With their unblemished start, the Celtics brought back memories of the days of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish last night.
Boston improved to 4-0 with a 106-83 victory over the Hawks at TD Banknorth Garden, becoming the 18th edition in franchise history to begin a season with four wins. It's the best start since the Celtics went 6-0 during the 1987-88 season, when Bird, McHale, and Parish were the star trio.
The Celtics are the NBA's only undefeated team. In case you're wondering, Boston's franchise-best start is 14-0 in 1957-58.
"So far, so good," said coach Doc Rivers. "Obviously, 4-0 is not what we are playing for right now. We're just trying to just keep getting better and better. The historical part, when you're a coach or player in Boston, every day there's something with history."
Forward Kevin Garnett nearly posted his second 20-20 of the season with a game-high 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 6 assists. Forward Paul Pierce scored 23 points, while reserve guard Eddie House added 19, including four 3-pointers. Boston shot 61.2 percent, scored 48 points in the paint, and held Atlanta to 42.9 percent shooting.
That being said, why did Rivers say the Celtics can play better? Why did Pierce and Garnett wince and laugh at themselves when they looked at the box score?
Well, despite their perfect record, the Celtics were far from perfect in this one. Boston committed 18 turnovers, off which the Hawks scored 21 points. Atlanta also had 19 fast-break points. Even so, the Hawks got no closer than 13 in the fourth quarter.
"It was just one of those games," Pierce said. "It wasn't pretty. We had to grind it out. Atlanta, they are a tough team. How they played their four games [entering last night] and who they played against, we knew it wasn't going to be easy. It's one of those games where it was going to take us four quarters just to stick with it, and we pulled away at the end."
There is an old English proverb that goes: "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know." The devil Pierce said the Celtics didn't know was the Hawks.
The Celtics' first three games were against playoff teams from a season ago: Washington, Toronto, and Denver. The struggling Hawks, however, presented an unknown challenge for Boston.
The Hawks have not been to the playoffs since 1999, and the high-flying, winning days of Dominique Wilkins are long gone. Even though ex-Celtic Joe Johnson (16 points) is a marquee player, his quiet nature and his team's lack of success have kept him from the spotlight. The Hawks are not scheduled to be on TNT or ESPN this season. And Atlanta, which was coming off a win over Western power Phoenix, started two rookies, Al Horford (16 points) and Acie Law (7 points).
Pierce said before the game he expected the Celtics to have a "really ready mentality," but still had some concerns about Atlanta.
"The scariest thing about this team or any team is a team with no identity," Pierce said. "You really don't know what to expect. We play Jersey [tonight]. We expect [Jason] Kidd, RJ [Richard Jefferson], and Vince [Carter], those guys, to get the ball and try to have big games. You know what they are going to do.
"You got a team like the Atlanta Hawks . . . they don't have an identity right now. Those are the teams that can sneak up on you."
The teams exchanged leads part of the second quarter, but Boston used a 23-10 run to take a 55-41 halftime lead.
"It was the first game where I thought our team had an anxiety," Rivers said. "So it's not a bad thing to have it and handle it and win the game. I don't know what we were up at halftime, but it felt like 1 with the tension in the locker room.
"They want to do so well. I told them the one thing that we can never do is complaining, complaining to refs, don't get into it with the other team. We just have to keep our focus. I thought we did that in the second half."
Atlanta gave a strong effort in the final two quarters, but after the Celtics outscored the Hawks, 51-42, they took a deep breath, realizing it might not have been as tough as they made it out to be.
"We know we're not flawless," Garnett said. "We have a lot of flaws, as you can see. But we are a group that works hard. We are going to continue to do that."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.