Pacers president Larry Bird brought in seven new players in the offseason to improve the team's talent level and overhaul its image after numerous off-the-court incidents the past several years.
The payoff was immediate. Danny Granger scored 20 points, new point guard T.J. Ford added 19, and a sellout crowd watched the Pacers beat the defending champion Boston Celtics 95-79 on Saturday night in their home opener.
"I certainly think the fans saw a full-out effort for 48 minutes," Indiana coach Jim O'Brien said. "Nobody would say that the Indiana Pacers left anything on the court."
Well, except teeth. Granger lost his two front teeth in the fourth quarter when Paul Pierce fell on him while they were diving on the floor after a loose ball.
"It was a hell of a hustle play," O'Brien said. "He pressured up on Pierce, got a deflection, dove face first. I went out to say, 'great job,' he smiled at me and he didn't have any teeth."
The Pacers noticed that Granger's effort came a day after he signed a lucrative contract extension.
"It's a play made by a guy that just signed a long term deal here," O'Brien said. "He made a statement that he wants to help this franchise get back into the playoffs and to the next level."
"Losing his teeth when we're up by 16 just shows the commitment he has, and the commitment everybody else has to have, to make this climb back up the mountain."
Ford, the key acquisition in the trade that sent Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto, also had four assists. Backup point guard Jarrett Jack, picked up in a trade with Portland, added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Kevin Garnett led Boston with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Pierce scored 15 points, but shot 3-for-15 from the field. Ray Allen finished with 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting.
The Celtics (2-1) started last season 12-0, but won't duplicate that early success because of poor fundamentals. The Celtics had 24 turnovers and shot 21-for-35 from the free-throw line on Saturday.
The Pacers led by as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter against a team that had just three double-digit losses last season on its way to a 66-16 record.
"I don't even know what to call it," Garnett said.
It was Indiana's second consecutive strong showing against an upper-echelon Eastern Conference team. The Pacers pushed Detroit before losing 100-94 on Wednesday.
Indiana (1-1) led the Celtics 69-58 at the end of the third quarter, then took complete control in the fourth. Back-to-back layups by Ford made it 85-65 with six minutes to play and brought the crowd to its feet. Marquis Daniels' 3-pointer minutes later gave the Pacers their largest lead, 92-67.
Indiana led by seven points at halftime, and shot well to start the third quarter. New center Rasho Nesterovic made back-to-back mid-range jumpers from the right baseline to increase the lead to 58-45, then Granger made a layup to make it 60-45 with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter. The Pacers led by double digits the rest of the way.
The Pacers opened up a 10-point lead in the first quarter on an overhead flip by Daniels, and ended the period with a 27-17 lead. Granger scored 11 points in the quarter.
Boston point guard Rajon Rondo picked up his fourth foul with 3:56 left in the second quarter. The Pacers made two free throws after the foul to take a 39-29 lead.
Boston rallied, and a 3-pointer by Pierce cut Indiana's lead to 41-38 with just under two minutes left in the first half.
The Pacers maintained their composure, and a short jumper by Daniels with two seconds left in the second quarter gave the Pacers a 48-41 lead at halftime.
The Pacers' up-tempo style overwhelmed the Celtics.
"I think that was the first time we've seen that type of offense, to be honest," Garnett said. "I thought they did a real good job of running it. I consider us to be one of the best defensive team in the league, and tonight, we were challenged, fully."
Indianapolis gets back-to-back doses of its rivalry with Boston. The Indianapolis Colts play the New England Patriots on Sunday night. ... Indiana G Mike Dunleavy sat out with a sore right knee, and Pacers G Travis Diener was out with a sore left foot. ... The Pacers' rookies, Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush, entered the game with about four minutes left in the first quarter. ... Nesterovic left the game after spraining his right ankle with 11:41 left in the fourth quarter and did not return. X-rays were negative. ... Garnett voted for Sen. Barack Obama for president, and will wear shoes with the message, "Obama '08, Embrace Change" during Boston's election night game at Houston.