Originally written on State Of The Celtics  |  Last updated 12/31/11




Well, that's more like it.

It was just like the old days. The Garden doors opened for the 18,624 Celtics faithful. Paul Pierce strutted towards his fellow starters to close out Eddie Paladino's announcement of the lineups. The Celtics came out and played the type of defense that they've been known for since Kevin Garnett landed in Boston over four years ago. They left their opponent in the dust in the third quarter and never looked back on their way to a convincing victory that was much more one-sided than the final score would indicate. Jermaine O'Neal put in a player-of-the-game performance for the Celtics.

Wait, what?

Jermaine O'Neal? That Jermaine O'Neal? The one who I've been killing all season long—which, again, accounts for three whole games—for not playing the type of defense that Boston needed and for being as useless as cat litter in a dog pound on offense? The same guy who has the vertical leap of an elephant? That's the Jermaine O'Neal who was so instrumental for the Celtics? The NBA's Boston Celtics?

In case you couldn't tell, I was just a little surprised by O'Neal's performance on the night. The numbers were great, but it had more to do with his ability to get up for a couple of blocks and be in position on defense and actually getting the ball to go through the peach basket on offense. For reasons unknown to me or any other human, JO looked rejuvenated, refreshed and—one might even say—like the JO of old. He looked like the JO we all said the Celtics would need in order to be successful, except with a little more juice.

Maybe it was because he was going up against the Detroit Pistons. Detroit isn't exactly throwing out Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson from 1986 or Tim Duncan and David Robinson from '99 as their front line. Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko are nice players. They're solid role players. They can score. That's about it. They're perfect for a team that is going absolutely nowhere fast. They can be taken advantage of, even by someone like Jermaine O'Neal.

But I don't want to talk about how the Celtics' success came at the expense of a garbage team with garbage defense. I refuse to. Especially on the night when the Captain returned to action. He showed us why he's so important to this team. Everyone followed his lead. Pierce was aggressive and went to the basket early. He got to the line early. He grabbed rebounds. He made the right passes. He played solid defense. He didn't need to score 35 points or shoot lights out. He just needed to set the tone, the kind of tone that Sasha Pavlovic couldn't, and will never be able to, set.

This isn't the night to rag on Pavlovic or any other Celtic either. The win was a collective effort. Sure, some efforts were more impactful and important than others. Still, this was a game where everyone knew their role and filled that role to the best of their ability without trying to do too much. They played team basketball. Celtics basketball.

It was vintage Celtics. It was just like the old days. It made us forget about the past week. It reminded us that this team is better—much better—than their 0-3 record indicated.

But in the same way we talked about how the first three games were just a small sample of a 66-game season, this was just one night of many. The challenge is to keep the ball rolling. On to DC.
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