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Jackie MacMullan

Another big step forward

Email|Print| Text size + By Jackie MacMullan
Globe Columnist / November 8, 2007

You think there was buzz surrounding the Celtics before? Clamp on your earmuffs.

The noise this team has made in the infancy of the NBA season was elevated to ear-splitting decibels last night during a raucous Garden gathering in which the Denver Nuggets graciously played the role of party piñata.

In what was billed as a classic East meets West shooters' showdown, there were five All-Stars on the court at tipoff - Boston's Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, and Denver's Allen Iverson, and Carmelo Anthony, and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, the Nuggets' Marcus Camby.

The difference between the trios became obvious in a matter of minutes. While Denver's studs floundered about, squawking and groaning and missing jumpers and trying to conjure some (any?) chemistry, Boston's Ballyhooed Three systematically went about the business of shredding any chance the Nuggets had to win this game.

The Celtics' trio was the model of cohesion, while Denver's so-called Big Three was the model of confusion.

It doesn't help that coach George Karl is without any of the three point guards he had in mind (they're all injured) to share ballhandling duties with Iverson.

But that does not really help explain why the Nuggets served up such a listless defensive performance. Denver was on the second night of back-to-back outings, but teams with championship aspirations would never lean on that as an excuse. The coach certainly didn't.

"The fundamental nature of playing hard went out the window the last couple of nights," said a grim-faced Karl.

Of course, the Nuggets' opponent had a little something to do with this stunning 119-93 result.

It has been a long, long, long, long (that's right, four of 'em) time since a Celtics team made the game look so incredibly easy. That sort of thing happens when you rack up 77 points in a half. It had to do with ball movement (a 19-8 advantage in assists at intermission and a 32-23 edge at game's end), spectacular shooting (how does 72.1 percent at halftime sound?), and an absolute pounding off the glass (a 38-27 advantage). It had to do with keeping teammates involved.

It also had to do with the Celtics making the commitment on the defensive end. None of the local veterans needs anyone to explain their legacies are on the line this season. Neither Pierce, Garnett, nor Allen was in the playoffs last year, and the three made a pact to dramatically change that. In other words, qualifying for the postseason won't be enough.

This club wants more, and it is playing like it. The Celtics have already caught the attention of the rest of the country, and last night's thumping will only heighten their resurgence.

"I'm going to say this each and every day," said Pierce, who had a game-high 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting. "We're trying to build something. It's only the third game. It's gonna be every day, and we can't get bored with it."

Bored? Who could possible doze off when the Celtics are playing like this? Their concentration level may have wavered slightly in the second half, but that's understandable when the game is already over. As it was, Garnett had already submitted another double-double (23 points, 13 rebounds) and Allen another night of superior shooting (8 of 12, 22 points).

"They have three guys who can score 40, not 30, on you, and they've improved defensively," Karl said.

And he said that before the game. Yet what continues to set Boston apart in the early going is its team chemistry.

The proof was on the floor last night.

See Kendrick Perkins swat away Kenyon Martin's jumper. See Allen take off with the ball. See him throw a no-look bullet to Garnett under the basket for a fast-break slam.

See them double Garnett (can you blame them?). See him wait for the second player, then throw a pinpoint pass to Pierce underneath for a wide-open layup.

See KG find Pierce, who feigns a shot, then fires a no-look pass of his own to Perkins underneath for a slam.

Sound simple? It sure looked it. The Celtics moved the ball so well (they had 12 assists in the first quarter), they had already pummeled Denver into submission after 15 minutes. When the teams retreated to their benches for a TV timeout with 8:34 to go until halftime, Boston was cruising, 49-25, and shooting 73.3 percent (22 for 30) from the floor.

"The extra pass is the difference," said Perkins. "You kind of expect that with a veteran team. Last year we had guys with different agendas. This year we're all focused on the same thing."

The only category in which the Nuggets could claim an advantage was technicals: They had two, the Celtics none.

After Eduardo Najera was whistled for a T for arguing a foul he didn't agree with, Iverson began jawing at official Scott Wall. "Hey, man," AI snapped, "we're down 25. Enough!"

Nope. There was more.

Much more.

While Denver's headliners slogged their way through a dismal night in which they refused to pass to one another and were outhustled in just about every category, Boston's stars shared the wealth, kept pounding away at that piñata, and presented their heavy-hearted coach, Doc Rivers, with a welcome diversion from the impending funeral of his father, Grady Rivers, who died Sunday morning.

Iverson acknowledged his team didn't play well, but added somewhat defiantly, "They're a good team, but I don't think they're 30 points better than us."

Need we review the benefits of trading for Iverson vs. the present cast in Celtics green? Be glad the Sixers didn't want to trade within the division. AI would have been your point guard, and Garnett and Allen would be serving as prime examples of veteran leadership in different cities.

In the final quarter, the only semblance of drama was whether Boston would establish an NBA record for field goal percentage in a game. The record of 70.7 percent was set by San Antonio against Dallas 24 years ago.

The Celtics began the fourth quarter with 103 points and a 71.2 shooting percentage (42 for 59). Rivers went with his regulars until 9:11 remained. At that point, he enabled Glen "Big Baby" Davis to enter the game, pulling both Allen and Garnett off the floor to join Pierce on the bench. Predictably, the shooting numbers "plummeted" to 64.5 percent.

Nobody noticed.

The party was over, the piñata was in tatters, and the Boston Celtics were one win closer to reestablishing themselves as the most electric team in the NBA.

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

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