The game began with a new video montage, after which the starting lineup was introduced. The final starter earned the loudest ovation when his name was called, Boston’s captain being saluted by 20,000 fans who missed his presence during the season’s first three games, all losses.
Paul Pierce ran through a sea of his teammates’ hands and bounced to the sound of the music. The crowd was hungry for his return and anxious for the Celtics to snap the losing skid that had people clamoring for change. I don’t want to say people were starting to believe the ship was sinking, but I might have seen Jermaine O’Neal searching frantically for a life preserver after the loss to New Orleans. The season was only three games young, yet the Celtics took the court on Friday surrounded by considerably lower optimism than they carried into Christmas Day against the New York Knicks.
And then Pierce took the floor, the Garden crowd roared… and another bad start ensued. But the slow start didn’t last. Before long, Pierce was draining his patented stepback jumper, Sasha Pavlovic was contesting shots and making a positive impact and Jermaine O’Neal was showing off the new legs he purchased yesterday on the black market. When Ray Allen and then Pierce hit three-pointers to open the third quarter, it was clear that whatever demons had plagued the Celtics in their three-game season-opening road trip did not make the trip to the TD Garden on this night. The 96-85 rout was on, punctuated in the third quarter when O’Neal blocked a shot on one end, finished an and-one at the other, then called to thank the doctor who performed his CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation yesterday.
I am having fun at O’Neal’s expense, but he was great. Perhaps that was a function of meeting Detroit’s front line — Jonas Jerebko and Greg Monroe are not in danger of being voted to the All-Defensive Team any year soon — but the worries about his legs did not extend into tonight. O’Neal grabbed a season-high seven rebounds, blocked two shots, scored 11 more points than he had all season, and even when he missed a dunk, it was with authority rather than a whimper.
O’Neal’s contributions will fall next to the same asterisk as the entire win — *but it was against the Pistons. Lawrence Frank’s team, a smattering of over-the-hill veterans and not-excessively-talented youngsters, is in for a long season, and it’s natural to wonder whether Boston would have been so impressive against any other team. But that’s a question for another night. Tonight, the Celtics (finally) won, Pierce returned and looked great, and hope again illuminated the Garden’s parquet floor.
– Just to put Pierce’s 12 points, five assists and four rebounds into perspective, he’s participated in one practice during the past seven months. I understand that he has been working out by himself, both during the lockout and during the past few days. But to look that natural after such a long layoff is abnormal.
– Rajon Rondo’s shoulders probably feel a lot lighter after tonight’s game, now that he didn’t have to carry the Celtics for the entire night. Over the years I’ve come to understand that Rondo’s a reluctant scorer. He occasionally does when he needs to, especially in the playoffs, but for the most part, Rondo is entirely against accumulating unnecessary statistics. He’s content with sitting back, watching Boston’s offense run smoothly, notching nine points and five dimes and letting his teammates carry the Celtics to victory. I wish he would get selfish more often, but we’ve had to settle for certain nights when Rondo does not shift into attack mode.
– If I’m not mistaken, Kevin Garnett does not have a single dunk this season. For the second straight game, Garnett did not reach double figures in scoring. He still hasn’t reached double figures in rebounding this season, grabbing just three tonight. I’m not scared shitless yet — it’s only game four of a 66-game season, after all — but I’m worried. There were a couple times when Garnett had inside position down low, rebounds bounced off the rim and Monroe still beat KG to the ball. That never used to happen to KG. Never.
– I feel like I’m going to spend a lot of time this season thanking Otis Smith. Brandon Bass is a beautiful German Shepherd that showed up on Danny Ainge’s doorstep with a bow around it. And he’s a lot more potty trained than Glen Davis ever was. (Note: At some point, I’ll stop comparing Bass to Davis. But for now it’s just too fun.)
– When Sasha Pavlovic entered the game in the second quarter rather than E’Twaun Moore, I almost took off my shoe and threw it directly through my TV screen. Sadly, I wasn’t wearing a shoe. But then Pavlovic contested an Austin Daye post-up perfectly, forcing a supremely difficult shot. Then he leaked out and made a layup. Then he drilled a three. Then he had a defensive possession during which he cut off Rodney Stuckey’s penetration and forced a pass, rotated to help on Brandon Knight, then somehow recovered to Stuckey to contest a three-pointer. I know, it’s weird to hear me praise Pavlovic. He deserved it tonight, those two late bricks notwithstanding.
– Every time I see Jason Maxiell play, I’m reminded that there once was a time when I truly enjoyed his game. Back before he overdosed on cheeseburgers, when he used to inject every game with energy and try to dunk everything he touched, Maxiell used to be a real asset. Now he’s a lot like Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace: relics of a better time.
– Lawrence Frank looks like Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, a fictional character who beds a different woman almost every night. By transitive property, does that mean Frank gets his womanizer on? The answer to this question isn’t likely to affect Detroit’s rebuilding quest, but it’s worth pondering for a moment or two.
– Ray Allen can make great plays seem so easy, and I’m not just talking about when he fades into the fifth row while drilling a corner three. At least twice tonight, Allen curled around down screens, drew two defenders and slipped a bounce pass to the rolling big man the instant he caught the ball. Allen’s just always a threat defenses need to account for. Not like I need to tell you that, but I felt the urge tonight.
– Marquis Daniels didn’t have a great night, but I truly enjoyed his pregame speechm which he ended: “I wish y’all a Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas and all that good stuff.” And if I ever need a spinal cord surgery, I want his doctor. Dude hasn’t lost a step.
– Damien Wilkins is still playing a role in the NBA. I feel better about Pavlovic now.
– Damn it, I promised myself I wouldn’t joke about Pavlovic after his performance tonight.
– When Monroe received the ball with Greg Stiemsma guarding in the second quarter, somebody on the Celtics could be heard yelling, “Block Party.” Stiemsma ultimately fouled Monroe, but still. The Stiemer’s already earning the respect of his teammates. I guess that’s what blocking three zillion shots in your NBA debut will do.
– Stiemsma only had one block, but he challenges everything. It’s too bad we’ll never get to see Stiemsma play against an in-his-prime Shaq, because Stiemsma would have had real Shawn Bradley potential.
The Captain is back and the Celtics are in the win column.
Until next time, folks.