By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Nov 5 2008 10:56AM
HOUSTON -- Throw three All-Stars together and it's an automatic title. The formula is fool proof, right?
"We've seen it throughout time, especially when you win a championship," Celtics captain Paul Pierce reminded. "You design your team to beat the champions."
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and sports are a copycat business. Ron Artest admitted as much shortly after getting traded to the Rockets, comparing his new setup to Boston.
The Celtics' decorated trio of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen met their 2008-09 reflection in Artest, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady for the first time that counted Tuesday night. (The contenders actually staged a contentious exhibition last month in New Hampshire. Yes, in the preseason.)
The Clash of the Tri-tans lived up to the hype, as the Rockets and Celtics traded blows and words for 48 minutes. Balance proved to be the difference, as Boston outlasted the hosts 103-99 before a packed Toyota Center.
"Anytime you play a team of this quality, it's going to let you know where you are," Rockets coach Rock Adelman said. "It's probably the best defensive team in the league."
The Celtics aren't too shabby at the other end. Throughout the night, Boston matched every Rocket burst with a bigger punch. And it wasn't just KG, Allen and Pierce inflicting the damage. They were joined by Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo in double figures.
Houston surged ahead for the last time early in the fourth. Artest, working on the block, barreled into Glen Davis. A block, not a charge, followed. Rivers raged, earning a technical and Ron-Ron stepped to the line.
He drilled two of three and the Rockets were up 86-85 with 7:45 left. Garnett would answer from the top of the key, as Boston peeled off an 8-0 run. Allen scored 11 of his 29 in the final period. Houston made it somewhat interesting down the stretch before falling for the first time this season.
The Celtics improved to 3-1 after their first game against a Western Conference team. Houston didn't get the necessary production from its tripod. McGrady scored 26. Yao and Artest, however, added 23 between them. Luis Scola was the Rockets' second-leading scorer with 21.
"We just didn't play a complete game for the whole 48 minutes and you have to against that team," Adelman said.
That team is a study in selflessness. Doc Rivers showed that three big stars, with egos to match, could not only coexist, but thrive. What's the trick to making the Boston Three Party work?
"I don't know how it worked with McHale, Parish and Bird. I never asked them," the Celtics coach said with a laugh. "With the three guys we have on our team, I don't think it's a trick. I think the trick is they all want to win.
"I don't know if that's a trick, but that's the key. They all want to win. They all know they have to sacrifice parts of their games and different segments of the game to win, and I think they're all open to that."
The C's won their first title since Bird wore short shorts with their triple threat playing together for the first time. Adelman's dynamic of placing Artest on the Yao/T-Mac ticket isn't quite the same as Rivers.
"That's a little easier when it's just one, but it's still not as easy as it looks on paper," Rivers said. "When the ball is going to just one other place offensively, it changes the rhythm of the other two as well. So it's still not easy.
"If anyone is going to figure it out in our league, it'll be Rick. He's won everywhere he's been. His offense has been terrific. In our ranks, he's legendary with the movement that he gets from his players, so if anyone can figure that out, Rick would be that choice."
The Rockets (3-1) actually now distance from "three" talk. The questions inevitably go there -- it's an easy storyline -- but they steer the conversation back to "team." Artest points to guys like Brent Barry as key cogs. Barry brings up the development of Aaron Brooks.
"Everybody has got to do a little bit more," Yao said, pointing out that Shane Battier remains sidelined.
What did a November throw down mean in the grand NBA picture? Not much, really. No one will remember come April or, in this case, potentially June.
But after a spirited preseason battle and a testy Election Night matchup, circle the three-quel Jan. 7 in Boston.
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