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CELTICS FLOOR HAWKS ON PARQUET'S FINAL NIGHT

When it comes to relics in this town's sports shrines, there are two.

The Green Monster and the parquet floor.

Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics bid adieu to the parquet floor they have used since 1946, giving it a halftime sendoff usually reserved for retiring numbers and championship banner-raisings -- 16 NBA titles in all, the last in 1986.

"This floor was a part of all that. It watched over the greatest sports team dynasty that ever was, and probably that ever will be," former Celtics guard Bob Cousy told the crowd. "It probably has had more Hall of Famers trod on its boards than any floor in captivity."

Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones and John Havlicek also took part in the ceremony at halftime of Boston's 98-81 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Video clips were shown during breaks in the game, including one of Robert Parrish putting Detroit's Bill Laimbeer on the floor in 1987.

Although this game didn't create any memories on a par with "Havlicek stole the ball," at least it was a win.

"We definitely didn't want to spoil it," said Antoine Walker, who scored 24 points to help the Celtics snap a six-game losing streak and send the Hawks to their fourth consecutive loss.

After a short postgame reception on the floor, the FleetCenter bull gang began pulling up its 988 bolts and 264 panels at 10:41 p.m. On Jan. 3, they will unveil a new floor built to resemble the one that supported the team over 53 years in two buildings.

"I get very emotional about tradition. That's one of the reasons I love being a Celtics coach," a jovial Rick Pitino said. "It's a memory every time you walk out."

The Celtics built the floor for $11,000 during a World War II wood shortage that forced them to use short scraps of red oak that gave the floor its trademark parquet look. When the team moved out of the Boston Garden in 1996, they took the floor with them.

The Celtics are one of the most tradition-rich franchises in professional sport, and when it's time to stand on ceremony, they can do it with the best.

Mike Gorman, the Celtics television voice who was in the second balcony the day Havlicek stole the ball, emceed this special halftime ceremony. Gorman explained that the player benches were switched in the move to the FleetCenter and are diagonally opposite their positions in the Boston Garden.

So when Russell described how he was the one to try to put the ball in play with the Celtics protecting a 110-109 lead in Game Seven of the 1965 Eastern Division finals against Philadelphia, he was standing near fans, not the Boston bench.

Russell recalled how his inbounds pass hit the guy wire, giving possession to the then Warriors, and how "what happened next made a hero of John Havlicek."

As every Celtics fan knows, Havlicek tipped Hal Greer's pass, a play broadcaster Johnny Most immortalized with his guttual: "Havlicek stole the ball!"

Russell even tried to imitate Most's voice Wednesday night.

Heinsohn, the 1957 rookie of the year, recalled Game Seven of the finals against the St. Louis Hawks. Russell had just missed a layup, his momentum carrying him beyond the baseline, and a long outlet pass sent the ball to the Hawks' Jack Coleman beyond midcourt. Coleman dribbled once "and was going to win the game with a layup, and Russell blocked the shot," Heinsohn said.

"He went faster -- of course, this involved money, and that's why he went so fast -- but he went faster than they could make one pass and a dribble. He ran more than the length of the court. I still maintain it's the greatest play I've ever seen in basketball," Heinsohn said.

That might have been the beginning of the parquet as one of the signature venues in sport.

Cousy remembered March 17, 1963, when he stood at midcourt and wept openly as a capacity crowd of 13,909 honored him upon his retirement. He spoke of "50 years of an emotional relationship with the City of Boston, the fans and even the media . . . this floor was part of all of this."

Havlicek relived his incredible bank shot that apparently won Game Five on the 1976 Finals against Phoenix in double overtime. He was the third option after Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens, and when Don Nelson had trouble putting the ball in play, Havlicek sprinted above the circle, caught the pass, tried to draw a foul and finally, elbows flailing, launched a line drive off the glass and in.

As fans stormed the parquet and players fought their way to the dressing room, referee Earl Strom blew his whistle. There was still time on the clock. Gar Heard's jumper at the buzzer sent the game into the third overtime. Boston eventually won, 128-126.

"I was already in the locker room. I had my jersey off. We had to come out for the third overtime, but I'll remember that play forever," Havlicek said.

Heat warming to Carter

MIAMI -- Miami Heat guard Anthony Carter isn't trying to replace Tim Hardaway.

But the 6-foot-2 rookie from the University of Hawaii is doing far more than expected since taking over the starting point guard job.

Carter had 16 points and five assists as Miami beat Utah 74-72 Wednesday night. He also was instrumental in holding future Hall of Famer John Stockton to six points on 2-for-7 shooting.

"That was probably the best game he's played since he's been with the Heat," Miami coach Pat Riley said.

Though Carter hasn't been much of an offensive threat, Riley said he has done a good job of avoiding turnovers, running the offense and getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers.

He's playing solid defense, too.

"It's something that I got pushed into," Carter said. "But I'm here to take the challenge. I'm going to make the best of it so when Tim comes back, coach will have a lot of trust in me and I'll be able to help the team down the stretch."

Carter likely will be the starter for some time to come.

Hardaway, sidelined the last 14 games with a jammed right knee, said he won't be able to practice for at least the next 10 days.

He practiced Friday for the first time since reinjuring his knee Nov. 23 against Atlanta. Hardaway has been on the injured list since Dec. 1.

Around the rim

Kevin Garnett provided the muscle inside and Malik Sealy and Terrell Brandon hit just about everything outside as the Timberwolves routed the Bulls, 106-86. Garnett, led five Timberwolves in double figures with 22 points. He also had 13 rebounds. Sealy had 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, Brandon added 16 and Joe Smith came off the bench to score 18. . . . Rookie Chucky Atkins scored 22 points to lead the Magic past the Cavaliers, 103-97. Bob Sura led Cleveland with 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting from the field. Atkins scored six points down the stretch as Orlando earned its fourth straight win. . . . Tyrone Nesby scored a season-high 26 points and rookie Lamar Odom had a monster night with 22 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocked shots as the Clippers defeated the Warriors, 103-99. Eric Piatkowski also scored 22 for the Clippers, who ended a six-game road losing streak and won for the first time this season after trailing at halftime.

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