Little trouble thus far for Big Three
Pierce, Allen, Garnett enjoying strong starts
MEMPHIS — You can see it when Ray Allen drills a 3-pointer. When Kevin Garnett dunks on a defender. When Paul Pierce drains one from the elbow.
It hasn’t gone this smoothly for the Celtics’ Big Three in a while.
There was no telling how the stars would hold up over, say, four seasons, but this was how it was drawn up back in 2007. Garnett would be a demon, averaging a double-double. Allen would be a sniper, raining so many 3-pointers he’d eventually land in Reggie Miller’s neighborhood. Pierce would be the closer, snuffing out rallies with big shots.
But the last two seasons, there was always something preventing that. Garnett’s 2009 knee surgery. The assortment of injuries that made Pierce look like a different player last season. The trade-deadline pressure that seemed to rob Allen of his shooting touch early last year.
The Celtics have had their issues to start this season, but none have involved the three cornerstones. Between Allen’s sharp-shooting, Pierce’s takeover ability, and Garnett’s rabid aggressiveness, the Big Three look as cohesive as they have since 2008, before a wave of injury-fueled turbulence.
“I think we have a good awareness about ourselves,’’ said Allen yesterday, coming off of a game in which he scored 35 points, Pierce scored 25 points, and Garnett had a 16-point, 13-rebound contribution in a 112-107 win over the Heat in Miami. “When we move from one game to the next, we know the pitfalls, the things that are going to keep us from getting better and building our chemistry, so we try to avoid those things.’’
Kendrick Perkins’s knee surgery meant the starting lineup would be different for the first time since 2007, but injuries to reinforcements Shaquille O’Neal (bone bruise, right knee) and Jermaine O’Neal (left knee soreness) have made it hard to develop consistency. But along with Rajon Rondo, the core has produced each game.
“The way I look at it, right now it’s early, hopefully we can stay that way, stay intact for the rest of the year,’’ Pierce said. “I like our chances if we do.’’
In a way, the fact that most of the talk surrounding Garnett this season has been about his mouth is a good thing. It means no one’s thinking about his knee anymore.
Garnett’s run-in with Charlie Villanueva came on a night when he dropped 22 points on the Pistons, missing only three of his 12 shots. He mixed it up with the Bucks’ Andrew Bogut, an exchange that drew double technicals, but that was in a second half when he scored 10 of his 13 points, a game the Celtics won in overtime.
It seems like every game this season, Garnett has been on the dunking end of a Rondo lob. Seeing him swing from the rim makes the 18 months since his surgery seem like a lifetime ago.
“He just has so much life in him right now, it’s great,’’ said coach Doc Rivers, who added that he didn’t know whether Garnett would ever again come close to his 2007 form. “I said it last year, I knew he’d be better, but you just don’t know.’’
Allen has pretty much avoided injuries since coming to Boston.
“When you talk about Kevin’s injury in ’09 and my injuries last year, Ray’s pretty much been the only one that’s been a steady force,’’ Pierce said. “The only guy that’s been healthy.’’
Pierce is averaging a team-high 20.2 points per game, shooting 48.5 percent. He came into training camp slimmer, knowing how difficult last season was physically.
“It’s great, and he’s taking great care of his body,’’ Allen said. “He’s slimmed down, he’s really focused on his body, and that’s big for the team because we need him on the floor. Just like nobody has to tell me to get in shape or take care of my body, I’ve just got to do it because the team needs me on the floor. That’s the beautiful thing about us veteran guys.’’
On Thursday night, Pierce scored 10 points in the third quarter, when Miami was making its run. He followed up with a postgame swipe at LeBron James, posting a tweet that read, “It’s been a pleasure to bring my talents to South Beach, now on to Memphis.’’
Rivers said it was “Paul’s first game where he was the go-to, takeover-the-team guy, and that’s what we want him to be.’’
Everything with the Big Three is ideal, even if other pieces of the puzzle haven’t come together. The Celtics sent Jermaine O’Neal back to Boston early yesterday to have his knee examined.
“The Big Three have been healthy,’’ Rondo said. “But it takes more than three guys, or five guys, to win a game. We’re still trying get Shaq and Jermaine to play one game together.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.