BOSTON – Everything started with the craggy voice of Red Auerbach on the video screen above the floor, that cocksure sermon straight out of Boston Celtics heaven. Down below, they peeled back a covering and the parquet had been named for the patriarch.
Kevin Garnett let the rumble roll down out of the rafters, out of a yesterday that had been awaiting his arrival. His eyes took it all in, and his heart, broken over basketball for so long, was beating through his jersey.
The Red Sox had paraded the World Series trophy around the floor, and the Patriots were filing into courtside seats. Finally, Garnett was the show here. Finally, his time. This was the beginning of everything. Garnett stepped out of Minnesota, where he was the franchise’s history, and into the middle of the most blessed time that’s ever washed over a sports town.
Old times in the Olde Towne.
“This place was rockin',” Garnett said Friday night, sitting in the interview room next to Paul Pierce. Together, they were brilliant. The Big Three lived again in the Garden, destroying the Wizards, 103-83.
Now, Garnett sounded impressed with Pierce’s pre-game prophecy.
“You said it,” KG insisted with a knowing nod to Pierce.
“You said it.”
Yes, Pierce told Garnett that opening night here would be something extraordinary, because Pierce understood the ache of the old Celtics fans. He understood the embarrassment, the humiliation that comes with forever failing under those 16 dusty banners. It is never easy to struggle in this league, but no where do the ghosts haunt a franchise the way they do in Boston.
Between Pierce and these faithful, no one knew there be would a night like this again for the Celtics, a season starting with so much possibility, so much promise. And then, out of nowhere, Garnett and Ray Allen walked in that door, and, yes, Pierce’s voice came close to cracking at mid-court as he clutched a microphone and greeted the sellout before the tip.
“The only thing I wish is that Red would’ve been here tonight to see us try and turn this thing around,” Pierce said later.
Red was gone, but Cooz, and Cornbread and JoJo were here. The long line of Celtics felt like this was a part of them reborn, too. So, the sellout crowd stood in the Garden, and started screaming, and shrieking and Garnett couldn’t gather his breath to start the game. Truth be told, he was terrified and there was something so earnest about it.
When that first jump shot nearly crashed through the backboard, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was laughing loudly on the bench, because it told him something about how deeply his superstar cared, how important this renaissance means for him, too.
“KG’s first shot was typical of how we all felt,” Allen said. “I think he broke the ice – and the backboard."
It wouldn’t be long until you could start to see the majesty of these talents meshing together, Pierce, and Garnett and Allen, taking turns controlling the game. Pierce would go for 28 points and Garnett would deliver a Russell-esque line of 22 points, 20 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals. You could see how determined the Celtics stars were to play off the complementary talent, get the Rajon Rondos and Brian Scalabrines into the franchise’s flow.
Already, Boston is a transformed defensive team. This is a pick-and-roll league now, and Garnett jumps out and stifles those guards unlike any 7-footer in the sport. Celtics hands were everywhere, active, pesky and making a 50-win Wizards team look like they didn’t belong on the floor.
This was just one night and all, but there’s a seriousness here, a determination that’s palpable. Garnett has been waiting his whole life for this time, this chance and he’s treating it with such care.
“Man, you should see KG every day in practice,” Scalabrine said. “He is a monster. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life."
Whoever thinks that the Celtics aren’t a sure thing to compete for the Eastern Conference championship is kidding themselves. In an East full of teams fighting distractions and dysfunction, from the Wizards to the Bulls, to the Heat and the Cavaliers, the Celtics have an immediate cohesion born out of Garnett, Pierce and Allen’s stations in life.
As the Celtics' season crept toward tipoff, Allen watched the video montage of Red lighting his cigar on the bench, and Cousy dribbling out the clock and Bird stealing the ball and passing it underneath to DJ who laid it in. He watched it all, and the goose-bumps ran up and down his arms. It made him, he said, feel so insignificant. And it made Allen ask himself a question.
“What can we do to put our little dent in Boston sports history?” he wondered later.
They are a long way away, but this was a magnificent start on Friday night at the Garden. Old times in the Olde Towne. When it was over, and the Celtics locker room had emptied out, KG was walking with a towel into the training room. Tommy Heinsohn, the Celtics star and coach turned lovable television homer, walked past and said, “Hey, good one tonight Kevin.”
Now, the nerves, the butterflies, were gone. Now, it was Garnett’s turn with the Celtics, his time, and he flashed that big smile and blurted out to the team’s television analyst, “Hey, did I get any Tommy points tonight?”
And with that, Kevin Garnett let out a roar, laughing and laughing on his way into the training room, his voice still filling the room, the way his greatness had filled the Garden on Friday night. It’s been a long, long time here.
If only Red could see his Celtics now.