- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The challenge came well before tipoff. Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge basically told WEEI listeners well before Friday night's game that he was all but pushing the reset button on the 2012-13 season.
Those first 31 games, 17 of which were losses? Forget about 'em. The Celtics on display Friday night represented the first incarnation of the real Celtics, not the Stepford knockoff that wandered aimlessly through the first two months of the season.
"This will be the first game where we have our best lineup that played last year, and that was with [Rajon] Rondo and Avery [Bradley] and Brandon Bass and KG and Paul [Pierce]. That lineup hasn't even played one minute together this year, so I'd like to give that a shot," Ainge said.
Doc Rivers did his boss a favor and inserted the heretofore underwhelming Bass into the starting lineup, along with Bradley, Rondo, Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The result was impressive: a thorough whipping of what had been a pretty substantial Indiana Pacers team, and an end to the Celtics' four-game losing streak.
The Celtics set season marks for points allowed and defensive field goal percentage while registering their largest victory margin in the 94-75 win. They survived a hideous first quarter and then took off, getting balanced scoring on offense and terrific overall team defense.
They are 1-0 in their new season. Unfortunately, those 17 defeats from the old season still count, and they've got Atlanta (Saturday) and the Knicks (Monday) coming up, both on the road. But in the first embodiment of the team Ainge wanted to see, well, things could not have gone much better.
Rondo, asked by his coach to be more assertive and aggressive, was both with 18 points. Garnett was back to his frisky self, also scoring 18 points before getting tossed for a face-rake of Tyler Hansbrough. Bradley scored only six points but got Rivers' nod for game MVP for his relentless, on-the-ball pressure, which the coach said took the Pacers out of their offense.
Courtney Lee had 13 off the bench, Jared Sullinger was a force inside (team-high 10 rebounds) and the Celtics took a team that had won 9 of 11 and made the Pacers look as if they had never played together.
"This wasn't an empty win," Rivers said.
He's right. There was meat on the bones in this one.
"It was like a substance win," Rivers continued. "But it doesn't mean anything because we gotta keep doing it. ... It's a first step."
There have been "first steps" before (think Christmas against Brooklyn, or maybe the trouncing of Portland), but they didn't go anywhere. These first steps are with the preferred group of players in the positions they are supposed to play.
"There are no perfect answers to this, there's no perfect situations," Garnett said. "Everyone has to accept their role wholeheartedly and embrace it. And [against the Pacers] I think we did. Being consistent with those roles is what we want to be."
It's what they have to be. We shall see where it goes. The East is not exactly bulging with elite teams. If you saw the Pacers for the first time on Friday, you'd have been incredulous that they came into the game with a 19-13 record. Midway through the third quarter, they had almost as many turnovers as baskets.
"They made us look bad," admitted Indy coach Frank Vogel, "but we also had a hand in it as well."
The game against Indiana was only the second for the Celtics against one of the top four teams in the East -- and the first since the season opener in Miami. The Hawks and Knicks, the other top-four denizens, are up next, so it comes quick and in a hurry.
Ainge and Rivers are both on record as preaching patience. There are still 50 games to play. The Celtics have yet to play Charlotte or New Orleans and they have three games left against Cleveland and Toronto.
But they also have three games left against Miami. They have four against the Hawks and Knicks and still have yet to play the Lakers or the Nuggets. They have to go into Dallas, Memphis and Oklahoma City. They will have a chance at payback against the Clippers, Warriors, Rockets and Kings in Boston.
Rivers said what pleased him the most in the victory over the Pacers was the way the Celtics won. They were physical. They challenged every pass. They outrebounded a team that had been fifth overall in rebounding. They even got a third-chance basket!
"I thought we played the whole game," the coach said.
Good luck trying to find him saying that sentence anytime in the recent past.
Rivers also referred to this one as a "blueprint" going forward. It could be. It perhaps even should be. That this team is 15-17 is beyond appalling. ESPN.com's own Marc Stein had the Celtics ranked below Toronto -- TORONTO! -- in his latest power rankings. The Celtics were 20th. That's just insulting.
But that was last season, those 31 games in which the defense showed only on occasion and the offense looked like something out of a Wes Craven movie. We're on to the new season. The reset button has been pushed. The Celtics are 1-0, all is well and 50 games remain to see whether the team we saw on Friday night is for real or just another tease in a season full of teases.
Hopefully, the Celtics are finding their footing after rebooting the starting lineup.