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Bob Ryan

Big night no big deal for Garnett

The first shot was certainly interesting.

"I was soooo jacked up," said Kevin Garnett. "As you can see by my first shot, which went off the backboard."

Off? He's lucky it didn't go through it.

But eventually the game came to Kevin Garnett. He got into the scoring column with a couple of free throws. Three and a half minutes into the game, he knocked down a 12-foot jumper as the shot clock was winding down for his first Celtic basket. After that, it was just a matter of playing the game in his elegant, upright, nonfrilly, downright dignified manner.

When his night's work was done, Garnett had a 22-point, 20-rebound, 5-assist, 3-block line and the Celtics had a crowd-pleasing 103-83 Opening Night victory over the Washington Wizards.

But, as far as Garnett is concerned, I'll get back to you when I have some new news.

I mean, it just seemed like a typical Kevin Garnett game to me. He's just wearing a different uniform these days, that's all.

"I've seen him do that a whole lot," agreed Scot Pollard. "Didn't he lead the league in double-doubles?"

About those rebounds: None was showy, you know? There isn't a show-off bone in Garnett's exceptionally long and lean body. He's just a great clinical rebounder, just as he's a great clinical shooter and a coldly efficient passer. You knew he was doing OK on the glass, and then suddenly he had 10 . . . 15 . . . and, finally, 20. I can see a lot of taken-for-granted nights for him as the year unfolds.

Garnett thinks he's going to like playing here.

"This place is crazy," he noted. "Tonight was rockin', man. I couldn't even help it. This place was rockin'. Paul [Pierce] told me what it would be like. I got a little taste during the exhibition games, but this was like a playoff atmosphere."

What he may not grasp is that he was the primary reason TD Banknorth Garden was so electric last night. The building's been open for business since 1995, and anyone who goes there regularly knows how few regular-season games have stirred legitimate passion in the joint.

All the booming NBA noise and screaming PA have never been able to masquerade the fact that the honest, spontaneous, Old Garden-style enthusiasm that was so much a part of the Celtic experience for about 30 years has largely been absent. Oh, there's been a lively night here and there, but this place has been reflective of the fact that the Celtics have been a dismal product for far too long.

Now ask yourself: When's the last time there was an unorchestrated, "Let's go, Celtics!" cheer reverberating through the building before the game even began? I think perhaps when Kareem was playing.

And with all due respect to Ray Allen, who had a solid 17 points (2 for 5 on 3-pointers) in his Celtics debut, he alone wasn't going to inject all this into the franchise. If all Danny Ainge had done was bring in Allen, that would have been nice. That would have been an improvement. That might even have been enough to show Pierce that the team was acting in good faith, that it was listening to his plea, that in shipping the No. 5 pick in the draft to Seattle for an All-Star shooting guard, it was making a sincere effort to keep him happy.

Perhaps. We'll never know. Nor do we want to.

The reason there is such enormous - perhaps misplaced - optimism now is Kevin Garnett. He is the kind of special talent that changes rival game plans and invigorates teammates. He is a special force in the game. Let's be honest. He has actually changed minds about how a big man should play the game. You think there would be a Dirk Nowitzki for the Dallas fans to savor had there not been a Kevin Garnett? Think again. Garnett is a historic, groundbreaking player. And now he is Boston's to enjoy.

Doc Rivers has obviously seen Garnett play enough not to get overly excited about what he had just witnessed. It's as if he's already programmed himself to expect 20-20s from Garnett.

Asked if this was a "typical" Garnett game, Doc replied, "Yeah. It's tough because I'm a coach. You know, he was really good. Obviously, there's things that as a coach you see that as a team we can be better, and Kevin as well. He was so hyped tonight that the first shot almost broke the backboard, and it was tough to run stuff for him early because his energy level was so high. He couldn't settle down. But when he does that, he still rebounds and defends. So you'll take it. He was terrific."

The Kool-Aid was being passed around last night in cups marked "D," for Defense. Pierce rhapsodized about the need for the team to play defense. Garnett spoke of defense. Doc spoke of defense, too. Defense keyed a big second quarter, for sure.

"Well," said Rivers, "we're not going to win by outscoring people every night. That's never going to happen."

Rivers went on to say that he began preaching the Big D gospel on the very day the (so-called) Big Three was introduced as a unit. "I said, 'OK now, everyone's happy now. But we're only going to win if we play defense.' "

The mentor made one other point last night. The key to the needed defensive effort is, yup, Guess Who?

"Clearly," said Rivers, "Kevin Garnett changes the defense; there's no doubt about it. He has great energy, he's able to get out on pick-and-rolls, and a lot of bigs can't. You know, this has become a pick-and-roll league, mainly because of the rules. We scored half our points, probably, on the pick-and-roll tonight and transitioning on the post. So Garnett has the ability to stop them. And that's big for us."

There was a lot of postgame talk about Kevin Garnett last night. Get used to it.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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