London balling: Allen's big game helps carry KG, Pierce


LONDON -- Another night, another chance to choose your poison.

The Boston Celtics and their big three continued to usher in a new era for the club as 28 points from Ray Allen, featuring 5-of-8 3-pointers, saw them secure a 92-81 exhibition victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves at London's O2 Arena Wednesday.

The eagerly-awaited reunion between Kevin Garnett and his former club proved to be something of an anticlimax as the Timberwolves' most illustrious alumnus took just six shots on his way to a nine-point, six-rebound evening.

The third of Boston's trio, Paul Pierce, was similarly ineffective, scoring six of his eight points from the free-throw line. Meanwhile Allen, who had produced a mediocre shooting night of his own in Saturday's opening preseason win over the Toronto Raptors in Rome, was unstoppable, finishing the evening with 28 points in 27 minutes and shooting 11-for-14 overall.

You were left to wonder what this team will be like if all three of the much-vaunted trio ever hit top form simultaneously.

"I can focus on other parts of my game when shots aren't going in," said Pierce. "And with a guy like Ray, he turned me and Kevin into role players tonight. We fed off him and tried to do other things.

"One of us is going to be hot each and every night -- that's the way it's going to be and it's going to be scary if all three of us get going … we're going to be tough to beat."

That was certainly the intention when the much ballyhooed trades were made to rejuvenate the Celtics. Early signs are encouraging even if assembling the main three-man core came at a cost -- such as gutting the Boston bench.

Point guard still also remains a headache for coach Doc Rivers, although Rajon Rondo's six assists and two turnovers in 27 minutes suggested he is at least making progress in the early preseason games. The chance to distribute the ball to three future Hall of Famers will also make the second-year playmaker the envy of many of his brethren in the coming campaign.

"I don't really feel under any pressure," said Rondo. "I'm just trying to get us as many possessions as we can by getting the ball up the court and keeping track of who hasn't touched the ball, who's hot, who's not, who hasn't had many touches.

"I'll try to get them equal touches but if Ray gets it going, like tonight, then I'll keep going to him. If we get out of the loop, I'll get it to KG in the post and slow it down again."

In short, Rondo has already discovered what we could have guessed before a ball is thrown up -- a lot of nights, teams are going to have to choose their poison. Do you want Garnett to get the ball in the post, where he was used almost exclusively against the Wolves, or are you going to take the risk of allowing Pierce and Allen the outside shots? Good luck with that decision.

Newcomers Garnett and Allen have also proved their worth in two other key areas -- defense and veteran leadership. Defense has been an obvious focus of this new-look Boston team, and limiting Minnesota to 39.7 percent field goal shooting suggests they are moving in the right direction. As for leadership, Rondo can bear testimony to that quality.

"The trip to Europe has been good to learn about each other," said Rondo. "We go out to dinner a lot, joke and have fun. KG has spoken to me about how to handle myself as a man, how to spend your money, Every little question, basically, he gives me advice. He doesn't try to be my father or anything like that but he is a very caring guy. Ray as well, both give great advice."

Indeed, even when going through a comparatively poor night, Garnett brings added value to the team. At one point, he was drawing on a coach's chalkboard during a timeout, getting a point over to his teammates and the coaching staff.

And, whatever his form on the floor, Garnett was never far from the main focus of attention throughout this Celtics' camp, the scheduling of his meeting with Minnesota so early in preseason adding to the intense spotlight being focused upon him in Rome and London.

Nevertheless, Garnett could not have downplayed the significance of the meeting any more had he tried. His performance, and the game in general, may have been one of the most anti-climactic, hyped-up events since … the 2007 NBA Finals?

"I have no hard feelings," said Garnett of his views on Minnesota. "A lot of my friends who I grew with are gone. It's a new team over there, a lot of new faces. So when it comes to the players, the team, there are no hard feelings.

"I just had the good fortune to come to a good organization like Boston, I'm just focusing on what's in front of me now. What is past is past. I have a new challenge in my life."

Allen, too, will face similar circumstances, and doubtless a similar line of questioning, when he faces his former employer, the Seattle SuperSonics in the regular season. The guard offered an interesting perspective on the topic.

"I think initially you put yourself in a situation where you have some hard feelings," said Allen. "Because, like everybody who gets traded, you are having to remove yourself from a situation you have been in for a while.

"As veterans, we have been around a long time, played with lots of different players, a couple of different coaches. You pack it up and you move. For me, it was a different situation. I was traded on draft day and the team was still being assembled, but I had an inkling Kevin was going to be the next move we were going to work on.

"I was looking forward to taking the next step in life. Sometimes, an organization has not moved for a two- or three-year window so it is time to move on. Kevin and I were both in that situation. Now, we are here and we know what it is like trying to carry a team, myself, him and Paul. Here we can help each other get better and help the young guys get better."

In other words, choose your poison.

Game notes

• Among courtside celebrities, English Formula One racing sensation Lewis Hamilton received the greatest cheer of the night from the sellout crowd of 18,689. The rookie driver is on the verge of winning the F1 title, leading the rankings with one race to go, and has become a national hero to the sports-mad Brits. However, the local crowd also proved their hoops knowledge. Arguably, the second-loudest cheer of the evening was for Celtics legend Bill Russell.

• After the success of the O2 Arena's first basketball game, what's next? Perhaps the All-Star Game? "It would be fair to say that the thought has crossed our mind," said NBA commissioner Stern. "It would require a lot in terms of our season. We would have to change our formatting. Having said that, it gets knocked around. Kevin Garnett told me he thought it would be a good idea to do it before he retires. I was checking out his age and the likelihood that both of us would be around for that. I know the players would like it …"

• The issue of potentially placing franchises in Europe has also been raised by Stern. Count Ray Allen as a fan of the idea. "I said a couple of times on the bench, this is the NBA right here, sitting in this arena," said Allen. "You saw the fans do the wave, saw the mascots, everything that takes place in an NBA game happened here in London. It would seem only appropriate to have an NBA team in this building because it can facilitate one. I don't know if it will happen in my career but I relish the NBA growing into Europe like this." Joked Garnett: "If it's not going to happen in your career, it definitely won't happen in mine."

• Among a host of English Premiership soccer stars seated courtside was Chelsea striker Didier Drogba whom Garnett had befriended when the Celtics' star had watched Chelsea during their own preseason camp in Los Angeles in July.

Ian Whittell covers the NBA for The London Times.