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A Rivalry Renewed, Act 1

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 5, 2008 08:57 PM

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Man, my mind was on this basketball game all day - I don't think I'd anticipated a Celtics game this eagerly since all those epics they've been running on ESPN Classic this week were live on CBS 20-something years ago. Surely you can relate to the feeling.

Tedy Bruschi
(AP Photo)
Then I made a terrible mistake. I tuned into the Sox tonight for an appetizer. After witnessing the horror of an Ellsbury injury, a possible Manny hamstring tweak, a bizarre Manny/Youkilis near-reenactment of Reggie Jackson/Billy Martin in the dugout, and a brawl filled with so many Rays cheap shots you wonder if they thought Brian Daubach was still playing for the Sox (I think even Gerald "Ice" Williams got in a few jabs) . . . well, I'm having a hard time focusing on hoops right now.

Fortunately, Mike Breen just popped up on the TV, and he appears to be wearing a freakish flesh-colored band-aid over his right eyebrow. Just the distraction I needed. I bet if you dunked him in powder and gave him a stringy black wig, he'd look like Marilyn Manson.

Anyway, I'm running behind as usual - did I mention my 4-year-old tripped over the computer cord, the Mac crashed to the floor, and now only half the screen appears to work? - so let's just cut to the chase: Celtics in 7, with Win No. 13 of this postseason arriving tonight. I'll elaborate more as the game goes on . . .

FIRST QUARTER
9:00 - Lakers jump to an insurmountable 6-5 lead. Lamar Odom hit his first jumper, which isn't an encouraging sign for the Celtics. To me (and I lot of other people weighing in on this series the last few days) he's the key to the Lakers, much in the way Ray Allen is for Boston. When Odom's playing well, his team's offense is damn near unstoppable. Secretly, I was hoping a Celts fan would send Odom a giant gift bag of weed this week, just to see if it might have some effect.

8:22 - Rajon Rondo swishes a baseline jumper, giving the Celts a 7-6 lead. Unlike just about everyone at ESPN, I like Rondo against Derek Fisher in this series. He's got gears that Fisher has never had, and I feel like he should be able to zip by him almost at will.

7:00 - Sorry this is moving so slowly. My wife is reading along on the busted half-screen computer, and she keeps asking me questions and talking and that sort of stuff that wives instinctively tend to do when a game you've been waiting to watch for - well, years, in one sense - finally arrives. ("Look all the crumbs came out of the computer when it fell . . . ") I'd like to tell her to zip it, but that would be rude, and I'm really quite polite, you know.

5:42 - Gasol makes things look really easy offensively. He's more or less ambidextrous. One Perkins elbow to the sternum, however, and he'll be as useless as Chris Mihm for long stretches of play. (And somewhere, Don Cherry nods and snorts, "European sissy.")

3:21 - Bryant bricks his fourth shot in five attempts. Allen followed at the other end with his second straight field goal, a 3-pointer, to give the Celtics a 19-14 lead. And in a related story, I don't buy for a second that they've made up in their feud. Allen might be the forgiving type, but Kobe strikes me as someone who can hold a grudge for a long time. Like, forever. After all, he is a Jordan mimic.

Commercial: I've said it before, and it's the honest truth - Adam Sandler was the funniest standup act I ever saw in college, and that includes Seinfeld and quite a few comics of note. But I wouldn't go see that Zohan movie if he paid for my Sprite and Goobers.

2:31 - Jordan Farmar with a smooth slash to the hoop. I thought it was foolish that anyone would give Mitch Kupchak consideration over Danny Ainge for executive of the year this season, but the Lakers' GM has done a terrific job the last few seasons rebuilding the L.A. bench with kids like Farmar, Vujacic, and Turiaf, among others. Like Ainge, he seems to have an eye for finding talent that those picking higher in the draft have overlooked. That's a hell of an advantage for a team already stocked with big names.

1:04 - It's 21-21, and Rondo's playing a little recklessly right now. He just slightly misled Garnett on an alley-oop, and he drives me nuts when he has a path to a layup, gets within a few feet of the rim, and passes up the layup to kick it out for a jumper. Take the easy one, kid.

After the first quarter, it's 23-21, Celts, and given how erratic Kobe has been so far, the Lakers have to feel pretty good about that.

Phil Jackson tells Michelle Tafoya that the Celts are faceguarding Kobe. Is whining about imaginary sleights one of the basic tenets of Zen?

SECOND QUARTER
12:00 - Celtics start the quarter with Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown, and Leon Powe on the court. Not exactly DJ, McHale, and Maxwell there, but it'll have to do, I suppose.

9:52 - Lamar Odom is only 28? Wow, it feels like he's been around so long that he should have played for the Clippers back when they were in San Diego. Jim Harrick is probably still trying to find a way to get him eligible at Rhode Island.

9:36 - Cassell hits his first two shots. Surprisingly, they did not stop the game and present him with the ball.

9:21 - Seriously, what the hell could have possibly happened with Manny and Youkilis? Youk looked like he had no idea what was wrong.

8:46 - Mark Jackson: "Kobe Bryant is as good as Michael Jordan on any given day." That nonsense is barely out of his mouth before a graphic proves him to be a complete fool: Jordan averaged five more points, and won three more titles and four more MVPs. He is not as good as Michael Jordan. What he is is an adequate facsimile . . . on any given day.

8:00 - Celts up, 32-29. Cassell has hit all three of his shots, and as Breen sagely notes, "I think he's shot the ball every time he's touched it." That's our Sam.

7:25 - I'll admit it. I like Ronny Turiaf. He plays hard, and was about the only player on those likable Gonzaga teams who didn't have a goofy white-guy 'fro.

6:27 - I really do think the Celts win the series in 7, and I bet at least six of the games are instant classics. These teams are about as evenly matched as they could possibly be, and while the depth of talent isn't quite what it was in the mid-'80s, when accomplished players like McAdoo, Wedman, Cooper, Walton, and Mychal Thompson were in reserve roles, they're about as deep as teams get in today's NBA. These two deserve to be here, and they'll give us a show.

5:23 - Garnett has 16 so far in the first half, most of them coming on his patented 16- to 18-foot face-up jumper. I understand the frustration of the Felger-types who would prefer that he drag his 7-foot frame down to the block more often, especially late in games, but sometimes it's easy to forget that he is one hell of a midrange shooter. I feel like every one he takes is going in. Anyway, it's 40-35, Boston. No complaints.

4:55 - Pierce picks up his third foul. Can't say I've heard his name too much so far, but the points will come, provided he can stay on the court.

3:03 - Odom finishes a sweet lefty drive, and it's 45-42, Lakers. No one makes the game look easier than he does when he's interested.

1:20 - Just when I'm about to praise Rondo for a nifty drive-and-flip in the lane, he throws one of those stupid lob passes that nearly killed the Cs in Game 5 against Detroit. You think Doc Rivers, an ex-point guard, would have cured him of that bad habit by now . . .

:50 - . . . and as I'm writing that, he drills a jumper. I'll give Rondo this, he shoots it without hesitation now. The kid has come a long way.

:00 - Lakers take a 51-46 lead into the break despite Kobe shooting 3 for 10. Somehow, Fisher is the Lakers' leading scorer with 13 points, though I can't recall hearing his name too often.

Halftime thoughts: Jon Barry just said what I've been saying - the Celts should be worried since Kobe hasn't really got it going yet. I hate it when Jon Barry agrees with me . . . Magic says Garnett should have taken more than nine shots. Can't argue that, but what I'm really thinking is this: How has Magic remained so healthy? Looking at him, my ignorant self is guessing there are some steroids (legal, obviously) involved . . . I'm not too worried about the way this one is going, because I just feel like most of the games in this series are going to come down to the last minute or two, and this is shaping up to be one of them . . . Cassell really gave the Celts are spark, hitting 3 of his 4 shots. Still, I'd rather see Eddie House out there, and it's alarming that Doc supposedly (according to Mark Jackson) told Cassell he would play a big role in this series . . . Gasol has had too many easy shots. I hope Leon Powe is sharpening up his elbow at halftime . . . That Bird-Magic split-screen: Yikes. I think they were wearing XXXL jerseys, and I don't want to guess what the shorts situation was. I'm glad we can see only from the neck up there.

THIRD QUARTER
10:45 - Pierce converts a 3 plus a foul. Good thing Bennett Salvatore isn't in the building

9:21 - Garnett continues his aggressiveness on offense and scores his second straight hoop in the paint, giving him 20 points. Neither Gasol nor Odom, who just watched his favorite scenes in "Half-Baked" at halftime, has any interest in defending him. Van Gundy's right: Keep feeding him.

8:28 - Van Gundy on Kobe: "He plays sporadic great defense, but there's no way he deserves to be first-team all-defensive." Now that is the kind of stuff you want to hear from an analyst, and you know what? Listening to him call the Celtics games during the playoffs has made me respect him a lot more as a coach. He may look like Miss DePesto's husband, but he knows his stuff, and he can convey it to a dummy like me with insight and humor.

6:50 - Aw, geez, no. Pierce is down, grabbing his right knee, and he writhing like he's in serious pain. Looks like Perkins may have kicked him in the back of the leg on the way by while chasing Kobe. Let me tell you, I'm finding it pretty damn hard to type with my fingers crossed.

A wheelchair. *%&#&.

If something like this happens to Paul Pierce at this point in his career, after all he's been through, there is absolutely no justice in sports.

6:19 - Perkins picks up his fourth foul. I don't think the one on Pierce is included. (Sorry. This is no time for dark humor.)

5:50 - Now Perkins is headed to the locker room. I hope it's just to give Pierce a hug and a pound and say he's sorry.

5:44 - Allen drills a 3. Exactly what they need - he has to step up right now, and I think he's up to it.

5:12 - Wait! Is that . . . ? It is! Holy cow, here comes . . .

This is unreal. I've got chills.

5:04 - Tafoya says Pierce is trying to give it a go on a sprained knee. Maybe there might have been a little of false drama involved - Pierce is from Los Angeles - but dammit, if anyone doesn't respect this guy now, then they're absolutely hopeless.

4:41 - Pierce gets whacked by Kobe and promptly hits 1 of 2 from the line. That's the Paul Pierce I know.

4:10 - Allen with a bad behind the back pass to Pierce on the break, but you know what? I've got no problem with it, because if the play had been completed, the resulting roar would have blown the roof off the barn.

3:40 - Perk's coming back out of the locker room. He's probably wondering where Pierce went.

3:25 - I was watching one of the Celts-Lakers games from '84-'85 earlier today on ESPN Classic, and Byron Scott had a highlight-reel dunk over DJ on the break, the kind you don't see too often nowadays because some stiff would have hauled him down in the open court. Well, Kobe's dunk just trumped that one as the best I'd seen today, live or on tape. And in a related note: This is a fantastic basketball game. I feel like I'm in the '80s again, I'm 15 years old, and I'm wearing a cheap cotton 00 Celtics tank top my mom got at TJ Maxx.

2:25 - Garnett misses the jumper, but geez, Gasol just plays no defense. He might as well be wearing orange instead of purple, because he's nothing but a pylon.

1:42 - Pierce buries a 3 in transition, and the Celts are up one, 72- . . . and ANOTHER! WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! 75-71. But before I can stop typing all those EEEEEs, Pierce picks up his fourth foul. Shoot. Way to kill a buzz.

0:00 - Well, that was the most entertaining quarter of basketball I've seen since the Bird Era, and that is not hyperbole. The Celtics lead, 77-74, and the half closes with a shot of Pierce riding the exercise bike on the fringe of the stands, then laughing and patting a Spaudling-shaped fan on the shoulder after the fan offered a few words of wisdom. Phenomenal, phenomenal stuff, and isn't it great to feel this way about basketball again?

FOURTH QUARTER
12:00 - Allen is the only Celtics starter on the floor to start the quarter. Don't go too long without KG, Doc.

10:51 - Allen and Kobe swap hoops. Did we mention they don't like each other? Kobe does seem to be bringing out the best in Allen.

10:11 - Cassell's now missed three in a row, the last one, as Breen said, "a bad shot." Get the warmups off, Rajon.

9:38 - Cassell hits a J after a huge save at midcourt by Garnett, but then clanks a 3 on the next possession. So it goes with him. Even World B. Free thinks he's a gunner.

8:44 - I'm not saying this because he's my favorite player on the team, but doesn't it seem like every shot James Posey hits comes at the perfect time?

8:33 - Great stat: In the 10-plus minutes since Pierce got hurt, the Celtics have outscored the Lakers, 28-16. Well, that's not exactly how I expected it to go, I know that much.

7:30 - Seriously, Cassell needs to stop shooting, now. I think Van Gundy is going to start screaming at Doc to take him out any minute if this keeps up . . .

7:03 - . . . and then he passes one up as the shot clock hits 1 second. Not the kind of play a 14-year veteran should be making.

6:48 - Vujacic, who I already despise in a mini-Laimbeer sort of way, hits a 2, and the Lakers have cut the lead to 86-82 - and they've done it with Kobe catching a breather on the bench. I hate to say it, because I think Doc has done a terrific job for the most part in the playoffs (hey, at least some of us can admit we've been wrong about him), but these next few minutes might be where the coaching matchup comes into play.

5:30 - Pierce and Rondo back in, and Pierce immediately hits a step-back two. I was beginning to wonder if he was done for the night, but he's at least playing like he's healthy.

4:15 - It's 88-82, Green, but Garnett has clanked his last eight shots. That's inexcusable against Gasol, who plays defense like he's dying for a cigarette break. I agree with Van Gundy: Might be time to get a little bit closer to the hoop.

3:36 - Pierce hits a pair of free throws, then forces Kobe into a tough missed fadeaway. So you're telling me his knee is sprained? Really?

2:57 - I should note that P.J. Brown has been a Silas-like force in the fourth quarter - on one rebound, he dominated Luke Walton so badly that I think poor Luke called him "Dad" - but he was just a step slow on a layup by the recently awakened Odom, Odom converts the 3-point play, and it's 90-85.

2:02 - Gasol wants nothing to do with Brown. He's so skilled, but what a softie.

1:31 - Garnett discovers one effective way to end a streak of nine missed shots - a follow-up slam off a Posey miss. Now that's what you call emphatic, and the Celts are up eight. Might be the play of the game right there.

:16 - I love this version of Ray Allen. He buries both free throws, and the Celts are up 10. At least for one night, L.A. has been beaten.

Quick thoughts in the aftermath: If the Celtics end up winning this series, I'm pretty sure we've just witnessed the defining moment in Paul Pierce's career . . . The Celtics were excellent defensively, while the Lakers often looked disinterested. You wonder if that has something to do with the venue, but I tend to think it's just the teams' respective personalities . . . I didn't mention it much as the blog and game proceeded, but Rondo played a very steady game tonight for the most part. He looked like the veteran while Cassell made the young player mistakes . . . P.J. Brown was terrific. Can't emphasize that enough. But they will need a healthy Perk before this thing is over . . . The Ray Allen Redemption continued for the third straight game: 19 points, 8 rebounds, and a solid job on D . . . If the rest of the games are as dramatic and entertaining as this one, this series will be a classic on par with the ones that have been on ESPN Classic all week . . . Donny Marshall nails it with Cassell: "His game is like the New England weather." . . . The Lakers run the pick and roll beautifully, and they'll shoot better for sure, but the more I saw of Gasol and Odom tonight, the less impressed I was . . . Magic number: 3. Amazing, isn't it?

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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