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Sports

October 29, 2008

Banner night for the captain

Bill Burt

BOSTON — With regrets to millions of Boston Celtics fans who were "aching" for 22 mostly embarrassing years for the raising of banner No. 17, it wasn't about you last night.

The same with future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, both of whom finally made it to the top after a combined 25 years in the league on their probable final NBA pit stops in Boston.

And ditto for underappreciated coach Doc Rivers, chief architect Danny Ainge and the gutsy ownership group led by Wyc Grousbeck and Stephen Pagliuca.

To understand whose night it really was, above all else, you had to follow the river of tears on the parquet floor.

This was, as we found out about 30 minutes before tipoff, Paul Pierce's night.

We should have been more prepared for Paul Pierce Night. Here's what the NBA Finals MVP said minutes after the Celtics clinched the title four months ago.

"I'm not living under the shadows of the other greats now," said Pierce. "I'm able to make my own history with my time here, and like I said, this is something that I wanted to do. If I was going to be one of the best Celtics to ever play, I had to put up a banner, and we did that."

Garnett and Allen could empathize, but they could never know. They never walked Pierce's shoes.

They weren't haunted by the ghosts of Celtics' past, which lingered, in particular, high above the parquet floor in the form of championship banners and retired numbers.

How many times had he looked up at those? A million?

"More than that," claimed Pierce.

Pierce had been through the wringer over his first nine years. Some of it was our fault — name-calling and unfair expectations — but most of it was his.

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