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Bob Ryan

Celtics join the in crowd

Email|Print| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / November 9, 2007

I'm not concerned right now about what's going to happen in May and June. I just want to thank Danny Ainge for giving us back our winter. Danny Ainge has rescued us from being strictly a two-sport town.

For many years now - for the entire 21st century, actually - it's been Red Sox and Patriots, Patriots and Red Sox, Red Sox and Patriots, and, of course, Patriots and Red Sox. When, I'm sorry, if (don't want to rile up those Colts, you know) the Patriots win the Super Bowl Feb. 3, there will be about a two-week window before pitchers and catchers report and the Red Sox officially begin defense of their championship. In this century, it hasn't mattered much, frankly, that the Celtics have usually been unwatchable. We got along very well without them.

That has changed. The Celtics are demanding our attention.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's only three games. But what three games! First, there was that rousing opener against Washington. Then they hung tough to pull out an OT road win against the defending Atlantic Division champion Raptors. And Wednesday night we bore witness to an utter destruction of what will surely prove to be a good NBA team. It was a show the likes of which we haven't seen around here since You Know Who, You Know Who, You Know Who, and all the auxiliary You Know Whos were brightening up our winters back in the '80s.

After watching the Celtics blast their way to a 77-38 halftime lead over the Nuggets, I happened to run into a pair of certified Celtic Legends in the press room. You might be interested in what they had to say.

"I haven't seen anything like this around here for 20 years," said Bob Cousy. "That kind of poise and confidence on offense . . . they make as many passes as necessary."

"They're playing like the teams I played on," declared Tom Heinsohn. "They always pass to the right man. It's tough to beat a team like that."

'Tis often said that passing is contagious. Want proof? Even Kendrick Perkins had two assists, and this is a young man who's averaged fewer than an assist a game in his first three seasons combined.

The starting five played a Bird-era shell game with the basketball against the Nuggets, demonstrating great patience and understanding of the shot clock while calmly making the extra pass and then the extra-extra pass. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and Perkins affixed 24 assists to their combined 38 baskets. All those You Know Whos would have been proud.

Understand, please, that they're not always going to shoot the way they did Wednesday night. Not until the score was 105-73 did they fall under 70 percent shooting for the game. Nobody's that good.

Nuggets coach George Karl, normally a bench wanderer, never moved from his seat, not once. He saw what was going on very early, and he decided to take his beating like a man.

"They came out with spirit and energy," he said, "and they took away our spirit and energy."

That's not all he said.

First of all, he certainly noticed the passing. "You saw three great players committed to playing with each other," he noted. "Each of them had as many great passes as great shots."

But that wasn't the facet of the Celtics' game that impressed Karl the most.

"I love them defensively more than offensively," he said. " They were not a good defensive team last year. But if we had made the commitment to defense they've made, we'd be a great team, too."

Karl had one more observation.

"The heart of the team is Garnett," he said. "He's got the heart. He's got the toughness. He's got the drive. And he's got the defensive commitment. He wants this. He wants to get to the playoffs and be successful. Not being in the past few years has been killing him."

What we now have is a reason to care. Danny has restored the value of the regular season. I truly cannot identify the last time I awoke on a Celtics regular-season game day and spent all day thinking about that night's game, the way I did Wednesday. The athletic experience isn't just about the playoffs. Anything can happen in the playoffs. Somebody gets hurt, the other team gets insanely hot, and you're out in five, wondering what happened. You can't be worrying about the playoffs in November, December, January, February, and March. That's Danny's job.

"I do think about the playoffs," acknowledged Mr. Ainge. "I can't help it. We need to get better."

We needn't go there. We're free to enjoy the here and now. It's pretty evident there will be more games reminiscent of the Denver destruction. We need to sit back and enjoy the ride.

How long, really, has it been since basketball fans went to the Garden to see the Celtics? For years it's been, "When's Shaq coming? When's Kobe coming? When's LeBron coming? When's AI coming?" That was the only motivation to go. The Celtics themselves were incidental.

If Games 1 and 2 are a gauge, we may be returning to the type of entertainment we knew with the You Know Whos. Remember 1985-86, when the Celtics were 40-1 at home and won their last 17 games by an average of 15 points? That was the team that rendered meaningless the concept of the meaningless game. Every game was a keeper. Every game was a joy. It didn't matter who was coming in. A good Lakers, Sixers, or Pistons game was a bonus. We all came to see the Celtics.

It's different now, and the general manager is not exactly in denial. "It used to be I'd look at the schedule and say, 'There's 25 games we can't win,' " said Ainge. "Oh, sure, if something happened, we might. You know what I mean? But we'd be up by 15 at the half, and there was no guarantee we're going to win. Now, if we get down 15 at the half, there's no guarantee we're going to lose."

In order to have a proper fan experience, you need a regular season that keeps you fired up, that keeps you engaged. You need to worry that if you don't catch the game, you're going to miss something. I'm tellin' ya, if you missed Wednesday night's game, you missed something, all right. But don't worry. I have a feeling you might see it again.

No more two-sport town. We're up to three. Hey, Bruins, are you guys paying attention?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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