The NBA's best rivalry needed this. The home team had won the last 16 meetings before the visiting Celtics broke that spell Tuesday with an opening night 95-89 win over the Cavaliers (
At issue is Cleveland's recast style, based not only on the arrival of
It would be a mistake to make too much of one result; but it would also be wrong to ignore the advantage the Celtics have seized toward a potential tiebreaker in April. "It's great psychologically to go in here and get a win,'' said
The acquisitions of Rasheed and Shaq promise to elevate a rivalry that has no peer in the NBA. As much as everyone refers nostalgically to the age-old meetings of the Celtics and the Lakers, their disagreements come along twice a year apart from the occasional NBA Finals; and while Lakers-vs.-Spurs is often important it tends to fall short of creating the necessary emotional tension. That leaves the Celtics and Cavs to create a feud important enough to crowd both lockerrooms with reporters here Tuesday in the pregame hour, like a playoff game in May.
Pierce recognized the impact O'Neal had made. "You know how excited y'all get when Shaq comes to town,'' he said, sitting at his locker near the door of the visitors dressing room as the press wandered in and out.
"It's true,'' I admitted. "We just can't help ourselves.''
Across the room Celtics point guard
True enough: The Celtics had lost 11 straight here. I mentioned that some of them had been close losses.
"And some blowouts too,'' he answered quickly, as if he needed to put more pressure on himself.
The short of it is that this was more important than an opening night in Memphis or Philadelphia. The Cavs began the game playing like the younger and livelier team while hitting six of their first seven shots on their way to a 21-7 lead. But they have too many loose parts to tighten so early in the season, and by the second quarter the Celtics bench was ratcheting the defense to help set up a 51-45 Celtics lead by halftime.
There were several noticeable differences since last year. Both Rondo and
Midway through the third the Celtics were up 62-47 and shooting 55.3 percent. Their efficiency dwindled to 44.4 percent overall by game's end, and so did the lead. James had brought the struggling Cavs within 87-83 when Garnett set an extremely high pick enabling Pierce to weave around LeBron and Shaq on his way to a layup with 1:03 remaining. Moments later Pierce canned a fallaway jumper over Varejao to rebuild the Celtics lead to 8.
The Cavs have some work to do. Shaq and
Or, more likely, the Celtics will also improve from this night as Garnett grows more comfortable -- he missed an uncontested dunk, apparently because he wasn't quite as high off the floor as he will be later in the year -- and
The Celtics coach was late coming out of his lockerroom after the win. "We were in there watching the ring ceremony,'' he said of TNT's coverage of the Lakers' opening-night championship celebration in Los Angeles. But his players didn't want to end a good night on such a bad memory. "They told me to turn it off,'' said Rivers. "No one wanted to watch it.''