Here we are at what is universally renowned in sport as Cigar Time in Boston Garden -- only the flame isn't being lit by the man who invented pro basketball.

It's being struck by a woman, and being gingerly moved to the tip of a cigar dangling from the mouth of yet another woman.

Liberation was evident on and off the court today.

"We (ordinarily) don't do anything like this," said the woman sporting the stogie, Chris Riley, wife of Lakers Coach Pat Riley. "But for Boston, you gotta change your style a bit."

She was about to grab the bottle of champagne also being passed among the Lakers' wives, from Wanda Cooper to Charlina McAdoo to the ma'am with the match, Joyce Sharman.

Serious history had been played out here, on the athletic order of the Tea Party a couple of hundred years ago that also helped reshape a familiar way of life.

"You can lose just so often to the same team . . . in the scope of time," the Lakers' Mitch Kupchak had said. Still, that scope of time seemed to be stretching eerily toward forever.

With the NBA title on the line, the Celtics through the years have seemed a combination of Patton's army, Mozart's mind and your Aunt Minnie at bingo. Or relentless, brilliant and lucky to be more direct.

"You try to understand why things turned out the way they did," Jerry West had said of the Celtics' domination of his Lakers, and other teams, in championship finals.

"I mean, there's just no question that we had the better ball club some of those years."

No question to everyone but the Celtics. Fourteen times, the victory machine Red Auerbach assembled, and twice rebuilt, had reached the finals after losing the title to St. Louis in 1958. Fourteen times, it had won.

And in the strangest ways, often against the Lakers. If Frank Selvy's potential series winner wasn't bouncing off the rim for the Lakers in 1962, Don Nelson's was clanging high -- and back in -- for the Celtics in 1969.

Boston started the fourth quarter of the final game of a 4-1 rout of Los Angeles in 1965 with 20 straight points. The Lakers got the Celtics meaner than usual in '69, with a show of arrogance before Game 7 that included balloons above the Forum floor ready to be released in the anticipated celebration.

Little wonder even Lakers women could be seen merrily puffing cigars Sunday after the Celtic mystique went up in 111-100 smoke.

"I feel like Johnny Podres in the '55 World Series," shouted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, showing his age and his roots, the reference being to the pitcher who helped the Brooklyn Dodgers end their submission to the Yankees.

The Lakers' pregame mood this time was confident rather than arrogant.

"Lots of us didn't bring sweats or practice jerseys (when the series moved from Los Angeles)," Kupchak said. "Nobody wanted a Monday workout (that would have meant a Game 7 they especially loathed).

"Hey, if there had been practice, all that could have happened is that we'd have been fined. Nobody could have knocked us for positive thinking."

Each Laker had his moment to savor on parquet that once seemed either mined or populated with unseen leprechauns swatting away near-certain baskets. And the fans are so close -- so close to frightening.

They were an even greener sea than usual. Two women who otherwise would consider tipping the soup bowl grossly impolite were waving towels and screaming at Lakers on the free throw line.

A man in his mid 20s skipped about waving a license plate that read: "MVP -- 33."

"Mine," he bragged.

That's the ultimate Massachusetts vanity plate.

Because so much of what the Lakers overcame involved what seemed a Celtic curse, the only shots emphasized in this essay are the ones that appeared ready to hop away from the net -- but didn't.

Late in the first quarter, Michael Cooper drove the lane and put up a twisting prayer as he was belted by Scott Wedman.

Even in less-haunted gyms, that shot rattles out. This one settled into the net -- and Cooper swished the foul shot for a three-point play.

With the Lakers up seven points in the final 4 1/2 minutes, Magic Johnson drove inside and pushed up a scoop shot. The ball hesitated ever so long on the rim, then decided to fall in.

Victory was assured when Abdul-Jabbar sank a 14-foot sky hook from the right base line with 61 seconds left. He acknowledged it by waving his right fist.

"I live with me all the time," Abdul-Jabbar, 38, said of his surprising, and surpassing, stamina. "I know what I can do."

For what he did, Abdul-Jabbar was the unanimous MVP, which in his case should be called: Most Valuable Presence.

"I am tired," he admitted, "but when I leave here my feet won't touch the ground. I'll float on out."

Just off the court those final minutes, a scene some had thought might be disastrous was becoming inspirational. Nobody was certain how the crowd would react to such a stinging defeat, because that never had happened.

Police began ringing the court with just less than three minutes remaining. Theirs was a shoulder-to-shoulder show of force that was meant to avert last season's ugly hysteria.

Happily, the crowd gave the players on both teams the dignified appreciation they deserved. There was applause most of the last 90 seconds. Uninterrupted and, it seemed, unbiased.

Hundreds lingered for perhaps a half-hour. Some rested limply against balcony railings; others cried. A man wearing a purple shirt accepted $5 from one in an I-hate-L.A. shirt.

This once, Celtics faithful were awash in the uncomfortable shade of green that signifies envy.