The Celtics Game 5 Renews Ties Between Alaskans and New Englanders

The Celtics Game 5 Renews Ties Between Alaskans and New Englanders

By Mike McCormick

The Boston Celtics were back on their home court at TD Garden for the fifth game of the NBA Championship series.

The seventeen-time champions, up three games to one in the series, could hoist an eighteenth championship banner with a win that night. Given the opportunity for a clinching victory, you’d think I’d be rambunctious and full of optimism before the tipoff.

I was not.

Dallas had thrashed the Celtics ,122-84, in their most recent outing.

Before that, in the third game, Dallas had mounted furious rally from twenty -one points down to pull within one point of the lead when their superstar Luke Doncic fouled out. The Celts were able to hang on to win by seven points.

I thought that if Luke had not fouled out on a disputed call, the Mavericks might have very well won that game. Entering Game 5, the Mavericks had throttled the Celtics in five straight periods. I wondered if the Mavericks possessed the talent and momentum to win the fifth game and get back into the series.

While no NBA team had ever come back from three games down to win a best of seven series, I recalled the 2004 Red Sox rose up from a 3-0 deficit to overcome the Yankees on the way to claiming their first World Series title in 86 years.

Additionally, the Celtic’s recent history was shot through with disappointments. They lost in 2023 to an inferior Miami Heat team in the seventh game of the Eastern Finals. In the 2022 NBA Finals,  they were up two games to one over the Golden State Warriors only to collapse. With rare exceptions, recent Celtic teams led over the past six years by the front court tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, had tensed up in close games and reverted to ill-advised shots and one-on- one play instead of passing and cutting team-oriented basketball. Even though the Celtics led the league in regular season wins, they had squandered double digit leads to inferior opponents.

When I tuned in to the game on my I-pad on my deck in Eagle River, Alaska

I set my cell phone beside the i-pad.  Since the advent of texting, I’ve heard from friends in New England and beyond during important Celtic, Red Sox, Bruin, and Patriot games.

As the game started, my friend Richard who grew up in Framingham and bonded with me over a love of poetry, Jack Kerouac, and music shot me a message from his current home in Port Townsend, Washington.

“’Twas a grizzly game four. They best win Game 5 and close it out in Boston, my friend.”

I stayed calm throughout the first period. I was guardedly optimistic when the Celts took a ten-point lead into the second frame.

They built the lead steadily over the next twelve minutes. With the last seconds of the period ticking away, reserve Celtic guard Payton Pritchard swished a 43 foot heave to  end the period. The Boston crowd exploded.  My lifelong friend Jack checked in from Bedford, New Hampshire.


The Celtics now had a twenty-one point lead at halftime.

Ralph, an author I befriended more than thirty years ago when I wrote him a letter about our shared affection for early 60’s Red Sox players, sent a cautious reminder:

“21 points is nothing in the NBA. It’s like my friend Don Murray used to say about writing: Many can begin, few can close. The Celtics have to close. I’m still not comfortable.”

Soon after the third period got under way, I wrote my son Patrick who was listening to the radio broadcast on a fishing boat in Southcentral Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

“You feeling confident?”

“Well they are up 18 in the third so that’s good.”

But the Celts were starting to look sloppy.  Several trips down the court ended with poorly selected shots, turnovers, and no scores.

Jack, who was never a fan of Celtic star forward Jayson Tatum complained,

“He stops the offensive movement. One on one slows everything down.”

I switched the subject,

“I love Holiday. He’s my favorite.”

“Me too, but he’s missed a lot of layups tonight. White is my fav.

They’re very tentative going to the hoop.”

As the fourth quarter started, despite some poor play by the Celtics, the Mavericks had only cut the lead by two points. Thinking of the nineteen-point lead with only twelve minutes remaining to play, I began to relax.

Tatum was taking the ball to the rim with success.

I reasoned the championship was too close for a letdown.

Jack noticed, “Good to see him making plays down the stretch, even though they’re up by twenty. LOL.”

Ralph, an unwavering Tatum booster posted, “I love what I’m seeing!”

When the Celts’ Derrick White hit a three pointer to extend the lead, Ralph declared,

“Wooo! I’m celebrating Mike!”

And Richard declared,

“Tonight’s the Night!!!!”

Then he sent a picture of the cover of the Neil Young album baring the same name.

“Do you have this one?”

“Of course!”

And as soon as I hit send, the game ends and Richard popped up again, “That’s it!!!!! #18!”

My first call was to Patrick. I pictured him in the postage-stamp sized cabin on his 29’ foot bow picker as the boat bobbed at anchor in a wilderness bay. He’d watched more Celtic games than I had this year and has suffered through the playoff exits the past few years. Predictably, he was happy.

We reminisced. He remembered watching the 2008 championship game win over the Lakers together. But he could barely remember the 1992 three-hundred-point, 152-148 double overtime Celtics win we saw together at the old Garden. While he doesn’t remember that game in any detail, he can tell anyone who asked that he saw Bird’s last triple double.

We both know we must savor this championship. Patrick was born in 1987, the year after the Celts won everything with one of the greatest teams of all-time featuring Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, D.J. Johnson, and Robert Parish. Bill Walton, a champion with the Portland Trailblazers ten years earlier, had worked his way back to become a valuable sixth man and presence on the roster.

The 1987 team was picked to repeat.

In that season’s playoffs, a last second steal by Bird and basket by DJ in the sixth game against the Pistons helped insure the Celts would be Eastern Conference Champions.  After demolishing the Lakers in the Boston Garden in the first game of the Championship Finals, the Celts- who were banged up with multiple injuries- fell in six to a healthier Los Angeles team led by future hall-of-famers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and James Worthy.

After the Celts won in 2008, they didn’t return to the Finals as many people expected.

That 2008 crown, sixteen years ago, was the club’s most recent championship.

Since I turned sevety-one years old three months before the Celtic’s championship clinching game, I realize that I might not be alive If it’s sixteen years until the next Celtics’ triumph.

I wished Patrick and I had been able to watch Game five together. But I was thankful that we checked in during the game and were sharing our happiness over the phone.

“It’s been great being a Celtics fan together all these years,” I declared.


After talking to Patrick, I decided to call another friend who I hoped would relish this championship. I dialed up 84-year-old friend Tom who lives in West Anchorage. Since he rarely answers the phone, I was surprised and delighted when he picked up after a few rings with a bright, “Hi Mike.”

Tom, a former State of Alaska poet laureate, grew up in Lowell just upriver from my hometown of Haverhill. We bonded over discussions about growing up Irish Catholic in working class Merrimack Valley cities, poetry, Jack Kerouac, birds, Alaska’s stunning natural landscapes, and the Celtics.

A CYO basketball player in Lowell’s Acre, Tom has watched the Celts since the teams’ nineteen fifties ascension under the leadership of Bill Russell and Bob Cousy.

Through the year he complained about Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum; complained about the one-on-one style of basketball and the preponderance of three point shots in today’s NBA. On more than one occasion he’s e-mailed me (Tom doesn’t own a cell phone and refuses to text) that he has watched his last game – he can’t take it anymore.

But that night he was jubilant. He’d watched the game on television with the sound turned off so that he could listen to the radio commentary provided by Cedric Maxwell, a favorite player from the Larry Bird years.

We shared our admiration for Jrue Holiday and we agreed that he’d fit on the long ago teams that we most remember. And we agreed Tatum played a solid game and it’s good to see him and Brown get a championship. We exclaimed about Pritchard’s second period buzzer beater, agreed that we admire his pluck, but both admitted that he’s a solid player off the bench but probably not able to become a full-time starter.

Tom felt that the best part of the night was hearing Maxwell’s joy over the victory.

According to Tom Max gloated, “That puts us one up on the Lakers,” referencing the fact that Celtic franchise now had eighteen championships- one more than the Lakers had from their years in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

The next morning the ping of my i-phone woke me at 4:58 am.

Ralph had finished breakfast in his New Hampshire home.

It was nine in the morning there and he was bursting with enthusiasm about last night’s game and his favorite player’s performance. He has sent me a piece in “the Boston Globe” about Jayson Tatum’s game.

Worth reading. He writes.

“Not at 4:58 AM!”

“Got it !”

Later that day Eddie, a UMass college friend who shares a passion for Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Diamond, birds, and the Red Sox, chimed in from Rhode Island.

“I can’t get excited about basketball like I do about baseball and football. But that was very nice to see last night.

“Every Boston championship is super.  But nothing will ever compare to 2004.”

“What are your favorite championships after 2004?”

Eddie paused. I know that like hundreds of other baby boomer football fans who watched the New York Giants before the Boston Patriots became popular, he had remained a steadfast follower of the team from Gotham. I was not surprised when he told me his favorite championships were not won by New England based teams.

“When the Giants beat that undefeated Patriots’ team in the Super Bowl then, next favorite was the second time they beat ‘em.”

When I mentioned the ‘74 Celts and 2013 Sox he piped in enthusiastically.

“Oh that ’74 team was great- the Havilcek, Cowans team.  That was special because it was the first time after the Russell years.

“And that 2013 team was special. So unexpected! If you put that lineup on the field again they’d make the playoffs no more than once every ten years and win a championship once every fifty. Everything somehow clicked with those guys.”

When the 2024 NBA finals concluded, I pondered how my continuing interest in New England teams has helped sustain relationships with longtime friends and my son.

With the advent of the cell phone, these connections have become easier- and in some ways- more fun than ever before.

Most of my friends who shared Celtics games and a few friends who don’t like the NBA (Butch, Duffy) with me will be back online in the fall if the Red Sox are in the postseason mix. These, and my niece Sally and Massachusetts musician friend Chris will join me when the Patriots regular season starts up.

Although I’ve never regretted moving to Alaska in 1976, I remain unfailingly thankful that professional sports have provided a catalyst to stay in touch with my Merrimack Valley roots.

One Response to The Celtics Game 5 Renews Ties Between Alaskans and New Englanders

  1. DickH says:

    Mike, thanks for the reminder of the place held by the Boston Celtics across the country.

    To everyone reading this, some who have tried to comment on this site have experienced technical difficulties. If that happens to you, please email me with a description of what happened but also include the text of your comment in your email and I’ll make sure it appears online. My email is DickHoweJr[at]

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