By Rich Levine
BOSTON -- Back in 2007, the Celtics didn't face a legitimate NBA contender until the ninth game of the season, when they went down to Orlando and lost 104-102 in overtime.
In the eight games prior, the C's went undefeated, but during that stretch needed overtime to beat the eventual 41-41 Raptors, and also narrowly edged the Heat who would finish with the worst record in the NBA (15-67) by one point at the Garden.
This after a preseason where the C's shared a life-changing trip through Italy, were unscathed in the injury department, and had already found and entirely embraced the magic of Ubuntu.
After the loss to Orlando, the C's earned an inspired win a week later against the Lakers, but then lost their first game against the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers, and then lost their first game against the powerhouse Pistons.
I think you get my point. But just in case, here it is.
From the Celtics perspective, Miami's struggles, in the first game of its own Big Three era, will have very little effect on the course of this NBA season. The Heat weren't a team on Tuesday night; they were just 15 guys wearing the same uniform. They were awkward, disjointed and all together out of whack. The fact that, despite all this, the C's still found themselves in a one-possession game with a minute left to play might be a little disconcerting, but, hey, it was their first game, too. And anyway, they came through at the end as we learned in June, that's really, and sometimes unfortunately, all that matters.
But the point is that the squad Boston saw on Tuesday is not the same one it will see a few Thursdays from now in Miami or on February 13 back in Boston or, very likely, in the playoffs this May. So while there's every reason to celebrate the C's memorable, if not entirely aesthetically pleasing, start to the new season, let's celebrate it for the right reasons.
Not because it means that LeBron and Wade won't click, or that Bosh is a bust or the Heat bench can't hack it or that Pat Riley should "Stan Van Gundy" Erik Spoelstra. Is there a chance all that comes to fruition? Sure. But it's just as likely that 'Bron and Wade learn to compliment each other, Bosh embraces his role, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers stabilize the Heat bench and Spoelstra becomes the next Pat Riley. We have no clue.
So, let's just take the opponent out entirely I know that's hard, and not nearly as fun and focus on all the positives that are there, and will remain, regardless of which team is on the other side.
Positives like Kevin Garnett, who didn't finish with the prettiest of box scores 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting, 10 rebounds and 7 turnovers but showed flashes of energy and athleticism that can't help but get us excited for what he's now capable of, a full 17 months removed from surgery. As crazy as it sounds, for me the most inspiring play of KG's night actually came on a missed dunk. It was at the 3:50 mark in the second quarter, when Paul Pierce missed from three-point range, the ball clanked off the rim and Garnett exploded the kind of explosion we hadn't seen since before his injury grabbed the rock in one motion, at the height of his leap, and attempted to ferociously send it home. Again, he missed the dunk. But the move was a thing of beauty.
Positives like Glen Davis, who it seems, will be a staple of Boston's crunch-time unit. Last night, Big Baby found the perfect mix of aggression on the offensive end taking it to the hoop, taking that open jumper, establishing himself as a threat while still keeping within the framework. He played 29 minutes (more than he played in any game last season), had 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, five rebounds, no turnovers and still takes a charge better than anyone else on the team.
It's always dangerous to get too high on Davis. His history of questionable off-the-court instincts and unstable emotions will always linger. But with this being a contract year, and with him being year older and wiser, he's apt to develop into the most consistent weapon on an already impressive bench.
Same goes for Marquis Daniels, who showed us last year how quickly things can go south but seems to have embraced his second chance with the C's. So far this season, it's been the New Adventures of the Old Marquis. He's been everything Boston thought it was getting when it signed him in the summer of '09. The eight points were nice, and they came in the manner you expect from "The Old" Marquis. The C's didn't run any plays for him, or even have to worry about getting him involved; he does that by being his tenacious self. The big takeaway with Daniels was his defense; the way he stepped up and checked Wade when the starters were on the bench. If the Celtics are going to miss Tony Allen this season, that's where it will be in helping out on the other team's top shooting guard or small forward but for one night, that wasn't an issue. That's thanks to Daniels.
Ray Allen's long-range shooting and Paul Pierce stepping up in the clutch were two other bright if not entirely surprising spots, but the night's biggest positive has to be Rajon Rondo.
Could any other guard in this league have a 2-for-9 shooting night yet still dominate a game the way Rondo did? Could any other point guard drop 17 assists without anyone noticing? Could any other player go an entire night with the defense playing five feet off of him yet still get to the basket when he needed to?
Listening to Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal talk about Rondo after the game, it was like they just went through a religious experience. And you get the sense that might be a common theme as the year goes on. Rondo's the fastest guy on the court, but he still sees the game in slow motion. He sees things other guys don't. And that vision is only expanding each night. It's going to be fun.
And honestly, so was watching the Celtics bring the new Big Three back down to Earth; a lot of fun. But in looking at the big picture, I'll get a lot more satisfaction in what the Celtics did, as opposed to what the Heat didn't.