Commentary

Boston riding high with opening win, celebrates by playing whack-a-Powe

Originally Published: April 21, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

CelticsBrian Babineau/NBAE via Getty ImagesLeon Powe is already getting an earful from Kevin Garnett en route to a Game 1 win over Atlanta.

BOSTON -- Almost looked like one of those school-yard brawl videos you see on YouTube, two guys raining punches down on a hapless victim laying sprawled out on the floor.

Only thing was, the punchers and the punchee were all wearing white and green.

And the guy on the receiving end, Leon Powe, was finding himself pummeled with love by teammates Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell.

"At first I thought [Garnett] was going to help me up, then he gave me like two, three, four, five, six Roy Jones punches," Powe said of the mock assault he had to endure after slamming home a dunk over Josh Smith and Mike Bibby midway through the fourth quarter of Boston's 104-81 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. "Sam might have snuck about two in there."

The dunk put the Celtics ahead by 22 points in a game that had already been decided, and Powe ended up sprawled on his back after being fouled on the play by Smith.

Garnett and Cassell sprinted over to him and immediately started hitting him with smacks of excitement, Garnett jabbering some sort of exuberance that Powe couldn't quite decipher.

"When you make a play like that," Cassell said, "against a caliber shot-blocker like Josh Smith, I mean, he had one in the first half, Josh got it, the second time Josh didn't get it -- that's the life of a shot-blocker -- and then Kev just lost it for like 20 seconds on him. He was trying to get up, but we wouldn't allow him to get up. But that's the emotion this team needs to win. We play off our emotions, everybody. We cheer for each other, we get on one another. That's the unity we have as a team."

It's arguable whether Garnett and Cassell really needed to go quite so overboard on Powe, but there was no disputing which team came with extra reserves of energy and emotion following a season in which they pulled off the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history, winning 42 games more than they did last season.

The energy was palpable in the opening moments of the game as a thick cloud of smoke floated over the court from the pregame fireworks that accompanied the Celtics' player introductions, and a roar went up when the scoreboard announced that the Philadelphia 76ers had upset the Detroit Pistons.

It took just 5:01 for the Celtics to open their first double-digit lead, but the Hawks then came back with what turned out to be their only push of the night, pulling back within two points early in the second quarter after Garnett was sidelined with his second foul.

When Garnett returned, Boston's lead was down to 29-27. But he hit his next shot, a turnaround jumper, and Cassell followed with a personal 7-0 run that restored the double-digit lead.

Suspense was in short supply in the third quarter, especially after Rajon Rondo followed up his egregious air ball -- a jump-shot attempt that missed everything by a foot -- by knocking down successive jumpers that put the Celtics ahead 71-55.

A "We want Baby" chant broke out with 6:36 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Celtics ahead by 20, and coach Doc Rivers answered the fans' pleas by inserting Glen "Big Baby" Davis into the game moments later.

Powe's dunk-and-get-punched moment came next, and the fans ate it up.

"Leon, he had to protect himself from Kevin's barrage of excitement. But Kevin has so much energy, he's been that way all year, and I think he keys off the building and the building keys off him. We all feed off him," said Ray Allen, who led Boston with 18 points.

Garnett and Pierce each had 16, while Rondo had 15 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals in thoroughly outplaying Mike Bibby, who scored just five points on 2-for-10 shooting and had as many assists (1) as technical fouls.

"The guys were anxious to start the game, but that is expected. We just can't have our starters play the way they did tonight. Four of our starters went 14-for-49, so give the Celtics credit on that," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.

Rookie Al Horford was the lone bright spot for Atlanta, with 20 points and 10 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. But Boston still had a 19-13 edge in second-chance points and scored 19 points off 15 Atlanta turnovers.

The Celtics did look a little disjointed a times, but this was a night when their B-game was more than enough against a seriously overmatched opponent.

"Well, really, it was good to get that first one out of the way," said Rivers, who knew his team was ready on Saturday when the players started mimicking the coaches and called out the names of the plays they were watching the Hawks run on videotape. "I think our guys have been waiting for it, longer than most teams in a lot of ways having sewed it up a few weeks ago.

"I thought we played well, but we can play better -- and that's the good news."

Good news, too, was the fact that Powe didn't lose any teeth or suffer a black eye at the hands of two pugilistic, pantomiming teammates. That's because the Celtics, and not just Cassell and Garnett, hit the Hawks rather than Powe with their hardest stuff.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.