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Jackie MacMullan

They conduct a symphony of success

The Garden was cluttered with champions, both old-time ones and the newly minted kind. Bob Cousy, Satch Sanders, Tim Wakefield, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarvis Green, and Laurence Maroney (no, wait - he hasn't won anything just yet) piled into the House That KG Filled to see the unveiling of the new Boston Celtics.

They were, like all of us, brimming with anticipation, wondering how a trio of superstars and bit players would mesh. We have been serenaded by the melodious sound of Allen and Pierce and Garnett since summer, when a blockbuster deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves reversed the fortunes of this franchise overnight. But that music only sounded beautiful in theory.

It was time to see if they could strike the right chords when it actually mattered.

So how about humming this tune? Boston 103, Washington 83. If you are wondering whether the game was truly that lopsided, the answer is a resounding yes. This game (unlike many others in the NBA when one team forges ahead early) was over at halftime, with the Celtics on top, 58-36.

"They're good, man," said Caron Butler, shaking his head in the Wizards' locker room. "I hate to throw too many compliments their way, but they gave us a beating on national television tonight."

Boston's rejuvenated roster pummeled Washington with myriad weapons and methods. There was Kevin Garnett, the man who would be king, who, quite truthfully, can play much better but shook off his new team jitters and still submitted 22 points and 20 rebounds in his Celtics debut.

That's right. Twenty rebounds.

Newly acquired Ray Allen (17 points), looking trim and agile, deftly demonstrated his double heel surgery was neither a lingering hindrance nor a future cause for concern. Young Rajon Rondo proved, at least on this night, that he is up to the task of running a team that includes future Hall of Famers, and will make opponents pay for doubling down on his more glamorous counterparts. Even so, as Boston's sports brethren poured out of the building guffawing at the foolishness of Gilbert's Guarantee, they were singing an old, familiar tune: the praises of resident star Paul Pierce.

While Pierce's new running mates were making acquaintances with the parquet, the lucky leprechaun, and their fellow Boston sports stars, Pierce was doing what he always does: leading this team on the floor. In fact, this game broke open in the second quarter with Garnett and Allen on the bench, and Pierce navigating the second team.

Pierce checked out with a game-high 28 points - 19 in the first half - and admitted he cannot believe any of this is actually happening.

"I'm at a point in my career," he said, "where I couldn't ask for anything better."

On the very first possession of this basketball season in Boston, Pierce overplayed Butler, deflected the pass, then clapped with glee as the ball glanced off the forward's fingers and sailed out of bounds.

Celtics' ball.

The next time down the floor, Garnett launched the first official shot of the new Celtics era - a skewed jumper that banged so hard off the glass, you half expected his teammates to cover their heads in case it shattered. It's comforting to know, actually, that a superstar of KG's magnitude is still susceptible to Opening Night nerves. There's a childlike enthusiasm about this player that is endearing, and it's never a bad thing to care so much that you try too hard at first. So last night Garnett was pressing a bit at first. So what? His teammates - specifically Pierce - had his back.

"I think that's just who he is," said coach Doc Rivers. "I'm still getting to know Kevin myself. He's got so much energy. Maybe it's better not to run things too early for him. We were trying to set some picks for him, but he was running too fast for the guys to catch up with him."

KG is an astute young man who, try as he may, has been unable to deflect the avalanche of attention that has swallowed him since he arrived in town. As much as we all wanted a peek at the most encouraging version of this storied franchise in almost two decades, the headliner was indisputably Garnett, a former NBA MVP who wants desperately to revalidate his career by taking a team deep into the playoffs.

He's not alone. Pierce endured the longest season of his career in 2006-07, watching with despair as his team slipped to the bottom of the Atlantic Division and became a laughingstock in the league. He grew tired of hearing he was too selfish. He grew weary of hearing he was a defensive liability. He grew tired of insinuations that he was not a winner. Asked about the multisport champions who came to watch the Celtics, Pierce answered, "I'm a fan of the Red Sox. I'm also a fan of the Patriots. But we got our own mark to make."

There are many common threads among Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, but none stronger than the fact that none of them participated in the playoffs last season.

You've got to like their chances this time around. Last night the Celtics displayed the ability, in spurts, to run and score in transition. They showed flashes of defensive intensity that simply did not exist last season. And they now have offensive options - lots and lots of offensive options. For those of you charting the distribution of shots, be advised Pierce took 19, Garnett 17, and Allen 10. The trio shot 52 percent from the floor (24 for 46).

Pierce can no longer be double- and triple-teamed. Garnett, aside from his tenacious defense and his willingness to go inside or outside, is a very underrated passer. He, too, will make teams pay if they choose to double him. Allen made his living as a perimeter sniper.

The triangle of stars who inhabit the parquet these days remains a work in progress. Garnett was so nervous last night he dropped a beautiful dish from a penetrating Rondo out of bounds. In the second half, when he relaxed, KG dropped a number of athletic maneuvers on the heads of a Washington team that fell far short of its superstar's bold proclamation that the Celtics were going down in this game. Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas guaranteed it, in fact.

Perhaps he hadn't received an updated copy of Boston's roster. This is not last year's luckless group of overwhelmed youngsters who quite simply had no idea how to win.

Last night's old-fashioned smackdown used to be a common occurrence in these parts. So did big numbers from a three-pronged veteran Celtics attack.

That's what champions like Cousy and Satch and Wakefield and Ellsbury and Green came to see.

They weren't disappointed.

Nobody was.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at macmullan@globe.com.

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