BOSTON (AP) -- Kevin Garnett walked off the court raising his right index finger to the cheering crowd. By his side, Paul Pierce did the same -- a rare gesture of triumph for the long-suffering Celtics star.
There was 2:30 left in the game and Boston had been in control since the middle of the second quarter. The Celtics beat the Washington Wizards 103-83 on Friday night, opening their most promising season in Pierce's 10 years with the club.
"I'm at a place right now in my career, I couldn't ask for anything better," said Pierce, who led Boston with 28 points.
Garnett did it all -- 22 points, 20 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals -- in a dazzling debut with Boston. He was introduced to a standing ovation and left to cheers that echoed from the rafters where the team's 16 championship banners were hanging.
"Tonight was rocking, man," he said.
When Pierce had to, as he did for most of his other nine seasons with the Celtics, he did it by himself.
He spoke to the crowd before the game when a brief ceremony was held naming the court for Red Auerbach, the Celtics patriarch who died four days before Boston's opener last year.
Then, with the Celtics ahead 27-24 with 10:30 left in the second quarter and Garnett and fellow newcomer Ray Allen on the bench, Pierce scored seven of Boston's next 11 points to make the score 38-26 before they re-entered.
"We're just trying to keep Paul with that second unit so they have a go-to guy every time," coach Doc Rivers said. "And Paul knows that it's his time."
Allen had his moments. He scored 17 points for a franchise that won just three playoff series in Pierce's career.
Now, after offseason trades for Garnett and Allen, the Celtics are a popular choice to go far in the postseason. Not bad for a team that had the longest losing streak in its history last season, 18 games, and finished with its second-worst record, 24-58.
The opening-night rout should grab the attention of other teams.
"It's a good message to put out there," Allen said, "but we'll be tried every night."
Gilbert Arenas scored 21 points and Caron Butler had 18 for the Wizards, who were eliminated in the first round last season by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Arenas was just 5-for-20 from the field and the Wizards missed all 16 of their 3-point shots, an NBA record for most attempts without making one.
"They have a great squad," Arenas said. "You can see that they have what it takes."
Pierce led a second-quarter rally that gave the Celtics control, expanding a 27-24 lead to 43-26. They led by at least 15 the rest of the way.
"I probably had the wrong matchup out there when I went to the bench," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "That's when he got it going."
Pierce was part of an up-tempo offense and scrappy defense that was missing from the Celtics for most of his NBA career. All that changed when they obtained Allen from Seattle, then made a 7-for-1 trade to get Garnett from Minnesota.
Garnett, Allen and Pierce each missed his first shot of the game.
"He was so hyped tonight that the first shot almost broke the backboard," Rivers said of Garnett.
Pierce scored seven of the first 11 points in a 16-2 run that made it 43-26 midway through the quarter. Allen made a three-point play and Garnett finished the rally with a turnaround jumper.
Boston rolled to its biggest lead, 63-36 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Five different Celtics scored in that 13-2 surge.
The closest the Wizards came in the fourth quarter was 83-68, but Pierce scored the next three points.
The Celtics trio, dubbed "The Big Three," has a long way to go before it matches the accomplishments of the first group with that nickname -- Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale -- who were on Boston's last three championship teams in 1981, 1984, and 1986.
One young fan, though, was rooting for a shorter-term Big Three -- titles for three local pro teams.
He held up a sign: "RED SOX PATRIOTS CELTICS The BIG 3."
The Red Sox won the World Series last Sunday and the Patriots are 8-0 in pursuit of their fourth Super Bowl championship in seven years.
Members of both teams showed up to cheer on the Celtics.
"The energy was high," Butler said. "It was a great atmosphere for basketball. But, at the same time, in the second quarter we didn't bask in the same energy."
From the Red Sox, there was owner John Henry and president Larry Lucchino with the World Series trophy and players Tim Wakefield, Jacoby Ellsbury and Manny Delcarmen. The contingent from the Patriots, who fly to Indianapolis on Saturday to play the unbeaten Colts, included owner Robert Kraft and players Wes Welker, Laurence Maroney, Junior Seau and Vince Wilfork.
"I'm a fan of the Red Sox and I'm also a fan of the Patriots," Pierce said. "We've got our own mark to make."
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