It would have been easy to lose. That's what the Heat did two years ago -- they got throttled by the Bulls on the same night they hoisted their banner and received their rings. The Spurs didn't lose their opener last season or two seasons before that; the Pistons didn't lose their opener four years ago.
But with the way tears were streaming down Paul Pierce's cheeks, it was easy to wonder if last night, just last night, the hunger wouldn't quite be there, if the ceremony would spark the title-less LeBron James more than it would spark the guys in white who had just won their first rings. Doc Rivers has preached the belief that last season is over; the ring ceremony, though, meant that last season did extend into this season, at least for one night. And with the season lasting 82 games, it would have been forgiveable if the Celtics had come out completely flat in this one.
They did come out a little flat, but only a little. And after a break at halftime in which Rivers probably reminded his team that last season really is totally over, the Celts roared back. Kevin Garnett didn't shoot (5-for-15). Ray Allen didn't shoot (2-for-9). But Paul Pierce shot the way he's supposed to shoot (10-for-19), and Boston got a monster effort from sixth man Leon Powe, who could step right into James Posey's sparkplug role. Powe scored 13 points of 5-of-7 shooting, grabbed a couple of tough rebounds and even took a game-swinging charge.
It was an ugly win, for sure. But let's face it -- we were all prepared for forgive the Celtics if they completely laid an egg. It was Ring Night, after all; it was Banner Night. And the fact that the Celtics came out and beat Cleveland shows an awful lot about the mental toughness of this team.