Sense of entitlement
With winning spirit in the air, hopeful Celtics reward fans
With the local sports spotlight dominated by the world champion Red Sox, the undefeated Patriots, and the second-ranked Boston College football team, the Celtics screamed for attention last night.
They routed the Wizards, 103-83, in front of a sellout crowd of 18,624 fans at TD Banknorth Garden in their season opener.
The Celtics' new star trio came out of the gate strong with a game-high 28 points from Paul Pierce, a 22-point, 20-rebound, 5-assist game from Kevin Garnett, and 17 points from Ray Allen in front of a national television audience.
"As professional athletes, I think we respect the other sports, also," Pierce said. "I'm a fan of the Red Sox. I'm also a fan of the Patriots. But we got our own mark to make. Those guys have made their own mark. They've won championships."
Allen cooled his season-opening nerves by listening to such rap stars as Lil' Wayne, OutKast, and 50 Cent as he drove to the arena. Garnett had his usual stone-faced intensity as he walked through the locker room before the game. And Pierce didn't seem fazed at all by all the Big Three hype as he relaxed calmly in his chair at his locker as if it was just another game. It wasn't.
"I don't really feed into it," Pierce said.
As the buzzer sounded for the game to start, the ecstatic fans began chanting, "Let's go, Celtics."
They also chanted, "Gilbert [stinks]," at Gilbert Arenas.
The Wizards guard recently wrote in his blog that everyone is jumping on the Celtics' bandwagon and the Boston fans should cheer for him as they watch their team lose. One fan even yelled to Arenas during the fourth quarter, "Hey, Gilbert, where is your guarantee?"
Arenas missed 15 of 20 field goal attempts and finished with 21 points.
"It just showed you what this town is about, the crowd, and the team," Arenas said. "They proved themselves."
Just last season the Celtics had the second-worst team in the NBA and endured a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak. A frustrated Pierce emphatically asked the front office for help and got probably more than he anticipated in two perennial All-Stars.
Before his 10th season was to begin, Pierce gave an emotional address to the long-suffering fans.
"You've stuck with us through the good times and bad times," a choked-up Pierce said. "It's time to turn those times around."
Garnett was extremely nervous from the start as he soaked up the hyped crowd that he described as "crazy." He shot a hard brick off the glass on his first field goal attempt. Garnett, Allen, and Pierce missed the first three shots for the Celtics. Boston's first points came on two free throws from Garnett with 10:13 left in the first. The Celtics finished the first up, 21-18.
"This was crazy," Garnett said. "I was so jacked. My first shot? All backboard. This place felt like a playoff game, man."
Surprisingly, the Celtics put the game away in the second quarter with Garnett and Allen on the bench for much of an 11-2 run that provided a 38-26 lead. They returned with 6:32 left and helped the Celtics dominate the rest of the quarter to go into halftime with a 22-point cushion (58-36). Pierce had 15 points and nailed three treys in the second.
"The second quarter just did us in," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said.
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, "We leaned on our defense until our offense started clicking."
With 15.2 seconds left in the second quarter and the ball in point guard Rajon Rondo's hands, the crowd wondered which one of the star trio would shoot. Instead, Rondo surprisingly maneuvered for a shifty lay-in with 3.4 seconds left. The Celtics weren't challenged the rest of the way.
Garnett's no-look pass to Pierce for a bucket gave Boston a 96-75 lead with 3:09 left in the game and put the final touch on the blowout. Fittingly, Rivers took Pierce, Garnett, and Allen out together with 2:30 left in the fourth.
"We'll take this one game at a time, but it's about the journey," Garnett said.
The Celtics' motto this season is "Think Big." At least on this night, they also have Boston thinking big about them, too.
"The people were rocking," Allen said. "They've been anticipating this for a long time, the fans in Boston, just having something on the floor that they can rally behind all year."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.