October 7, 2007
Celts impress in opening act
ROME - After weeks of anticipation, the first game of the new Celtics era probably begat more of the same.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were largely as advertised, as the Celts opened their preseason with an 89-85 victory over Toronto last night. It was an inizio, a beginning.
Garnett went for a monstrous 19 points and 17 rebounds, while Pierce scored 13 of his 21 points in the third quarter. Allen had a relatively modest 10 points, but his presence alone helped make sure that others had wider lanes.
``It was interesting because they wanted to double Kevin down on the post, and I had a lot of open shots - shots that I haven't had open in a long time,'' said Allen, who was off the mark a bit, shooting 4-for-13. ``Paul kept his man occupied, so it was definitely a different look. You can tell that they had to respect each one of us on each play.''
And the Celtics clearly respected each other, as well. Garnett wound up with 16 field goal attempts, with Pierce and Allen checking in at 13 apiece - pretty even stuff.
If this is the pattern that remains, expect Garnett to get a whole lot of dirty-work numbers to go with his bursts of brilliance. Expect Pierce to be able to better pick the spots for his explosions. And expect Allen to be a relatively silent assassin next to the others.
Then again, there wasn't much silence in the PalaLottomatica, as the Roman crowd boisterously approved of the exercise.
It also wasn't your usual exhibition game. The New Three all played in the low 30s for minutes, and both teams ran essentially regular rotations for three quarters.
The Celtics shot from the gate by scoring 11 of the first 16 points. Then they suffered their only real valley of the night, surrendering a 15-2 run.
But Kendrick Perkins returned to the game in the second quarter after three quick fouls and a seat in the first, and the defensive intensity seemed to pick up.
``I think we were really anxious,'' said Pierce of the first game with his new mates. ``It was good for us to get out there and get our feet wet. We've been kind of beating up on each other for the past week, so it was great to just get out there and get the ball to Kev, get the ball to Ray and see what happens.''
Added Garnett: ``It felt great. If anything, like (Pierce) said, we've been a little bit anxious. We've had a great training camp. This is probably the most fun I've had in a training camp. We've spent a lot of time with each other off the court, and tonight we just translated it to the court. I think we played great basketball both offensively and defensively. Sure, we've got things to work on, but all in all it was fun. It was a great night.''
What the Celts will undoubtedly be working on is defense. The Raptors, with hometown hero Andrea Bargnani going for 13 points, had too many open looks at the basket.
``I think our whole focus is going to be on the defensive end,'' said Pierce, as Garnett nodded his head. ``We have so many weapons on offense, and the great thing about it is we play unselfishly. We were able to move the ball.
``This is probably the best first game of preseason since I've been a Celtic. We're just showing how unselfish we played, what we can do. But our main goal is to be a great defensive team. We know if we can do that, we can go a long way.''
The starters left the court ahead, 70-68, after three periods, and coach Doc Rivers and Raptors counterpart Sam Mitchell agreed that it was time to get deeper into their benches. The last minutes were more sloppy, befitting an exhibition opener.
But the Celtics got what they wanted. Tweaks are required - Rivers said Rajon Rondo needed to push the ball more - but when they boarded their charter and said, ``Arrivederci, Roma,'' it was with a smile on their face.