INDIANAPOLIS - Twenty years ago, Larry Bird was the star on a Celtics team that started the season 6-0. Last night, Bird was in the stands to see the next Celtics squad to start 6-0.
Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish were the star trio back in 1987. Now led by a star trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, the NBA's only unbeaten squad defeated the Pacers, 101-86, at
"Obviously, their chemistry is very good," said Bird, now the Pacers' president of basketball operations. "You don't come out and win five or six in a row if your chemistry is not good. It's good to see, because I always thought that chemistry is a major part of winning basketball games.
"I know that they have chemistry because I read a lot about them. A lot of teams should take notice. Ball movement, playing together, and having great chemistry will get you a long way in this league."
Last season, Bird and ex-teammates Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale (Minnesota) were all stuck in rebuilding modes as team executives. But after Ainge acquired Allen in a trade from Seattle and Garnett in a blockbuster trade with the Timberwolves, the Celtics went from doormat to contender.
"I'm very happy for Danny," Bird said. "He went through a rough period like me and Kevin's been going through. If you're going to pat somebody on the back, pat McHale on the back."
The Celtics will put their undefeated record to the test again tonight against New Jersey at TD Banknorth Garden. The franchise-best start is 14-0 in 1957-58.
"It doesn't really mean anything to not have lost a game," said Allen, who scored all 17 of his points in the second half. "Every night for us, you got to prepare. You got to work to try to get better.
"We play tonight and Jersey's sitting at home [in Boston] trying to dismantle our offense and defense and see how to beat us. It only gets tougher."
Garnett, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds, said, "You guys are looking at me like it's supposed to happen. But look at me, I'm sweaty. There are 12 or 13 other guys in there also sweating. We are busting our butt every night. Every night we are working hard, and we have to continue to work and take care of our business."
Celtics swingman James Posey and forward Brian Scalabrine overcame injuries to get back on the court. After missing two games with back spasms, Posey had 6 points, 3 rebounds, took a charge, and nabbed a key late steal. Scalabrine scored 9 points - nailing two 3-pointers - and took a charge in 12 minutes after missing the previous game with a concussion.
"Court awareness wasn't there," Posey said. "A little slow for the most part getting spots and taking my charges. But I felt good out there."
Said Scalabrine, "I didn't even think about [the concussion] at all."
With 3:06 left in the half, Pierce got upset when he was slapped hard on the top of his head by Indiana's Jamal Tinsley. After Pierce made the first of two free throws to give the Celtics a 40-38 lead, he did two pushups on the hardwood and said, "That don't faze me. That don't faze me."
Pierce said Garnett told him the pushups weren't necessary, but he did it because he was "a little frustrated."
"I thought I got a flagrant [foul]," Pierce said. "I got hit on the back of the head. I just used that aggression for my team. That's all it was. I was a little fired up. I didn't want to cause any fights that can hurt my team, just use it in a positive manner."
Said coach Doc Rivers, "He was doing everything he could to control his emotions. If doing pushups is what it's going to take, then that's OK."
Pierce got hotter by throwing down a highlight-reel dunk on three Pacers with 2:43 left to give Boston a 42-39 lead. He scored 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting and made all seven free throw attempts while playing the entire second quarter to push the Celtics to a 52-43 halftime lead.
"We kind of let Paul Pierce get away from us," said Indiana's Danny Granger, who had 24 points and 7 rebounds.
The closest the Pacers got was 9 points three times in the fourth quarter.
Surely, Bird doesn't like to see the Pacers lose. But considering his Celtic pride, maybe this one didn't hurt so badly.
"Our fans went through a tough time there for a long period," Bird said. "Boston is one of the greatest if not the greatest sports town in America. So I'm happy for them."