Welcome back to professional basketball in the Garden folks. Your patience is about to be rewarded.
After years of suffering, the master alchemist Danny Ainge has taken the detritus of last season and transmuted it into a roster of gold and silver. Now the only question is whether the next chain reaction, the interaction of these precious metals, will fashion themselves into a championship ring. Hopes are high with Boston’s new Trinity boasting 22 All-Star games under their collective belts (10 for KG, 7 for Allen and 5 for Pierce) with all three hungry for the hardware.
The first quarter of the first home preseason game of the Gabe Pruitt era (okay, maybe he’ll have some help) did nothing to dim the hopes of Celtics fans. Immediately after Rajon Rondo welcomed the crowd home to the Garden, signs of the reclamation began. Paul Pierce drives to the basket and finds an open Perkins for a dunk. Kevin Garnett gets the ball in the post, but instead of forcing one up, sends a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Rondo for a lay-up. Following a missed free throw by Eddy Curry (who’s looking like he has Oliver Miller’s dietician), the Celtics get out quick and Pierce beats everyone up the floor for a lay-up. Ray Allen dribbles under the hoop, and hits Pierce behind the three-point line. Pierce immediately rotates it to Kevin Garnett at the top of the key who hits the jumper. If this were last season, there is no way Pierce passes up that shot.
The Celtics hit 11 of their first 12 shots and jump out to an early double digit lead. Eddie House enters the game after Rondo gets his second foul about four minutes in, and drains a couple, including a three. Leon Powe throws himself around immediately upon his own entrance. Powe is going to play this year, and play a lot.
The Knicks? Boy do they love to dribble, go one-on-one, and shoot. Ball movement and defense, however: not so much. The first quarter ends with the Celtics leading 30-18 with 72% shooting (yes, you read that right, 72%). The Knicks did get out of the first quarter without committing a felony, which by their standards is an unmitigated success.
The start of the second quarter clearly lays out the challenge that the Celtics will face this year. One of the Garnett, Pierce, or Ray Allen trio needs to be on the court at all times. The quintet of House, Pruitt, Scalabrine, Powe, and Posey appeared to be running the offense looking for one of the three stars. Fortunately, the Knicks were hardly on fire, so even the rag-tag second team managed to hold their own until the starters were rested enough to rotate back in.
The revelation of the second quarter, however, was the play of Brian Scalabrine. More alchemy here? Scalabrine played much of the second quarter and seemed to be in the middle of every play. In ten minutes, he pulled down two rebounds, had an assist, a block, and nailed a three-pointer. He played solid defense and at one point slid across the floor to rescue a loose ball fumbled by Rondo. When was the last time Scal did such a good impersonation of an actual player? Likely, not since Jason Kidd was directing his movements.
Once the starters were back on the floor the pace picked up somewhat. Not only are KG, Allen and Pierce dismissing any doubts about their willingness to play together, but Rondo does not look out of place at all as he amassed three rebounds, two assists and two steals by halftime, and was moving the ball solidly up the court.
Perk, true to form, was already in foul trouble by the half. The Celtics end the half solidly in the lead 50-35, with a toasty 61% shooting. The first unit picked up in the second half right where they left off in the first: real teamwork, ball movement, and solid defense. Garnett beat everyone up for a dunk on a pass from Allen.
Garnett gets his hand on nearly every rebound and takes every opportunity to show that he is a great passer. Not just good - a great passer. Cut to the hoop and he’ll find you; throw it to him in the high post and he’ll use a touch pass to redirect it to an open wing; be ready and there’s the outlet pass.
A few minutes in, Pierce finds Perkins underneath for a dunk (Perk may lead the league in shooting percentage this year, as the wide open dunk will become his patented move). Mostly Pierce continued to light it up with ease adding 8 points bringing his game total to 22.
With about 3 minutes left in the quarter, the starters bid adieu and Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Pruitt, House, and Dahntay Jones join Scal on the floor. Officially the third quarter ends with a 31-point lead, 77-46, with Big Baby’s left hand lay-up the final blow of the quarter. The Knicks shoot 16% in the quarter, but no lawsuits, so again a win for them. Marbury may be thinking about his European exit strategy more seriously after this one.
The final quarter begins with the third unit on the floor and a solid lead, thus allowing time for some evaluation of the supporting cast. The draft picks look solid. Pruitt looks like he may further contribute to Ainge’s reputation as a drafting guru, handling and penetrating respectably and showing a very nice, soft stroke. Pruitt will end the game with 13 points and 4 assists in only 17 minutes of play.
Big Baby is a tad beefy and was winded way too early in the quarter, but showed some fancy moves including a spinning lay-up through traffic in the lane and a back door cut to Jackie Manuel, who may have made his first and last appearance at the Garden. Wallace’s play was fairly non-descript, and his future is still in limbo.
KG spent the quarter on the sidelines apparently attempting to control the ball with his mind. His intensity and support for these young players, half of whom won’t be around long enough to wash their jerseys, is one of the great images of the evening.
Powe is back in for the end of the quarter and ends the game by draining a16-footer, then stealing the ball, streaking down the court and drawing an intentional foul. His one converted free throw gives us a final score of 101-61 – the largest preseason Celtics win margin since 1988.
Perhaps the most important statistic of the evening, however, may be the 27 Celtics assists. The Celtics don’t just have three stars, they have three stars who know how to share the ball and the spotlight.
All gold tonight.