By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Celtics have had a lot of memorable evenings during their existence. It’s kind of hard not to when the franchise owns 17 championship banners.
The night of June 12, 2008 ranks right up there with the best of them. It’s a night we’ll one day gather youngsters around a rocking chair to regale about, the night the Celtics pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history.
Led by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celtics went into the evening with a 2-1 series lead on the Los Angeles Lakers. It was the middle game of their three-game stay in L.A., and Boston was looking to bounce back from a Game 3 loss and take a commanding series lead.
The odds of that happening didn’t look too great after the first 12 minutes, as the Celtics fell into into a 35-14 hole after the first quarter. As the deficit ballooned to 24 points in the second quarter, it seemed inevitable that the series would be tied 2-2 series heading into Game 5, which would have been an all-out war for a series lead. It wasn’t a great feeling for Celtics fans, even if the final two games of the set would be back in Boston.
But that just made the improbable comeback all the more fun. The Celtics woke up in the third quarter and slowly chipped away at the Lakers’ lead. Garnett, Pierce and Allen went back to their Big 3 form, while James Posey and Eddie House provided some life off the bench. Boston went on a 21-3 run in the frame, and when Pierce fed veteran big man P.J. Brown for an emphatic jam over Kobe Bryant in the final seconds of the quarter, the Lakers’ lead was down to just two.
The fourth quarter was amazing theater, even if there was just one lead change. The Celtics tied things up at 73-73 when Leon Powe backed down a pair of Lakers for a bank shot. Any time the Lakers scored, the Celtics countered. Pierce answered a beautiful Kobe layup with a long J. Garnett followed up another Kobe bucket with another deep jumper. The Lakers took a four-point lead on back-to-back baskets by Bryant and Pau Gasol, but Posey drained a corner three to pull Boston back within one, 81-80, with 5:25 left.
Then with 4:07 left, the Celtics took their first lead of the game, 84-83, on a deep two from House over Jordan Farmar. It was a lead they would not relinquish. Allen followed with a nice drive from the corner and finished with a beautiful up-and-under, giving the Celtics an 86-83 lead with 3:13 to go. Garnett hopped his way by Gasol for an easy two to put Boston up by five with 2:10 left when Phil Jackson called a timeout. The Lakers would pull within two, 89-87, before Posey drained another corner three (his fourth and final of the night) with 1:13 left.
But even that five-point cushion wasn’t very comfortable. A driving Bryant fed Gasol under the basket for an easy jam with 40.1 seconds left, pulling the Lakers within three. Things were tense once again, and chances are you had to run to the fridge for some more liquid medication during the final few minutes of the game.
Roofs blew off houses throughout Massachusetts a few minutes later (figuratively speaking). While there wasn’t really one signature play to the comeback, Boston’s victory is highlighted by Allen’s dagger layup, when he blew by Sasha Vujacic for an easy deuce to seal it with 16.7 seconds left in the game. The Lakers guard was expecting help defense from Gasol that never came, and as the Celtics celebrated on the other side of the court, Vujacic sulked on the Los Angeles bench.
Allen, who played all 48 minutes, finished the night with 19 points. Pierce led the way with 20 while Garnett chipped in with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Posey had some of the biggest buckets with 18 off the bench, as House did his part with 11 points.
The comeback, the largest in the NBA Finals in 37 years, was complete and the Celtics had a commanding 3-1 series lead after a 97-91 victory. They won the title on their home floor five nights later with a dominating 131-92 victory, proving anything was indeed possible.
Yes, the Lakers got the best of the Celtics two years later in a Finals rematch, and chances are we won’t be reminiscing on the 10-year anniversary of that one in 2020. But as the Celtics’ most recent banner gets ready to celebrate its 10th birthday, it’s easy to look back at the team’s incredible championship run, highlighted by one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history.