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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Despite snow, it's game on

The game goes on. The NBA is like the Post Office and the Iditarod. It has no fear of a little snow. There can be parking bans, whiteout conditions, orange alerts, and/or projections of Doppler doom, but the games always are played as scheduled.

And so while the rest of you were sitting by the fireplace watching local television reporters tethered to lampposts on the stormy South Shore, the Celtics and Orlando Magic were working at the New Garden. While your kids were going online to see if there'd be school today, rookie Ryan Gomes (14 points and nine rebounds for the former Friar) was making the second start of his Celtic career. There were thousands of empty seats at 6 p.m. tapoff and even more when the Celtics completed their 102-94 victory over the Not-So-Magic. Numerous luxury boxes stayed dark and more than half of the cushy $700 courtside seats were vacant. The announced attendance was 16,106, but at least half of them stayed home and ate the pricey tickets. During a timeout with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter, the Celtics made an announcement thanking the hearty folks who fought through the conditions and made it to the game.

Let's face it, it was a night for hard-core fans only -- brutal weather, bad teams, and a dinner-hour starting time on Sunday night. It was a game only Janet Jones could love. That didn't stop Mike Rotondi, who sits in the front row across from the Celtic bench for every home game.

''There was never even a question I'd be coming tonight," said Rotondi, a season ticket-holder for 24 years. ''I would have walked here. I don't miss more than one game a year. But you know there aren't many 'regulars' here anymore, not in these seats.

''In the old Garden, it didn't cost as much and the fans were rabid and came every single night. Now it's all corporations and they don't even care enough to make a phone call to give the tickets to someone else. I'm paying $700 a pop and I'm not going to miss [a game] because of a little snow."

''I knew I was going to work," said Celtic trainer Ed Lacerte, who made the commute from the Snow Belt of Westford. ''In 19 years, the only time we didn't play was when we had the condensation on the floor [1990 vs. the Hawks] and the game had to be suspended. In the NBA, we always play, no matter what."

New Celtic Wally Szczerbiak (24 points) knows snow. He grew up on Long Island and started his pro career in Minnesota. There was no question in his mind he'd be driving to the Garden yesterday afternoon.

''I've got an SUV and it was actually easier getting here today than on a normal traffic day," said the cold-weather warrior.

Referee Tom Washington didn't make it to Boston, so a two-man crew of Kevin Fehr and Robbie Robinson called the game the old-fashioned way. And any fan who got out of line risked getting bounced. You could hear everything. There'll be more people and more noise in the building when the MIAA brings the high school tourney to Causeway Street next month.

For the record, the last time the Celtics postponed a home game because of inclement weather was in February of 1978 when they succumbed to the Blizzard we like to call ''The Big One."

Ah, yes, the Blizzard of '78. Mike Dukakis in a sweater for fireside chats and Joe Morgan driving a snowplow on the streets of Walpole. There's much folklore about that one, and most of the stories are true, including the one about Ted Sarandis getting snowed in at the Garden during the Beanpot and wearing concessionaire's clothing while playing cards during his multi-day stay at the old barn. While Teddy and friends camped out at the Garden, the Celtics postponed games against the New Orleans Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks. It was John Havlicek's final season and Cedric Maxwell's rookie year.

''A long time ago," noted Boston coach Doc Rivers. ''Back when they had belt buckles on their shorts."

As a result of the 1978 postponements, the Celtics ended up playing four home games in four days at the end of the season. That's why the league so rarely closes shop: It creates havoc with the schedule.

''It's good we got this one in," said Szczerbiak. ''When you re-schedule, it's a real pain. We're all glad we played this game and I thought the crowd was actually pretty good. I expected we'd only get two or three thousand people."

NBA-lifer Rivers noted, ''It's actually harder on the home team than it is on the road team on days like this."

He's right. Per NBA regulations, the Magic were in town the day before the storm. They played at home Friday night, flew to Boston Saturday afternoon, and were sleeping in their Hub hotel when the snow started. All they had to do yesterday was walk out of their hotel, get on a bus, and ride to the Garden. It was different for the Celtics, especially some of the young ones from southern climates who live near the team's practice facility in Waltham.

The Magic were on their way to the airport after last night's loss, hoping to get out of snowy Boston.

Destination: Miami.

Makes you feel warm all over, doesn't it?

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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