Watching the Big Three

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen were on TV together yesterday, playing their first exhibition game of the season against the Raptors in Italy.

It wasn't as sloppy as a lot of preseason games, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, in particular, looked pretty great. (Except for everyone's special Italia-flag themed uniforms. I remember fondly the day when NBA teams wore, you know, their NBA uniforms.)

It's oddly hard to tell by reading most articles about the game, but the Celtics won -- not that it means anything.

But if I'm a Celtics fan, I like this a lot. Why? Mainly because Kevin Garnett just looks happy. Happier than I have ever seen him. And everyone else looks skinny! These Celtics have been working out.

It occurred to me before the game that Paul Pierce has the potential to become the lost man on this team. He is competing with ... Kevin freaking Garnett ... for entry passes from Rajon Rondo, Eddie House, and the like.

The lion Garnett wins that battle the lion's share of the time.

Ray Allen will be fine. Garnett can work away in the post, and then pass it to Allen who can catch the ball, shoot it, and assassinate the other team all in about one second.

Paul Pierce on the other hand, is wasted as a mere spot-up shooter. He likes to romp his way with the ball around the mid-range and the lane, too. But without the physical advantages of extraordinary height or athleticism, he needs to move with guile and patience, instigating mistakes by the defense.

And it can take time waiting for that opening from your opponent. Time that, it seemed, Pierce might not get playing alongside Kevin Garnett.

But something that is splendid for basketball fans everywhere happened for long stretches in this first exhibition game: Garnett led everyone in sharing the ball like crazy. The "either Garnett/or Paul Pierce" dichotomy was removed. Here it goes to Garnett, there it is to Pierce, and then back to Garnett. By now the defense is scrambling like mad ... trying to cut down all the angles without ever abandoning Allen, who is constantly ready to fire away.

This is where the Eddie House signing looks smart, too. Unable to leave Allen, and wanting to double both Garnett and Pierce, the Raptors had no choice but to leave House time and again. For a period when House's threes were falling, it was easy to imagine this Celtics team really making some noise in the playoffs. (Jeff from Celtics Blog: "Eddie House was like a kid in a penny candy shop with a pocket full of dimes.")

Through all the ball movement, the Raptors scrambled to help in this spot, then that, then the next. Through all the scrambling, it was as likely as not that someone, Kendrick Perkins, Eddie House, or even Ray Allen, would be left pretty much wide open.

Memo to Rajon Rondo: if you can score consistently from 20 feet or out, you're an early favorite for Most Improved Player. If not, then you're an early favorite to be Most Eric Snow-like player (point guard on a good team who gets wide open with the ball and looks scared).

All in all, though, I like this. One game in, and through all the hype, nothing has made me more excited about this new Celtics team than actually watching them play basketball.