This wasn't supposed to work. Of course, on paper it looked good, but there was no way there were enough basketballs for three players with a combined 21 All-Star appearances.

But somehow, the Celtics' talented trio of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett found a way to make it work. All the pieces of the puzzle didn't exactly fit snuggly into place after Allen and Garnett arrived via trades, but over the last 4 months they have teamed to create an aura of dominance feared across the league.

"I'd be the first to admit, it was definitely hard getting used to each other," Pierce said before the Celtics' 113-103 win over the Sixers last night at the Wachovia Center.

"I can remember our first pickup game together. Nobody would take a shot. We just kept passing it to each it other. Actually, it was pretty funny seeing Ray pass up an open shot. But by the end of it all, we just realized we have to play our game."

And that's what they've done, as the Celtics have rolled to a 15-2 record.

Pierce, the Celtics' sixth all-time scorer, is averaging 21.1 points. Garnett, who had 66 double-doubles last season, is averaging 19.4 points and 11.6 rebounds. Throw in the 20-plus points a game from Allen and you have 60 percent of an All-Star team.

None of the three players has advanced to the NBA Finals. In fact, among them, they have advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs just five times.

After that pickup game, they vowed they would make this work.

"Once we got together in September, I knew it was going to be something special," Pierce said. "I can't remember the last time I was in Boston in September but we knew it was important for us to get to work early if we were going to live up to the hype."

Pierce, now in his 10th season with the Celtics, admits the last few seasons haven't exactly been ideal. Last season, when the Celtics were on their way to just nine wins in the final 2 months, Pierce wished he had some help. Any help.

Early last season, before the Sixers dealt Allen Iverson to Denver, there were rumors he was going to Beantown.

Pierce eventually would miss a career-high 35 games due to injuries. The Celtics, seemingly a lock for one of the top two picks in the Greg Oden-Kevin Durant sweepstakes, lost big on lottery night and ended up with the fifth selection.

How things seem to work out.

Does Pierce ever think about what it would be like if the Celtics had wound up with Oden or Durant?

"No, no, no. I promise you that, man. Not at all, I'm good," Pierce said with a laugh.

Boston acquired Allen from Seattle on draft night and Garnett joined the duo a month later in exchange for a package of young players and two first-round picks. The hope was to restore the pride in a storied franchise that had fallen on hard times.

The rest is history. New history the three plan to create together.

"So many bad things have happened over the years here in Boston, it's unreal," said Pierce, who finished last night's game with 19 points and 12 assists.

"It was time for the Celtics to live up to their mascot and get lucky. Look at us now . . . man, did we get lucky." *