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And Now… The Season Starts

11.10.08 at 9:23 pm ET

There was a moment midway through the third quarter that looked the period and exclamation point on a Celtics loss. Chris Bosh got himself free behind the Celtics defense and sailed in for an easy alley-oop dunk off an uncontested feed from Jose Calderon. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to the Celtics very much. The Grizzlies, maybe, but not the baddest defensive team on the planet.

Kevin Garnett, the closest defender on the play, raised his hand as if to say, “My fault.” He left it up there a tick or two longer than was necessary, a strange sort of self-flagellation as if he wanted to be sure everyone in the arena knew it too. It was 59-46 and there wasn’t a soul in the Garden who thought, “OK, now they start the comeback.” But, that’s exactly where it started.

Garnett hit a 5-foot jump shot, and then Paul Pierce knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the lead to eight and suddenly the Garden was alive. The Celtics have played eight games on this young season, and through the first seven they have hit on an admirable grind-it-out formula that has proven successful, if not entirely aesthetically pleasing.

But then the comeback started and for the first time this season, the Celtics of last season were back.

They were tired, sure. The second game of a back-to-back, and the fifth game in the last seven days will do that to a team.

“That’s the league,” Garnett said. “They played last night. We played last night. I’m sure they have a hectic schedule. I’m sure every team can look at their schedule and make excuses. We aren’t going to do that.”

Now is the time in the story when the writer says, “But that’s not what champions do,” or something to that effect. The reality isn’t quite that superficial, but something clicked in that moment when Bosh so effortlessly flew to the basket. Garnett became possessed, as only Garnett can be. He started hounding Calderon full-court, his trash-talk working as fast as his legs. He gave way to Rajon Rondo, and on the first chance, Garnett aggressively switched back, taking Calderon on the perimeter.

The momentum had shifted. Permanently.

“I love when Superman goes into the booth and transforms. I love it. I got the best seat in the house. I got to hear what’s going on in the huddle, and I got to see it, oh man.”

That was Garnett talking about Paul Pierce who Dominated in the fourth quarter with a capital D, but it could have just as easily been Pierce talking about KG. Take nothing away from Truth, as the players call him, but the emotional swing was all Garnett.

Kendrick Perkins, who had been spun around by a strangely resurgent Jermaine O’Neal in the first half, blocked a crucial shot down the stretch. Rondo, who had been tentative for most of the game got an important rebound and kept his balance along the baseline saving a crucial possession. Ray Allen hit a huge 3-pointer on a designed play coming out of a timeout to tie the game.

And then there was Pierce. When he gets rolling like he does in the fourth quarter he is a veritable offensive clinic. Step-back jumpers, drives to the basket, fadeaways from the elbow, 3-pointers. How many other players in the NBA can do what he did? Three? Maybe four?

Pierce revealed after the game that he has been playing with a sprained right hand, which might account for his lackluster shooting so far this season, but that couldn’t stop him any more than poor Jason Kapono who had no chance against that kind of tidal wave. It felt like a playoff game, but more importantly, it felt for the first time this season like the Celtics we came to know last spring.

Never let it be said that the press can’t be the biggest killjoys in the room, either. The post-mortem questions were all about whether they had expended too much energy in making the comeback, whether the starters had played too many minutes.

We focus so much on the big picture that sometimes we can’t see the moment for what it is. Maybe it was just another game in the 82-game-long death march. Maybe it was just worth one game in the standings. Maybe.

There will be another game Wednesday when the unbeaten Hawks come to town, and another one Friday and another one Saturday. They will all blend into one after a while, but let it be remembered: Last night the Celtics were back.

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