Paul Pierce is in his 10th season with the Celtics, which means he's heard a lot of glory stories from Tommy Heinsohn. As a student of the game's history, Pierce enjoyed the dissertations, but, considering the position of his own teams, he didn't have tales to trade.
However, when the Celts won in Toronto Sunday, they moved to 20-2 on the season and tied the 1963-64 edition for the best start in franchise history. That season, Heinsohn was a slender forward who averaged 16.5 points - a mark he raised to 17.4 in the playoffs as the club went on to win another title.
Pierce smiled at the thought of the accomplishment, but he wasn't planning to bend Tommy's ear on the flight home.
``Maybe if we can win a championship, I'll be able to say something,'' Pierce said. ``Right now, it's just some numbers. Until we win a championship, Tommy's still got me.'' It's hard to compare a team that has been together less than three months with one that was in the process of winning eight consecutive NBA crowns, but there appears to be one major parallel.
Something to prove.
``That's the year after (Bob) Cousy retired,'' said Heinsohn, looking back on '63-64, ``and I think we really wanted to establish ourselves and prove we could win after he was gone.''
With only James Posey in possession of an NBA championship ring, there is now a gang in Green that just wants to prove it can win, period. Adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Pierce has thus far been a perfect storm of shared goals.
``These three guys are setting the tone for the entire team,'' said Heinsohn, whose can be heard each game on CSN telecasts. ``They got tired of carrying a team all by themselves, and they wanted to play on a real team, so they're focusing on being good teammates. It's evident that it's carried through to the rest of the players.
``It's amazing how fast this has come together. Holding a nucleus together has always been a very big part of the Celtics' success over the years. But two of these three important players played on other teams, and they were thinking players, so when they came with the Celtics they had the extra motivation to become a winner no matter what it took. I tell you, I've been most surprised about Ray Allen's defense. He's a pretty good defender. Eddie House has played better defense than I ever saw him play. It's catchy. They've all jumped on board.''
Heinsohn didn't reach his levels as a player or coach without a large measure of competitiveness, so it's natural he defends his teams when comparing them to the present.
``It's different eras,'' he said. ``There were only eight or nine teams playing when I played, so the competition was incredible. I mean, we had eight Hall of Fame players and most of the teams had four or five players that were all terrific ballplayers and could be in the Hall of Fame, too.
``Now if you've got three players the caliber of what the Celtics have, you're in the hunt. But the beauty of this team is not do they have that, but they've got the spirit that's been generated by these three guys.''
Pierce got some good individual news yesterday when he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. He averaged 25.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in three wins. Portland's Brandon Roy won the Western Conference honor for the second consecutive week. . . .
The 20-2 mark is one game off the NBA record through 22 games. The 1969 Knicks and 1993 Rockets opened 21-1.
BOX: FLYING STARTS
With a win tomorrow night against the Pistons, the Celtics would set a new franchise mark for best start to a season Here are the C's highest win totals with only two losses in a season.