|Looks can be deceiving because Matt Bonner and the Spurs came up a little bigger than Kevin Garnett and the Celtics yesterday. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Granite Stater was rockin'
We all love New Hampshire. It has those tax-free liquor stores just over the border and it's the home of Lake Winnipesaukee, the lamented Old Man of the Mountain, and Live Free or Die. New Hampshire gave the world Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and Carlton Fisk in 1969.
What the Granite State does not have is a great basketball tradition, which is why Matt Bonner is such a freak. Bonner is the starting center for the San Antonio Spurs and yesterday he buried the world champion Celtics with 23 points in a 105-99 matinee shocker on the fabled parquet.
It was quite the homecoming for the 6-foot-10-inch redhead from Concord, N.H. Two buses of family and friends made the one-hour trek down I-93 and all of them hung around behind the Spurs bench to greet their favorite son after stunned Celtic fans trudged home.
Matt's dad, Dave Bonner, a retired mailman, was one of the waiting fans. Matt's mom didn't make it to the Garden. Paula Bonner was in Amherst watching Matt's brother Luke score 6 points and grab seven rebounds in the University of Massachusetts's 4-point loss to St. Joseph's.
Luke is a 7-footer who starts for the Minutemen. Sister Becky was a pretty good ballplayer, too. She played at Boston University and now coaches at Louisville.
According to the Spurs press guide, Bonner is only the second NBA player from New Hampshire. Portsmouth native Jeff Cross (University of Maine) played 21 games with the Clippers in 1985-86.
"Jeff Cross was the pioneer and now I broke the mold," said Bonner after draining 10 of 17 shots (including three of six from beyond the arc) against the Celtics.
"Matt is taking advantage of the minutes he is given this year," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "[Today] he came into his home territory and played like a real pro - like he has been doing it for 10 years. He didn't let anything affect him."
Bonner scored 14 points in the second quarter, many of them on long heaves over the outstretched arms of Kevin Garnett. The Spurs led by 8 at intermission, then watched the Celtics blow past them with a 12-0 run at the start of the third quarter. Bonner and friends were not fazed.
"It's a 48-minute game," said Popovich, now in his 13th year with the Spurs. "I called a timeout and I didn't think we had done anything poorly defensively. It was a big swing, they had the crowd and team rejuvenated, so it was a matter of either being persistent and sticking with what you do, or fold. We showed a lot of mental toughness."
Indeed. While we see the world in terms of Celtics-Cavs, then Celtics-Lakers, the Spurs quietly go about their business in the West, holding the second-best record in the conference and preparing for another long playoff run. How's this for old school? The Spurs have five players with 11 or more years of experience and a lot of them have won multiple championships in San Antonio.
No matter what the Lakers do, the Spurs remain a serious threat to represent the West in the Finals. Those of you in love with the prospect of the Celtics and Lakers in another Finals should be careful you don't wind up snoring through a championship series featuring the Spurs and Cavaliers.
If the Celtics are out and the Spurs are in, New England fans can take some pride in Bonner.
Bonner was valedictorian of his senior class at Concord High School. He starred at the University of Florida before playing a year in the Italian A1 League. In 2004 he broke into the NBA with the Raptors, where he was famous for riding Toronto's public transit system. He found another way to save money by pocketing per diem and eating at Subway.
Bonner claims to have eaten more Subway food than Jared. What's not to like about a guy like that?
Bonner played two seasons with the Raptors before he was traded to San Antonio. He entered yesterday averaging just 8.0 points per game, but was hitting 52.2 percent of his shots, 48.9 percent on threes. Now he's raining long-range missiles on the heads of the Celtics. Three of Bonner's points came when he banked a shot-clock-beating trey from out top in the third quarter.
"I did that on purpose," said Bonner. "That's the Concord YMCA at its finest."
"Obviously he gives people problems," said teammate Tim Duncan. "They weren't ready for him to be getting shots like that, but he's been shooting like that all year long. So great for us, great spreading the floor, big-time knocking down shots."
"I thought Matt Bonner was the key to the game," added Celtics center Kendrick Perkins.
Just after 4 p.m. yesterday, the key to the game walked out of the Garden with his wife, his dad, and all those friends and neighbors from Concord. No one was saying, but I think they were all heading to Subway.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.