Looking like their old selves
Order was restored to the hardwood universe last night when Eddie House and the Celtics demolished the Orlando Magic, 112-94, in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The highlight of the night at the Garden?
House draining a succession of ridiculous long-range missiles? Rajon Rondo splitting the paint and throwing down a dunk in the second-half rout?
Not for me. My favorite part of this evening came during a timeout late in the first quarter when the Jumbotron flashed the images of former Celtics in attendance while "Glory Days" spilled out of the sound system.
It was a chorus line of roundball royalty: K.C. Jones . . . Jo Jo White . . . John Havlicek . . . Cedric Maxwell . . . and finally Bill Russell, who was flanked by Tommy Heinsohn - just as they were positioned during the glory days of this fabled franchise.
All six men have their numbers hanging from the rafters. They have more rings than Elizabeth Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Four are in the Hall of Fame.
Red Auerbach's guys go gray but their legend never gets old. Not around here. And there is no team in professional sports that can assemble a gallery of gods and still have enough missing faces to field three more squads of superstars.
Playing for the Celtics is about winning championships. Nothing else. That's what made the 22-year gap so frustrating. And that's what makes the challenge so great for this Green Team of 2009.
Last Saturday, the Celtics finished off what many longtime fans consider the greatest first-round playoff series in NBA history when they beat the Bulls in Game 7 at the Garden. Two nights later, they were back at it in Round 2, and the residue of the Chicago series was obvious. They fell behind the Magic by 28 points. They lost Game 1.
"We don't know if what we want to do against them works because we never did it," Doc Rivers said before Game 2.
It all worked last night. Kendrick Perkins matched Dwight Howard the way Russell neutralized Chamberlain back in the day. Ray Allen bounced back from a flat first game with 22 points. Rondo had another triple double (15 points, 18 assists, 11 rebounds). And the Boston bench, particularly House, was spectacular.
Start with Brian Scalabrine. Jackie Moon was summoned after only two minutes of play and contributed immediately. An invisible man late in the season because of multiple concussions, Scal is considered a crucial player in this series. I learned this a couple of hours before Game 2 when Heinsohn declared, "Scal is the key" - words one never thought would be spilled in this lifetime.
But it was the Parquet Pine Brother House who totally exposed the Magic.
House is a lot like the Sundance Kid. The Kid was the best shooter in the West, but he was always better on the move. There's a scene in the fabled flick in which Strother Martin challenges Sundance to shoot at a scrap of wood from a moderate distance. When the Kid stands flat-footed, aims, and shoots, he misses badly. After he gets permission to fire in motion, Sundance twirls, shoots, and blasts the scrap into sawdust, connecting multiple times in a flurry of gunfire.
"I'm better when I move," he tells his slack-jawed audience.
It's the same with House. Hand him the basketball and tell him to stand still and shoot a three and he'll probably clang one off the rim. Let him run around, catch the ball on the fly, and fire while he's in freefall, and the ball will hit the bottom of the net every time.
House scored 11 in the first half, which ended with the Celtics leading, 61-46.
He was absolutely unconscious in the second half. A three by House made it 74-52 late in the third. He totally got under the skin of the Magic, provoking a grandmother dope slap from Rafer Alston.
"All I did was hit a shot and turn away and get hit upside the head," said House. "I think he was doing anything to try to stop me."
"I've seen some great shooting shows in my life," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy. "But that was incredible. That was the first time in the playoffs that we've gotten our butts kicked."
It was enough to make you switch to the Bruins or Red Sox.
Which gets us back to that championship feeling. For most of this year, it felt as though the Celtics had a good chance to repeat. They started 27-2 and reeled off 19 wins in a row. But with Kevin Garnett apparently done for the year and Cleveland steamrolling everything in its path, there's a feeling of eventual doom about this Celtic quest.
The Celtics beat the Bulls on heart, talent, and will. They can do the same thing to the Magic. They just crushed Orlando in a game in which captain Paul Pierce scored 3 points.
They can get your hopes up. They can earn Tommy Points and a soft spot in the hearts of the fans. But they play in a town in which there is only one measurement of basketball success.
If this wounded, weakened team somehow overcomes the Magic, the Cavaliers, then the Lakers (or whomever), the achievement would surpass anything accomplished by those ancient warriors who watched from the stands last night.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.