2024 NBA Finals: Scenes from a long-awaited Celtics championship celebration

BOSTON — The lifespan of confetti comes in three stages. Monday’s tiny cuts of white and green paper began streaming toward the TD Garden rafters, where an 18th championship banner will soon join the others and assorted retired numbers, after Boston clinched the 2024 NBA title with a 106-88 Game 5 victory over Dallas. It blasted from eight different cannons along the baselines after Celtics assistant Sam Cassell dead-on sprinted across the parquet to corral the game ball.

The confetti just rises from there. Instant, expected, like a five-star prospect such as Jayson Tatum, who played his college ball at Duke and who’s now made first-team All-NBA each of the past three seasons and is therefore expected to compete for rings. His rise was just so damn instant. As was Jaylen Brown’s. As was Boston’s, not more than four seasons following a gutty decision to move on from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce before it was too late. Those fabled picks from Brooklyn netted back these two All-Stars. There’s since grown a sentiment around this building that it’s taken Tatum and Brown so long, perhaps too long, to climb this mountaintop. Brown saw the conference finals as a rookie in 2017. And then again in 2018, with a first-year Tatum keeping pace.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum sprays champagne while celebrating after defeating the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 to win the NBA basketball finals Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston. (Elsa/Pool Photo via AP)

They’ve been hovering at that stratosphere for longer than most, that is true. Tatum and Brown played 107 playoff games together before clinching their first championship — the highest mark in NBA history for a duo. They’ve reached the conference finals in six of the last eight seasons, the Finals two of the last three. These Celtics have been shimmering and soaring, and yet somehow staying in the same place. Like a swarm of bees readying to sting. Like confetti readying to fall.

That’s the final act, fluttering toward the ground like little feathers. There’s just a stark lightness to its descent, floating down like a dream, compared to the confetti’s violent beginning. There’s release all across the court, when you really watch. Tatum’s two fists pumping through it all, before he doubled over and scooped his son, Deuce, into the mayhem. There was so much to take in. Al Horford, his family all waving small Dominican flags, claimed his first title in his 17th season, having once fled Boston only to return with gratitude for the opportunity to make good. Celtics’ head coach Joe Mazzulla, 35, is now the youngest champion to man an NBA sideline, as much as the enigmatic podium presence, with a penchant for splicing film with UFC footage and clips on killer whales. Brown now has a Finals MVP on his resume, after his last trip to this championship stage resulted in questions about his ball-handling.

Their new black T-shirts and golden hats will smell of cigars for some time. They sparked across the lower bowl before the buzzer had even sounded and caught flame after flame later in the Celtics’ locker room party. That’s custom, of course, for any champion. It’s customary for these Celtics, where the glass wall of Mazzulla’s office inside Boston’s training facility is frosted with the image of smoke from Red Auerbach puffing one of his many victory cigars. The past has always felt so much a part of this franchise’s present. Not 30 feet from the Celtics’ trophy stage this evening, there were Ray Allen, Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine, three members of the last Boston champions in 2008, standing amid the white and green rain.

Boston marched off the floor, one by one. Brad Stevens, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, cradled the game ball high and tight. He had coached Brown and Tatum through many of those early playoff troubles. And when Danny Ainge decided to retire from his post leading the Celtics’ front office, Boston never really considered any successor other than Stevens. “It was our first thought, actually, if Brad would do it,” Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca told Yahoo Sports. They thought Stevens would prefer the flexibility to watch his son play high school basketball, to be home for more walks with his wife, Tracy. His first big move brought Horford back into the fold. Adding Derrick White at the 2022 trade deadline proved to be a masterstroke. The additions of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porziņģis put this team over the edge, but Celtics coaches and staffers saw this build first reach another level when White unlocked newfound territory on both sides of the ball.

White smiled through busted teeth, thanks to a hard fall in Game 5. Porziņģis will need offseason surgery for a left leg injury, but that didn’t stop him from pouring bubbly on Celtics personnel. They drank from special green bottles of Armand de Brignac Ace of Spades and Cincoro tequila. Someone DJ’ed from an iPad synced to a massive JBL speaker. The cheers reached a chorus and boomed the lyrics of “Champion” by Kanye West. On the court, it seemed like Tatum mimicked Garnett’s famous postgame growl with his version: “We did it!” In the locker room, multiple staffers cupped their hands and howled, “Anything is possible!” There were several chants of “Banner 18! F*** the Lakers!”

A few support staff took turns trying to toss empty beer cans onto the layered wooden ceiling. Forward Oshae Brissett poured one all across the basketball of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, then smeared it like shampoo. The quarters were so jammed with people, anyone who entered was wished good luck. Shoulder to shoulder would represent something more breathable than the original scene inside the Celtics’ locker room. The mob stopped for nobody. Not even Pagliuca, who held his can like someone wedged into the middle of a nightclub dance floor. There were buckets the sizes of duffle bags stuffed with ice and booze.

For as long as this all felt, it all ends so quickly. As part of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, NBA teams can now begin negotiating with their own free agents, the same for players who are extension-eligible. Tatum and White are chief among the players who can and will be swiftly rewarded. Outside the Celtics’ locker room, Boston assistant coach Charles Lee had brought a bottle of Champagne, a stack of small, green Gatorade cups and an eagerness to wear a new hat: head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. He poured the miniature drinks for three of his newest players. Last year’s No. 2 pick, Brandon Miller, and young center Mark Williams joined Hornets forward and former Celtics swingman Grant Williams for this decisive Game 5. Williams led a toast to “Coach Champ!”

Other faces will change. Xavier Tillman Sr., the reserve big man who delivered in Game 3, is a free agent. Cassell is sought after on the coaching market. This group, though, will largely remain intact. Horford appears on track to play out the final year of his contract next season. Brown, Tatum, Porziņģis, Holiday and White are all signed as well. This team did receive its share of injury luck in these playoffs, but Boston outpaced every foe in the Eastern Conference by at least 14 games and just waltzed 16-3 through the postseason. And they’re ready to prove this was no fluke. To bring on more confetti.