For the Wizards, After the Big Three Everyone Is Looking Mighty Small

Washington Coach Eddie Jordan should be concerned how little his non-Big Three players showed in the bright lights of national TV in Boston.
Washington Coach Eddie Jordan should be concerned how little his non-Big Three players showed in the bright lights of national TV in Boston. (By Winslow Townson -- Associated Press)
By Mike Wise
Saturday, November 3, 2007

BOSTON If I'm Eddie Jordan, I'm not worried Boston's Big Three might be better than my Big Three on opening night in Sportstown USA. No. After Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were matched with Paul Pierce this summer, this was the night the Celtics rejoined the NBA in earnest. With the Gah-den unleashing pent-up howls from the Bird era -- and the hallowed parquet floor renamed after the late Red Auerbach prior to tip-off -- winning by 20 on their debut night was not a complete shock.

What I would be worried about if I were the Wizards coach is that one of the most anonymous lots of extras in league history might be better than my supporting cast. When Rajon Rondo gets to the rim, that's trouble. When Brian Scalabrine makes more of an impact off the bench than Andray Blatche, that's trouble.

If I'm Eddie Jordan, I'm worried that a team brought together from all corners of the globe in the offseason somehow showed more rhythm, patience and poise than the team that I took to the playoffs the past three years.

It's Nov. 3 and the Wizards already have a few problems, folks. They will come home to Verizon Center on Saturday night 0-2, needing to beat Orlando to register their first win since April. Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison aren't shooting the ball that well -- the Wizards went an NBA-record 0 for 16 on three-point attempts Friday night -- and no one is picking up the slack for them.

The Pacers beat the Wizards in overtime on Wednesday without starters Jermaine O'Neal and Troy Murphy, in a game in which Arenas and Butler combined to miss 10 free throws and their bench was outscored by 20.

Blatche is supposed to become this force of nature under the basket in the absence of Etan Thomas. I have no idea what kind of player Blatche will be in January, but today he still has his training wheels on.

In his third year, he is still a kid unsure of what to do with his vast wingspan and skill. He was alternately matched up against Pierce and Garnett last night, and the results were sadly predictable -- the intensity-challenged youngster getting schooled by the savvy vets, who were licking their chops at the sight of Blatche guarding them.

Jordan took the blame for not finding an answer for Pierce in the second quarter, when the Wizards got blitzed 37-18 and effectively lost the game. But that was just part of the problem.

The larger issue might be how the Wizards wilted when the ESPN cameras came on. This was supposed to be a signature early-season matchup between some of the premier stars in the Eastern Conference. Four of the six all-stars on the floor had scored more than 50 points in an NBA game.

Arenas went so far as to guarantee victory on his blog in early September, fueling the chants and jeers that came his way from the stands last night. His Three Amigos were outscored by Boston's, 67-49.

"Y'all told me so," he said in a mea culpa to a Boston reporter afterward.

Jordan said this was more about getting "quality looks" on offense and a horrendous second quarter than a complete meltdown. Still, if there are statement games in November, this would have been a nice time for the Wizards to show their mettle against Pierce's new teammates, to show who's got the more formidable stars in the East.

Underneath these rafters -- where the hanging retired jerseys include Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish -- it is almost heresy to call anyone a Big Three. But after Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Celtics have about as good a trio as you can get in the modern NBA.

In Garnett they have the fiery, shot-blocking big man, who can also hit a face-up jumper. In the helter-skelter Pierce resides the slashing scorer who can get to the free throw line. And in the composed presence of Allen, they have one of the game's best long-distance marksmen.

But here's the thing about The Greatest Team On Paper: until they played, they were only as good as their clippings. And when it comes down to it, Garnett, Allen and Pierce have come to know losing in their advancing years. None has been to the NBA Finals, and all three have lost in the conference finals.

For as good as they looked together against the Wizards, not too much should be made of their postseason fortunes in the East based on last night. After all the pomp and pageantry here, what the Celtics have is three very good, aging veterans -- okay, Garnett shows shades of greatness -- who have maybe a three-year window in which to win a title. If Danny Ainge can put a couple of better role players around him, it's possible.

With the exception of Garnett, I still like Washington's Big Three over time. Arenas and Butler have yet to enter the prime of their careers and Jamison has at least three years as a 20-10 guy left. But short-term in a win-now league, Boston today looks much better.

Again, this was a not a good night for the Wizards to make their 2007-08 national cable debut.

There are fewer things louder in sports than a throaty Boston crowd -- maybe Yankee Stadium circa 2001 or Madison Square Garden most of the 1990s. But that's about it. When these people get behind their teams, it produces a guttural emotion exceeding fanaticism and moving frighteningly toward religion.

This was the environment the Wizards found themselves in last night. Red Sox and Patriot players were littered throughout the building, evoking wild applause each time their mugs hit the Jumbotron screen.

"I have to say that was playoff atmosphere," Arenas said. "When the crowd is powerful like that it is going to be difficult to beat these guys."

Before the game, the Celtics players had to walk through a tunnel leading to the court. Alongside the right wall they were met by Bob Cousy, Satch Sanders, Jo Jo White, M.L. Carr -- Celtic Hall of Famers and cult heroes alike, showing up for the next generation.

Pierce even grabbed the microphone before tip-off, thanking the fans for their patience and promising change. Outside of Brendan Haywood, who showed a little fire and mixed it up with Garnett, not one Wizard seemed interested in spoiling what amounted to a homecoming game. On the night pro basketball returned in Boston, they almost seemed satisfied playing the journeyman fighter brought in to get knocked out by the local contender.

Two games in, if I'm Eddie Jordan, that would worry me.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company