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Bob Ryan

Little rhythm, but no blues

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / October 29, 2008
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They are now officially defending champs.

They're also 1-0 in defense of that crown, toppling the Cleveland Cavaliers by a 90-85 score in a game that, well, won't be on anyone's list of Top 10,000 sports thrills.

But you knew it was going to be a tough evening from the time Kevin Garnett let fly with his first 15-footer of the season - and missed the whole set-up. It was as if that new champeenship ring was weighing down his hand.

He shot 5 for 15 from the floor. The Celtics struggled all night from the outside. There was never any real offensive rhythm. Perhaps all you need to know is that they had only 16 assists.

So how did they win? The Cavs are good, remember?

"Defense first, offense second," reminded Garnett. "The defense will be up to par. The offense will be shaky. There will be a great effort."

The Cavaliers led by a 50-43 score at the half. They scored 18 points in the first 16 minutes and change in the second half, and 35 for the final 24. Pay attention to No. 5. He knows what he's talking about. The Celtics still can defend.

This was not a night like any other night. For the first time since 1986, Opening Night in Boston featured a ring ceremony. Commissioner David Stern presided, and there was no doubt which player appreciated the moment more than anyone else. Paul Pierce, who was here when the team was an irrelevant part of the Boston sports landscape, fought back tears as he accepted his piece of jewelry. It was a touching moment.

He also addressed the sellout TD Banknorth crowd of 18,624 with a rambling, embarrassing, self-indulgent speech. That was not a touching moment. You kept wondering why he didn't hear the music and see the lights flashing.

But then he went out and scored a game-high 27, so in the end all was forgiven.

The Celtics went for the heavy historical artillery for the ceremony. John Havlicek carried out the championship trophy, trailed by Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, JoJo White, Satch Sanders, and M.L. Carr, which means that all three previous championship eras enjoyed representation. It was a not-so-subtle way of pulling rank, although the Cavaliers already had announced their intention of remaining in the locker room during the rah-rah celebration.

And the 17th flag . . . what a whoppah! It is conspicuously larger than numbers 1 through 16. But I guess management figured, why not? They certainly spent enough money to get it.

The rings, by the way, are tasteful, at least as far as these garish baubles go. Most people wind up putting them in safe deposit boxes, anyway. When most athletes speak of "the ring," they are thinking of it symbolically. But let the record show that these babies have Red Auerbach's signature inside, which is a nice touch.

"He's the reason for it all," explained managing partner and CEO Wyc Grousbeck. Can't argue with that.

Doc Rivers knew this was not going to be an easy night. For one thing, Mr. Schedulemaker gave his team a tough opponent. The last time the Cavs set foot on this floor, they came frighteningly close to winning a seventh game and sending the 66-win Celtics off to the golf course. And LeBron James has been sounding off about a serious need to win a championship. The Cavs added guard Mo Williams to the mix, and you must consider them to be an Eastern Conference contender.

The Cavs had the Celtics down by 11 in the first quarter and the aforementioned 7 at the half. The Celtics came out cold, with no one making an outside shot until Garnett hit a left corner turnaround with 2:22 remaining in the first quarter. Boston didn't get a lead in this game until Rajon Rondo took a Garnett feed for a backhand layup to make it 53-52 a little under four minutes into the second half.

There was, of course, never a sense of aggravation or panic. A team with stars such as Garnett, Pierce, and Ray Allen does not discourage easily. The Celtics also have supreme confidence in their ability to get needed stops. And they also got a nice lift off the bench from Tony Allen, who was active and energetic as soon as he stepped on the floor, and whose 5 points (a hustle rebound 3-point play and a slash to the hoop) gave his team a 74-68 lead.

The Celtics pretty much maintained after that, never leading by more than 8 and never allowing it closer than 2 (86-84 with 10.6 seconds remaining).

It was a game to get out of the way, little more.

"After halftime," Pierce said, "emotions got out of the way, and we started to play our brand of basketball."

A little message to the Cavs, perhaps?

Ah, that would be a no.

"It could have been anybody we played, tonight," Pierce insisted. "I'm glad we won. It wasn't pretty by any means. But regardless of LeBron, it doesn't matter."

They would have gotten a mulligan if they'd lost, so I don't know what you call this, other than the start of a completely new year. The rings now get put wherever. Now they're working on one for the other hand.

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

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