The Boston Celtics’ Ray Allen practices his jump shot at the basketball team’s practice in Waltham, Mass. Monday. The Celtics open defense of the NBA championship tonight.AP PHOTO
BOSTON — Every night of his adult life, Doc Rivers says, he has prayed before bedtime. And every night, it was the same thing: “To win a world championship.”
“And the night we won it, I got on my knees to do my prayer and I said, ’Again,”’ the Boston Celtics coach said. “It didn’t take long.”
Still hungry for another title, Rivers will watch as the Celtics’ 17th championship banner is raised to the rafters of the TD Banknorth Garden before tonight’s season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The players will get their championship rings. Celtics legends from the past will be welcomed back. Highlights of their title drive will be shown on the video screen.
And then the team will get back to the business of filling up the NBA’s most crowded trophy case.
“To be a real special Celtics team, you have to win more than one,” owner Wyc Grousbeck said.
True, sometimes players get their rings and decide they’ve accomplished everything they need to. They come into camp with an attitude, or an extra 10 pounds, or an entourage that distracts them from the attempt to repeat.
One look at Kevin Garnett’s face convinced Rivers to focus on other concerns.
“I can’t imagine even seeing a laid-back Kevin Garnett,” Rivers said. “I don’t think that will happen.”
Instead, Rivers keeps his eye out for signs that a supporting player has grown tired of playing his role. He spent part of the summer calling around to other coaches who have won championships — some in basketball, some in other sports — to get advice on how to try to repeat.
“They all said the same thing about the role guys,” Rivers said. “They played their role last year, but now they’ve been on all the parade tours. Will they think they’re a role player anymore, or will they think they’re one of the Big Four?”
Also on opening night, the Los Angeles Lakers host Portland in Trail Blazers center Greg Oden’s NBA debut, and new Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles returns to Chicago as his Bucks face No. 1 pick Derrick Rose and the Bulls.
Led by the new Big Three of NBA finals MVP Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Garnett, the Celtics won their first title since 1986, the year the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish won its third championship as a group.
Last season, Rivers relied on his players to keep things in order. Just as the Big Three made sure there was no complacency among the starters, the bench needed its leader to keep things in line.
“We had a guy who did that,” Rivers said, “but he’s in New Orleans now.”
That guy was James Posey, an unselfish 6-foot-8 forward with a 3-point shooting touch, outstanding defensive skills and veteran savvy. He cashed in on his role as a key to the Celtics’ championship by signing a four-year, $25 million contract with the New Orleans Hornets as a free agent.
The decision to leave Boston was difficult, but it created an opportunity for guard Tony Allen, a solid defensive player drafted by the Celtics in the first round in 2004.
“We don’t have that confidence yet” in the backups, Ray Allen said. “That’s one thing we’re working continually towards.”
The starting five is unchanged — Pierce, Garnett, Ray Allen, point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins. Forwards Leon Powe and Glen Davis, and guards Eddie House and Tony Allen should be key players off the bench.
The Celtics will compete in the Atlantic Division that added two star forwards — Elton Brand with the Philadelphia 76ers and Jermaine O’Neal with the Toronto Raptors.
But Garnett thinks the Big Three can get better in their second season together.
“In every relationship there is room for improvement,” he said. “The thing about the three of us is we constantly communicate. We constantly talk. We’re on a common ground. We realize we have to set the dialogue and set the tone for that day.”
Pierce does see a change in Garnett.
“If anything, Kevin’s more intense this year. It makes all of the difference to the team,” he said. “After you win, you’re motivated even more to win it again.”
Boston was 66-16 last season, one year after winning just 24 games — a 42-game turnaround that is the biggest in NBA history. And though the Celtics won 16 other titles, the 17th was the first for Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen.
Don’t think that makes them less eager for another.
“It’s like living in an apartment and finally getting that home,” Garnett said. “You defend your apartment, but some day you’ll own a home. It’s nice. You’ve got grass. You’ve got to cut it — front, back, side. You’ve got a lawn system. It’s yours.
“You want them to stay off the grass. You don’t want people coming through your yard, leaving trail marks.”
Intruders nearly knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs in the second round, but Pierce’s 41 points led them to a 97-92 win over the Cavaliers in Game 7. They had gotten an unexpectedly tough seven-game challenge from the Atlanta Hawks in the previous round.
But they eliminated the Detroit Pistons in six games to reach the finals for the first time since 1987.
Boston won the title with a 131-92 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6, but the league’s general managers have picked the Lakers to win this season.
“Oh, I don’t care one way or another,” Rivers said. “We pick us. We picked us last year, too. The bottom line is we’ve got to be a better team.”
Cleveland at Boston
8 p.m., TNT
Milwaukee at Chicago
Portland at L.A. Lakers
10:30 p.m., TNT