BOSTON -- Banner No. 17 is up in the rafters, and win No. 1 is in the books.
NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce scored 27 points and 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.
It was the Celtics' first game since beating the Los Angeles Lakers to clinch their record 17th NBA title, and Boston honored the 2007-08 team with a 20-minute ceremony 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 by 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 "2008 World Champions" banner into the rafters among all the others.
"It's moments like these that you cherish. Whenever you can raise that banner and grab that ring, and be there in front of the people closest to you, it's very emotional," Pierce said. "I'm just glad I pulled together in time so we could come out and play the game."
The Cavaliers chose to return to their locker room rather than watch, having been deprived of a chance for their first title when Boston eliminated them. But the Cleveland players were on the bench when Pierce addressed the fans before the game, and they also saw former stars Havlicek, Bob Cousy and Tommy Heinsohn get their rings between the first and second quarters, along with Randy Auerbach, the daughter of late Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach.
"We congratulate them. They had a great season and we're happy for them," Cavs forward Anderson Varejao said. "Seeing that makes us hungry to go out and get a ring of our own."
Cleveland's season ended on this very court when the Celtics won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in an epic shootout between Pierce and James. James outscored Pierce 45-41, but Pierce's team got the better of James' in the series, and again on Tuesday.
"With all the excitement tonight, this felt like another Game 7 in this building," said Cavaliers guard Delonte West, a former Celtic.
There were two other games on the league's opening night, with Milwaukee at Chicago and Portland at the Western Conference champion Lakers.
But there was only one place for NBA commissioner David Stern to be: in Boston, handing out the Celtics' rings.
"Only one team in the world can have this night, and it's us," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "But now I'm glad that we can concentrate on basketball."
James, who picked up his fourth foul with 1:27 left in the third quarter and missed the next four minutes, lamented the calls that went against him but insisted he wasn't blaming the referees. Cavs coach Mike Brown said 21 turnovers were too many to overcome.
"They're the NBA champions," he said. "We're going to have to take it if we want it."
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.
"He's been through a lot," said Celtics guard Tony Allen, who scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter. "But he's a professional, and he's Paul Pierce, and they also call him 'The Truth.' So he knows how to take care of all of that."
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