It wasn't as if Kevin Garnett hadn't played in a playoff game before. But after a four-year postseason hiatus, the first-year Celtic made a point to collect himself and appreciate the atmosphere he longed for as he ran onto the TD Banknorth Garden floor.
An emotional Garnett and the Celtics made a statement in their first playoff game last night by going up by as many as 27 points in pounding the Atlanta Hawks, 104-81, in front of a sold-out crowd.
"I ran through the tunnel and I had so much emotion I had to like slow down," said Garnett, who last played in the postseason in 2004 with Minnesota. "You hear the crowd. You hear the building rocking. The bleachers were shaking and I was the last to run out. Man, I had to take a minute for myself and thank the Lord that I was back in this position.
"I'm going to enjoy this. I'm not going to hold back. I'm going to enjoy this ride for as long as it goes. But coming through this tunnel, I was like, 'Woo, this is a rush.' For some of you guys that have fast cars, it was like sticking your head through the window doing 140 [miles per hour]."
Ray Allen scored a team-high 18 points in the Celtics' first playoff game since May 5, 2005. Garnett had a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) as four starters scored at least 15 points.
Boston, now 4-0 against the Hawks this season, will host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series Wednesday.
During the regular season, the Hawks averaged 98.2 points per game. They had a .454 shooting percentage from the field - .356 on 3-pointers. Guard Mike Bibby averaged 13.9 points and 6.0 assists in 48 games with Atlanta. All-Star guard Joe Johnson averaged 21.7 points.
Last night, however, the Hawks shot only 38.2 percent from the field (29 of 76) and missed 11 of 14 3-point attempts. Bibby (5 points, 1 assist) missed 8 of 10 shots from the field and 4 of 5 3-point attempts. Johnson missed 15 of 22 shots in finishing with 19 points.
"I thought it was great," said Allen about Boston's defense. "We just have to make sure we help each other. There were some minor breakdowns that we need to clean up. For the most part, I would give us a 'B' on defense, but we can get better."
Said Hawks coach Mike Woodson: "Four of our starters [combined] went 14 for 49. Give the Celtics credit on that. But they haven't shot that bad all season."
Every seat was more or less filled as the national anthem was sung. As the Hawks were introduced, the hometown crowd drowned it out by chanting, "Let's Go Celtics!"
The crowd roared when the Celtics were introduced and the venue had a smoky haze for a while from pregame fireworks. Red Sox players David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell in attendance, too.
"It was phenomenal," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers of the atmosphere. "It's funny. It's rare when you can hear the fans in the locker room when the teams run out. Today you actually could."
The Celtics were up, 49-40, as Paul Pierce scored 13 of his 16 points. Al Horford (20 points, 10 rebounds) had 11 points and three rebounds in the first two quarters.
"The main problem for us in the first half was controlling the drives to the middle," Pierce said.
The Celtics shot 50 percent from the field in the third quarter, outscoring Atlanta, 24-15, to take a 73-55 lead. Allen scored 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting and nailed both 3-point attempts.
The Hawks were limited to 30.4 shooting from the field in the third and never got back into the game.
"We settled in a lot better in the second half as far as what we were doing defensively," Garnett said. "We even had a rhythm defensively, if that's even possible."
Leon Powe's reverse lay-in gave Boston a 20-point lead (78-58) with 9:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Powe (10 points in 24 minutes) also brought the crowd to his feet and drew a foul with a two-handed slam over Josh Smith and Bibby with 5:53 left in the contest to give Boston a comfortable 90-68 lead.
With the crowd roaring, Garnett punched a fallen Powe lightly in the chest while Sam Cassell cheered wildly over him.
"Leon is like a grown [old] man," Garnett said. "So the little hits I was hitting him with were like high-fives to him."
While the Celtics dominated Atlanta, they kept it in perspective.
"We take Game 1 for what it's worth," Pierce said. "You got to understand, a team like Atlanta, they're going to make adjustments. They have three days until the next game. They're going to make adjustments, which means we're going to have to make adjustments to some things we have to do. You can't look at Game 1 as an indicator.
"A series can get turned around if you get overconfident. The necessary thing that you need to do is win four games."