Go to other NBA arenas, and the banners that line the ceiling are not uniform. Some of the banners have a different shade of the team color or some sort of signifying mark to distinguish the conference titles from the real deal, a world championship — if the organization is fortunate enough to even have one of those.
Not in Boston. As a reminder that second place is no prize for this franchise, members of the Celtics' 1962 championship team were in the building Wednesday, waving to the fans at the TD Garden under 17 banners, each and every one of them white with green trim to commemorate a bona fide NBA championship.
After the current Celtics had finished off a 102-98 win over the Orlando Magic to clinch the Atlantic Division title, though, many of them were forced to acknowledge that this was a significant achievement considering where the team was less than two months ago.
"Everybody pretty much wrote us off, talking about how old we were," said backup guard Keyon Dooling, who battled injuries throughout the first half of the season, when the Celtics went into the All-Star break a mere 15-17. "We all internally never bought into that. In a condensed season, when there's been a lockout, from a conditioning standpoint, we weren't where we wanted to be earlier in the season. But we knew as we continued to get healthy, continued to run ourselves into shape, we would be here until the end. We knew we would be here."
Paul Pierce was the high man with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists on Wednesday, and Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass contributed 23 points and 21 points, respectively. But the Celtics (37-26) got major contributions from bench players like Dooling, one night after Boston's reserves were held to just two points in a loss to the Knicks. Dooling played 24 minutes, often sharing the backcourt with rookie E'Twaun Moore, who played 13 minutes, the most he has played since Feb. 1.
Former Celtic Glen Davis started at center for the Magic (36-26) and went off for 27 points, continuing a strong April in which he was averaging 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game entering Wednesday.
In Davis' days as a Celtic, division titles were not something the team even acknowledged, but Boston head coach Doc Rivers admitted he made an exception Wednesday night.
"I usually, honestly, don't say much about it," Rivers said. "I don't know if I've ever congratulated the team for winning one. But I did tell them, 'Guys, I know it's not a big deal to us — and it isn't, because we're not in this to win divisions — but we were two games under .500 at the All-Star break and the fact that you did it and did it this early is very impressive.'"
The players, for the most part, echoed Rivers' sentiment. Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Greg Stiemsma and Dooling gave at least tacit recognition of the significance of winning the division.
One player was unwilling to even go that far, though. Pierce may have been inspired by the presence of Bill Russell, Satch Sanders, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, Bob Cousy, Frank Ramsey and Jim Loscutoff, or maybe it was because that's just the way Pierce is.
"I'm not about to go pop some champagne bottles or anything like that," Pierce said. "I know they do that in baseball. I mean, it is a good accomplishment, I guess. The guys should recognize where we came from to what we are, but all we care about around here is a championship banner."
And at the Garden, for the Celtics, only one type of banner counts.
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