to honor the 2007-08 team that brought Pierce to tears.
The Celtics captain - and the longest-tenured member of the team - choked up when he was handed the championship trophy from Hall of Famer John Havlicek, and again when he received his ring from owner Wyc Grousbeck. Once all the players had received their gaudy diamond and emerald baubles, Pierce took the lead in pulling the ropes that slid the World Champions'' banner into the rafters among all the others.
The Cavaliers chose not to watch, having been deprived of a chance for a title of their own when they lost to Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. James outscored Pierce 45-41 in that man-on-man shootout, but Pierce's team got the better of James' in the series, and again on Tuesday.
Pierce had 11 points in the third quarter, when the Celtics outscored Cleveland 24-13 to take a 67-63 lead. Boston scored 12 of the first 14 points in the third, then the last eight of the quarter to turn a four-point deficit into a four-point lead.
The Celtics led 86-80 with 1:15 left when Mo Williams, Cleveland's big offseason acquisition, hit a 3-pointer from the left side. Williams then grabbed the rebound of Leon Powe's miss, but James drove through traffic to the basket and couldn't muscle the ball into the basket.
Pierce missed a jumper, and after James got the rebound he was fouled hard going to the basket; he missed the first of two free throws, cutting it to 86-84. Pierce cleared the full-court pressure with a long pass to Powe under the basket for the dunk and foul.
After his missed free throw, James got another chance at the line, this time with the Cavaliers down 88-84 and 4.8 seconds left. He missed the first, and Ray Allen hit a pair of free throws to clinch it.
Allen scored eight points, and Kevin Garnett had just 11 with six rebounds in an off night for the Big Three.
Except for Pierce.
There were two other games on the league's opening night, with Milwaukee at Chicago and Portland at the Western Conference champion Lakers.
But the commissioner was in Boston to hand out the Celtics' rings.
Notes: In his Cavs debut, Williams scored 12 with two assists and five turnovers. ... Red Sox players Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis, along with owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino, were in the crowd. ... There were two small-scale scuffles in which double-technicals were handed out. The first was between Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Kendrick Perkins, and the second between Pierce and Sasha Pavlovic.