On Pro Basketball
BOSTON — It was just over three hours before to tip-off, and parquet floor at the TD Banknorth Garden sat nearly empty, with many of the overhead lights still dark.
But there was veteran Celtics guard Ray Allen, the No. 2 3-point shooter in NBA history, standing alone on the dim court, other than a few kids. He fired up jump shot after jump shot from all over the floor, often sprinting to grab his own rebounds and dripping with sweat.
It was an image worthy of the stories told of the legendary Celtics teams that fans of the glory days have been telling the younger generation for years and years.
Hours after his warmup, Allen and crew started what could be a new Golden era.
The top-seeded Celtics kicked off the 2008 NBA playoffs in grand fashion, walloping the No. 8 Atlanta Hawks 104-81 last night.
It didn't matter it was the 1-8 matchup. The Celtics entered the game with fire in their eyes, and kept that killer instinct until the game was well out of reach.
"Running through the tunnel (before the game), I had so much emotion that I had to slow down," said Kevin Garnett. "You could hear the crowd, you hear the building rocking and the bleachers shaking.
"I'm the last one out so nobody is talking to me. I had to take a minute for myself and thank the Lord I am back in this position. I'm not going to hold back. I'm going to enjoy this ride for as long as it lasts."
It was Kendrick Perkins that set the emotional tone early in the first half. After Paul Pierce hit a pair of 3-pointers, Perkins grabbed a rebound and was fouled going up for a dunk. He then took two steps towards the stands, flexed, and let out a loud scream to the elation of the crowd.
The intensity was there. The Celtics wanted it bad, and it never felt in doubt. Even when the Hawks cut the lead to two during the second period, the Celtics were not going to let it go.
"Our intensity was at a very high level," said Pierce. "We can feel the energy in the building. In the first half we were brushing off the cobwebs, but we are here and we are ready to go."
Any prayer Atlanta had was dashed by Allen with 7:47 left in the third. He took an outlet pass, stopped and drained a 3-pointer in front of three defenders as if he were still on the empty court.
Allen was a man on a mission. He scored a team-high 18 points, and did not need to step on the court for most of the fourth quarter.
"The ball floated my way," said Allen. "We found a play that worked and we exploited it. But I made sure I found another man if he was open and the ball wasn't sticking to my hands. That made the offense run a lot easier."
Rajon Rondo hardly looking like a second-year player. He could be seen hollering at teammates, and even physically moved Pierce into position before one inbounds pass. The youngster finished the game just short of a double-double, tallying 15 points and nine assists.
"He was very poised and has become much more of a leader and a general," said Garnett. "Before the series we put him off to the side and had a talk with him about what's at stake. He's been playing tremendous. He took his shots and had a lot of confidence."
Pierce and Garnett each scored 16 points while Leon Powe and Sam Cassell each had 10.
"In the playoffs the guys realize there is just more at stake," said Pierce. "Not that we don't realize that in the regular season. But our intensity goes up. There are a lot of things to think about when you get in the playoffs. The regular season has ups and downs. You cannot have downs during the playoffs."
Game 1 was anything but a down. The Celtics clicked on all cylinders and could let the starters rest in the fourth.
They won't all be this easy, you can be sure of that. But if this is any indicator, this season could be something of legends, too.