How long has it been since I've done one of these Random Lists of Five thingies? Let's just say that in one of the more recent ones there was a reference to recently burned music CDs. Hey, at least I wasn't still using a Walkman. To the lists ...
Five seasons I could see a prime-of-career Jackie Bradley Jr. duplicating, and I'll spare you J.D. Drew's 2000 season even though it's a decent potential comp:
1. Ken Griffey Sr., 1980: Forget any sports-radio hyperbole comparing the Red Sox' phenom to Junior Griffey. If Bradley's best seasons resemble Griffey Sr.'s, which spanned 1976 to '80, his promise will have been fulfilled. Griffey's '80 season, when he hit .294 with an .818 OPS, 13 homers, 10 triples, 23 steals in 24 attempts, is the standard bearer. And Bradley will be the better defender. (Papa Griffey never won a Gold Glove.)
2. Lyman Bostock, 1977: Murdered at age 27 in September 1978, Bostock will forever remain one of the great what-ifs in baseball history. He played just four major league seasons, the finest of which was spectacular. In 1977, Bostock hit .336 with 14 homers, 62 extra-base hits, 16 steals, and an .897 OPS for the Twins before joining the Angels as a free agent over the winter. Bradley at his best projects to be more patient and a better defender but with perhaps a little lower batting average.
3. Shane Mack, 1992: Red Sox fans may remember Mack as a sore-shouldered flop with mish-mashed 1997 club, but he should be remembered for a string of outstanding seasons with the Twins in the early '90s. In '92, he hit .315 with a .394 OBP, 16 homers and 26 steals, a high-end expectation for Bradley.
4. Jose Cruz, 1983: One of the more underrated hitters of the '70s and early '80s, "Cheo" hit .318 with 14 homers, 30 steals, and a league-high 189 hits while finishing sixth in the NL MVP ballotinng.
5. Jackie Robinson, 1952: Well, the on-base percentage -- a league-best .440 -- is probably unattainable, but the .308 average with 19 homers and 24 steals is more than reasonable. And it just seems right to match him up with the most admirable of Jackies.
Top five selections in the 1990 NHL Draft:
1. Owen Nolan, Nordiques: NHL goal total: 422
2. Petr Nedved, Canucks: NHL goal total: 310
3. Keith Primeau, Red Wings: NHL goal total: 266
4. Mike Ricci, Flyers: NHL goal total: 243
5. Jaromir Jagr, Penguins: NHL goal total: 679 and counting.
Top five selections by the Bruins in the 1991 NHL Draft:
1. Glen Murray. NHL goal total: 227
2. Jozef Stumpel. NHL goal total: 196
3. Marcel Cousineau. NHL goal total. 0. But he did have an assist once.
4. Brad Tiley. NHL goal total: 0. Played 11 NHL games.
5. Mariusz Czerkawski. NHL goal total: 215
Five best draft choices, in order and weighted by where the player was selected, by the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era. (Excluding the 199th overall pick in 2000, the best pick in league history):
1. Rob Gronkowski, 42d overall, 2010: If healthy -- and I hate that if, too -- he's a game-changer, with 38 touchdowns in 43 career games.
2. David Givens, 253d overall, 2002: Had a touchdown catch in seven consecutive postseason games.
3. Vince Wilfork, 21st overall, 2004: Yeah, he was a first-rounder, but at that position, getting the ideal fulcrum for the defensive scheme was an absolute heist.
4. Aaron Hernandez, 113th overall, 2010: A tight end with a receiver's skill-set and a running back's open-field instincts.
5. Dan Koppen, 164th overall, 2003: Played 121 games at center during nine seasons in New England, had Tom Brady's utmost trust.
And the five worst, which actually could all be defensive backs:
1. Chad Jackson, 36th overall, 2006: Traded up to get the Florida receiver. Sixteen picks later, Green Bay, which traded down, chose Greg Jennings.
2. Terrence Wheatley, 62d overall, 2008: Played just 11 games for the Patriots. Are we sure he existed?
3. Shawn Crable, 78th overall, 2008: Limited to six games due to injury, mostly to his matchstick legs.
4. Ron Brace, 40th overall, 2009: How could anyone so large so often be invisible?
5. Brock Williams, 86th overall, 2001: Foreshadowed all the failed draft picks in the defensive backfield to follow.
Five basketball legends who played for the Celtics in the '70s and '80s after making their name elsewhere:
1. Ernie DiGregorio: Averaged 2.4 assists in 10.1 minutes per game in 1977-78, his final year in the league.
2. Dave Bing: Hall of Famer and Pistons great retired after averaging 13.4 ppg in 1977-78,
3. Bob McAdoo: Averaged 20.6 ppg in 20 games for dismal, fractured 1978-79 squad.
4. Tiny Archibald: Made three All-Star teams in five seasons in Boston (1979-83) and averaged 13.8 ppg for 1980-81 champs.
5. Pete Maravich: In 20 games for the 1979-80 Celtics, he averaged 11.5 ppg in his final year at age 32. Can't help but imagine what it would have been like to watch Pistol Pete at the peak of his powers play with Larry Bird.
Five partial player comments from the 1997 Baseball Prospectus annual:
1. On Mariano Rivera: "... I think he needs a better second pitch and more work. The better second pitch is a big issue, because Rivera got hit worst when he fell behind and had to come in with a fastball for a strike. Without one, I think he'll decline further this year.
2. On Trot Nixon: "One of the more overrated prospects in baseball. Nixon has more tools than Home Depot, but he uses them about as well as the government uses tax revenues. His back troubles have damaged his game as well. As Boston's #1 pick in 1993, he'll get plenty of chances to embarrass himself in the majors."
3. On Tim Wakefield: "Three years after nearly washing out of baseball, two years after nearly winning the Cy Young and just months after a temporary demotion to the pen, Wakefield may have found his niche: middle-of-the-rotation innings eater."
4. On Jeff Bagwell: "A fine defender, intelligent baserunner, and one of the best power hitters in the game. Still looks like an adult Bud Bundy ...."
5. On David Ortiz: "... He is very young, and the Twins may want him to have more than a half-season at Double A before they hand him a starting job in the majors, but his upside is very high. Think Dave Parker."
Five players chosen in the first round of the 1995 NHL Draft:
1. Bryan Berard, defenseman, No.1 overall, Ottawa
2. Wade Redden, defenseman, No. 2 overall, NY Islanders
3. Kyle McLaren, defenseman, No. 9 overall, Boston
4. Jarome Iginla, forward, No. 11 overall, Dallas
5. Petr Sykora, forward, No. 18 overall, New Jersey
Five players drafted ahead of Rajon Rondo (21st overall) in the 2006 NBA Draft:
1. Adam Morrison, Charlotte, No. 3 overall: Hey, he did win two championships with the Lakers. He also scored a total of 84 points over those two seasons.
2. Shelden Williams, Atlanta, No. 5: Go ahead. Make the shoulda-drafted-Candice Parker joke. I'll wait.
3. Patrick O'Bryant, Golden State, No. 9: I remember the precise moment I knew he was never going to be a viable backup for the Celtics -- when spent pregame warmups during a game against the Raptors trying to beat Big Baby Davis with crossover moves.
4. Mouhamed Sene, Seattle, No. 10
5. Oleksiy Pecherov, Minnesota, No. 19.
Five most talented receivers (in order) to play for the Patriots since I began paying attention in 1978:
1.Randy Moss (2007-10). 52 games, 50 touchdowns.
2. Terry Glenn (1996-2001). Made it look so easy when he was in the right frame of mind. Telling that when Troy Brown was asked last season which former teammate of his the '12 Patriots could use most, he cited No. 88.
3. Irving Fryar (1984-92).Watch out for those Foxborough trees.
4. Stanley Morgan (1977-89). 534 catches at 19.4 per
5. Wes Welker (2007-12). No, he wasn't a deep threat. But he somehow managed to be an upgrade on the great Troy Brown as a slot receiver, and that's a tribute to his talent as well as his oft-cited determination.
The outcome may not have been the one Celtics fans desired, but the Heat's thrilling 105-103 victory at TD Garden Monday night lived up to its advance billing and then some.
Miami extended its winning streak to 23 games despite a brilliant 43-point performance by the Celtics' Jeff Green. It should come as little surprise that the excitement of the game resulted in impressive ratings for both ESPN and Comcast SportsNet New England.
ESPN's national telecast, with Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown calling the game, earned a 3.1 overnight rating, the third-best number ever for a regular-season NBA game on the network.
The only two higher-rated regular season games were a Lakers-Rockets matchup January 17, 2003 (3.8) and a Knicks-Heat game February 27, 2011 (3.2).
The game earned a 4.0 in the Boston DMA and a 5.3 in Miami on ESPN.
CSNNE, which had the local broadcast with Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn on the call, earned a season-best 4.8 household rating despite sharing the game with ESPN.
It is CSNNE's highest rating in a shared game since February 4, 2011, when the Celtics played the Mavericks. CSNNE topped ESPN in all demographics in the Boston market.
The game peaked on CSNNE with a 6.46 household rating during the final quarter hour of the telecast. Combining CSNNE's audience with ESPN's during that time frame, more than 12 percent of the households in the market were tuned in to the game.
Don't forget: Chat at 2:30. So, you know, 2:35 ... 2:38 at the latest.
Today's media column on the Bruins' massive ratings on NESN is here. Talked to Andy Brickley, not exactly a disinterested observer, about why he believes fans in Boston came back so quickly after the lockout. Here is one thought from Brick that I didn't use in the column, on how the accessibility of the players seemed to accelerate the fans' forgiveness.
"One of the things you try to do is expose these guys so that the fans get to know these players and their personalities,'' said Brickley. "I don’t think a Belichickian approach works in hockey. Everybody knows that hockey players are salt-of-the-earth people. But they’re in the community, and fans have access. They live in town and are out and about in town but they live the right way. They’re out amongst their fanbase and you get to know them. That matters to people."
Because today's column was a one-topic deal, here are a few items I wanted to touch on but didn't have the room. I may make this a regular Friday feature. Consider them the deleted scenes:
ESPN formally announced the hiring of Ray Lewis as an NFL analyst/personality this week, a story Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch was all over several weeks ago. While his history makes him something of a controversial choice, his appeal to ESPN is obvious -- he's a truly great player with the charisma to succeed. I'm curious how they'll use him -- I supect he'll be turned into a fake-preaching cartoon character designated to give "inspirational speeches'' to various teams and players. I do hope he's not a significant part of the "Monday Night Football'' broadcast -- Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden tandem is just fine as is. And it will probably be an adjustment for Lewis, getting less camera time now in an actual TV gig than he did all those years playing to the cameras before, during, and after Ravens games.
The NFL Network apologized Wednesday, a day after someone on their set -- believed to be Warren Sapp -- commented in less-than-network-friendly language about a segment that was underway featuring Scott Pioli discussing the Patriots' philosophy in team-building. While Pioli, who worked in the Patriots front office under Bill Belichick during the three Super Bowl victories, was talking with host Scott Hanson, Sapp The Voice could be heard whispering, “It’s the same [expletive] segment we had Mike Lombardi do. The [expletive] Bill Belichick [expletive] angle.” Chris Rose presented the apology, saying in part, "Last night during some live programming, we accidentally aired an expletive. It will not happen again." I suppose the apology was necessary, but what the network should really apologize for is continuing to employ Sapp. It's obvious why information about the Patriots matters -- insight about what they do and how they've maintained their run of success for more than a decade is at a premium. No one is asking much about the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs these days, you know?
The rumor that Bob Ryan is co-hosting a show on 1510 is not accurate. He is doing six hits a week with Marty Tirrell on Yahoo! Sports Radio's "Calling All Sports,'' which is broadcast on 1510. But it's not a full-time thing, and he says he doesn't want one. He is expected to join Sean Grande as the color analyst on the Celtics-Bobcats game Saturday night on WEEI, possibly in an every-other-quarter role with ESPN's Ryen Russillo. They will be filling in for Cedric Maxwell, who is being honored by the Atlantic-10.
Regarding Bill Simmons's three-day Twitter suspension by his ESPN bosses for a series of tweets criticizing Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's battle with Skip Bayless on the abomination known as "First Take,'' I'll stick to what I more or less said on ... well, Twitter. Maybe as an employee Simmons should have had more discretion, and I'm sure he was warned before. (He was previously suspended for ripping WEEI, which has a partnership with ESPN). But man, was he ever right. Kudos to him for speaking the truth.
Dale Arnold, Gerry Callahan, and Kirk Minihane is a very good show. As we heard this morning, Callahan and Minihane alone (with the latter handling getting in and out of the breaks and other duties that the absent John Dennis does well) might be even better. If there was any concern before this week regarding how to repair the morning show, there shouldn't be now. Seems to me they've found two solutions.
Looking for a Ted Sarandis update? You know you have, and we've got one for you. The former voice of Boston College basketball and WEEI evening host (among other gigs) will debut a new college basketball program on WATD 95.9 beginning this Sunday at 9 p.m. Titled "College Basketball Tonight,'' it is co-hosted by former BC coach Al Skinner and will air through the end of the month. It also will be streamed online at hoopville.com.
Jerry Remy won't be part of NESN's spring training Red Sox broadcasts over the weekend. The network said it is because of a previously planned family commitment. Jim Rice will fill in tonight against the Twins. It's one of their co-produced telecasts, so Twins analyst Ron Coomer will team up with Rice. Don Orsillo will split time with Twins play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer. Orsillo and Rice will handle Sunday's game with the Rays. Guess a Rays legend like Ryan Rupe, Tanyon Sturtze or Julio Lugo wasn't available to share the booth.
If anything, the third-year guard's non-stop, full-court dogged tenacity has to a large degree exposed Rondo as someone whose recent defensive accolades are the result of reputation, flash, and the occasional paid-off gamble rather than someone who is wholly committed to shutting down the man in front of him.
When healthy, Rondo should be an excellent defender. The tools are there. Bradley has the tools and the will, evident on virtually every play, almost as if something important to him depends on it.
I bring this up today in part because of my colleague Baxter Holmes's superb piece on how Bradley's defensive fortitude has helped him win respect and a leadership role among the Celtics. I thought Kevin Garnett – a 12-time All-Defensive selection who knows a little about the subject – was particularly candid and insightful regarding Bradley, and the feature melded anecdotal evidence and advanced metrics precisely the way sportswriters should in these changing days.
The Synergy Sports Data stat Baxter cites that tells us Bradley is second in allowing 0.678 points per play among guards involved in 200 or more defensive plays is the perfect confirmation of what your eyes tell you when you watch Bradley: The opposing player who has the unfortunate task of matching up with him is going to be elbowed, shadowed, nudged, pursued, and thrown off his game.
I saw this first-hand Friday night when I attended the Celtics-Warriors game with some old friends. The buzz surrounding Golden State guard Stephen Curry that night was palpable, with the sharpshooter coming off an instant-classic 54-point performance at Madison Square Garden that was one of the most spectacular displays of outside shooting you will ever see. But there was an added layer of anticipation to Curry's attempt at a sequel at our Garden: He'd have to deal with Bradley.
Curry took 22 shots. He made six. He finished with 25 points thanks to some generous whistles by the men in stripes, and it was the quietest 25 points you could imagine. At an NBA game, certain things are more evident from the seats, above the court, than they are from the couch.
You gain an appreciation for the geezer geometry of Paul Pierce's game. You watch a play develop and realize Rondo sees everything, not just what's happening but what will happen if he makes this pass or that crossover or hesitates on the dribble just so. You realize there's a whole lot of herky-jerky to Jordan Crawford (hopefully more herky than jerky), that KG is so subtly physical that he must have to encase himself in ice after the game, and man, do you ever realize that Avery Bradley never, ever relents, not for a second, not for an inch, not until that buzzer sounds.
I know, weird question, but can you imagine playing pickup ball against someone like that? His defensive abilities, especially his ability to retreat while staying right in the ballhandler's face, are almost unfathomable to comprehend. His defensive skills were acknowledged by draft experts coming out of college – though I do chuckle at NBADraft.net's Monta Ellis comp – and even though he struggled with an ankle injury during his one year at Texas, I still find it hard to believe that a player capable of wreaking such havoc on the defensive end lasted until the 19th pick. Score a steal for Danny Ainge.
Bradley was taken a pick after the Clippers chose Eric Bledsoe, one of the few guards in the league who play with a similar defensive relentlessness. He would be on the short list of contemporaries who might equal Bradley's defensive prowess. Chris Paul is another, but as I said, it's a short list. Very short.
Which is why the headline isn't so much intended presently, but historically. I'm not about to offer an absolute proclamation on a 22-year-old with 122 regular-season games to his credit, but in the context of ever, let's just say the list of guards in league history whom I'd choose over Bradley for that one stop you just have to have is also very short.
Gary Payton, who made first-team All-NBA for nine straight years, might be the consensus choice as the best defensive guard in league history. Celtics old-timers might suggest K.C. Jones or Dennis Johnson (a six-time first-team selection who was a freakish athlete in his SuperSonics youth -- he blocked 97 shots in 1978-79, more than Garnett has had in any season as a Celtic.)
Michael Jordan was relentless, and Joe Dumars was relentless on Michael Jordan. Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan, the '70s Bulls backcourt, would rough you up without apology. Walt Frazier shut you down in style. Michael Cooper had at least four arms and Larry Bird's permanent respect.
Oh, and Kirk Hinrich was second-team All-Defense in 2006-07. Just so you know.
I worry about Bradley's durability -- those surgically repaired shoulders are constantly tested by screens and picks and other unclassified see-no-evil physical play. But if he holds up, he will be regarded as one of the finest defensive guards ever to play. He just needs a little more longevity and a few more highlights like these:
I've never seen anything like him. I don't think Steph Curry has, either.
Realized the other day that it's been about three years since I last pulled together a mailbag. Not sure why I got away from it -- they're always fun to do, and I'm inexcusably awful at staying on top of email these days, so I figure this is a good way to catch up on some of it. Other questions arrived via Twitter as well as outtakes from the Friday chat. We'll do another one before 2016, I promise. In the meantime, let's get to it, and keep the questions coming ...
Beyond the fact that it is creepy do you have a problem with sportswriters jumping all over themselves to document the increase in body mass of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout? I get that it is a "story" in the sense that these are two of the biggest stars in baseball, but at the same time if these writers were reading stories written in this manner that were published back in 1998 there would be a chorus of "we should have known betters". Are "BEST SHAPE OF THEIR CAREER" stories really that enticing? Or just that easy? -- Neil (DC)
"Best shape of their career" is of course one of the great recurring cliches of spring training, at least unless you're talking about Felix Doubront, aka Southpaw Guapo. The guys at "Hardball Talk'' especially have a great bit of fun with that particular spring-training narrative, and it's understandable, but in the case of Trout in particular, it's actually a worthwhile storyline. He came in at 241 pounds, which is huge given that he's a rangy center fielder and one of the most electric and efficient basestealers we've ever seen. For someone coming off a historically brilliant rookie season, it's a bit jarring to see him make such a drastic change to his physique. His first year was so incredible that it's a reasonable to ask whether he will ever have a better one. If he slips a bit this year -- and as Baseball Prospectus's Ben Lindbergh writes today, it's reasonable to expect that he will -- there will be questions about his offseason workout regimen, whether that's fair or not.
Chad, the likelihood of all the things you say in your Unconventional Preview column today that need to happen for the Red Sox to be a winning team actually happening is remote. Like winning the lottery remote.
-- Your Name
Sure. But I don't think all of those things -- everyone staying healthy, the Victorino/Napoli/Drew newbies bouncing back, Buchholz and Lester thriving -- will happen. But I think it's reasonable to expect that, oh, half of it does. And if Lester finds his old form but Buchholz can't stay healthy, Victorino hits like he did in '11 while Napoli needs a walker by midseason, Ellsbury is an MVP candidate while Papi gets hurt, that sort of split -- they still have a chance to be pretty good.Everything went wrong last year. They won 18 of their final 60 games. They lacked more than talent. They lacked competence. They will be much better in both regards this season.
Hope you're right with your prediction of 87 wins [for the Red Sox]. Maybe it's the pre-2004 in me popping up, but I'm not so optimistic. I'm old and old-school when it comes to baseball, and a shortstop who can save 50 runs a year really appeals to me. I should not judge Stephen by J.D., but I drew my conclusions by watching the former No. 7 and having him on a few Rotisserie teams. Except for the grand slam [in the 2007 ALCS against the Indians], of course, almost as big a hit as David Ortiz's homer in the first inning of Game 7 vs. the Yankees.
-- Peter S.
If Iglesias saves 50 runs over the course of a season, he will be the greatest defensive shortstop in the history of baseball, bar none. Brendan Ryan -- a decent comp for what Iglesias might ultimately become -- led the majors in Defensive Runs Saved by a shortstop last year ... with 27. Iglesias's sensational defense simply will not compensate for his wet noodle bat at this point. Give Drew a chance. If his ankle is right, he'll be capable at shortstop and an asset in the lineup.
I agree with your feelings on a trade involving either Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett for guys with questionable attitudes. It's just incredibly frustrating as a Celtics fan to see this team continue to fail to get a decent true center. Garnett doesn't count. He's told you he's really a 4; and at age 36 I think he might collapse from exhaustion banging around at the 5, basically by himself. I like Danny Ainge, but am I crazy to say he has completely failed in this regard? The best center we've had since Perk has been a 39-year-old Shaq. Is it really that hard?
-- Bob P.
You know ... it kind of is that hard. The results haven't been great, but given how challenging it is to fill in a roster already dotted with highly-compensated stars, I have no problem with the process. Trying to wring a little more high-quality play out of Shaq, Rasheed Wallace, and even Jermaine O'Neal as complementary players to the Garnett-Pierce-Allen-Rondo core made a lot of sense. It was something Red would have done, and did, with players like Pete Maravich, Bill Walton, Scott Wedman, or the Lakers with a guy like Bob McAdoo. It just didn't happen to work, but because it's so difficult to find a decent big man -- I mean, Michael Olowakandi was a No. 1 overall pick, Todd Fuller went ahead of Kobe Bryant, and on and on -- that it seems the best way to go is to take that risk on a player who actually has accomplished some things.
No longer sold that Jose Iglesias is the shorttop of the future. He is more likely the next Rey Ordonez. I say let Drew man the job until Xander Bogaerts is ready, because he is the SS of the future. Or until they convert Will Middlebrooks to 1B and Bogaerts to 3B, when Deven Marerro is ready at SS. Either way, Iglesias is not the answer. If he can't hit AAA pitching after 2 years, he's a lost cause.
-- Peter G.
I don't know that he's a lost cause. While comparing him to Ozzie Smith or Alan Trammell at the same age, as his defenders have done, simply does not work (Ozzie was in the majors after one minor league season, and Trammell hit .300 at age 22 in his third full season). And anyone who thinks being the next Rey Ordonez is a compliment was familiar with him only from Web Gems. He had a .600 OPS in the majors -- miserable, and yet better than Iglesias's in Triple A after two years. I suppose there's a glimmer of hope in the Omar Vizquel comps -- he had just a .598 OPS in Triple A. But the hunch here is he gets passed by Bogaerts, and with Deven Marrero getting a chance to advance quickly, it's now or never for Iglesias with the Red Sox.
Given the media's recent (last two seasons) predictions of grandeur, why exactly should The Nation listen now that they predict A Bridge To Nowhere?
Depends who you're listening to in the media. Lot of reasonable voices out there who explain their thinking -- PeteAbe, Gordon Edes, Alex Speier, and many others. I try to be among them. The "Best Team Ever'' stuff is the work of headline writers trying to get you to buy the paper. Be discerning in who you read and who you believe. Also, read and believe me, always.
I enjoy your coverage of the radio wars. While I listen to both stations the question I have is why is Jason Wolfe not taking a huge hit for WEEI?s troubles? A lot of this is on him and his decisions.
-- Howard F.
Been getting this question a lot lately, for obvious reasons. Jason played a huge role in WEEI's success, and also contributed to the institutional arrogance that put them into their current position. But I think he is taking a huge hit -- he had to fire Glenn Ordway, someone with whom he had a long, successful, lucrative run, and presumably someone who is a good friend. That couldn't have been easy, and it won't be his last difficult task. If he does survive this, and I actually believe he should, some of the burden should be off him. These recent decisions are on Jeff Brown, Entercom Boston's VP market manager and Jason's boss, and if they don't work beyond saving a few bucks, he deserves as much heat as Jason is receiving.
When I look back on Celts after 1st Big 3, I see Len Bias, Reggie Lewis and a bum lottery ping-pong ball. Can't the Celts hope for better draft luck next time around?
It's certainly overdue -- perhaps sending someone other than M.L. Carr and his lousy just-tanked-for-this-chance karma would be a better idea this time. (Who was the lottery rep in the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant year? It was Wyc, right?) Sheesh, the first time around they weren't even lucky enough to get Keith Van-Bleepin' Horn. But the history of the post-Big Three Celtics is often retold without enough of an emphasis on Reggie Lewis's death. Len Bias was incredible, but given how many players in that '86 draft washed out because of drugs, who's to say that wouldn't have been his fate had he survived past the night after the draft? Reggie, though ... we already knew what we had and what he could be. It didn't go straight from Larry Bird to Dominique Wilkins, you know? Also: Ainge would have totally taken Durant.
Gun to your head, which game 7 are you taking back; Lakers in 2010 or Miami last year? Banner 18 or the chance to say you beat the team nobody said you could beat and that pill LeBron doesnt have a ring. I think I'm taking Miami. Thoughts?
Lakers. No doubt. None. If Perk had been healthy ... if Doc had given Nate Robinson a few extra minutes ... If Artest's cheap-shot on Ray Allen earlier in the series hadn't mess up his quad ... If Sheed didn't run out of gas ... If Artest's heave doesn't drop ...If KG didn't get out-rebounded by 15 by Pau Gasol, and yes, I feel horrible for bringing it up ... those are the ifs you've got to live with. LeBron? I have the utmost respect for the way he plays the game. Game 6 was the pivotal performance of his career, and in retrospect, it's starting to feel inevitable. Plus, that Celtics team overachieved.
RANDOM LaSCHELLE TARVER INTERLUDE
END OF RANDOM LaSCHELLE TARVER INTERLUDE
Are you still convinced the Sox are going to trade Andrew Bailey? I never understood your logic. He was hurt most of last year, and had 7.04 ERA. Talk about selling low.
Not so much, in part because there will probably be attrition, and also because I haven't heard a peep about him wanting to close elsewhere. (Doesn't hurt that Bruce Rondon is hitting 100 miles per hour in Tigers camp, either.) But it still wouldn't completely surprise me -- there were rumors he was headed to Toronto as compensation for John Farrell before it ended up being Mike Aviles.
The Aaron Hernandez deal seemed smart at the time. It was the exact thing they didn't do with other guys (Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins) that eventually got them into trouble. Doing Rob Gronkowski deal early certainly seemed smart too.
But did they swing too much to the other guardrail with Hernandez? Especially after they already locked up Gronkowski? Should they have waited for it to play out with Hernandez?
If they didn't do Hernandez deal early, he would be going into the last year of his rookie deal this year, at chump change.
What they gave him is more total dollars than it would take to keep Welker at this point, and the $16 million guaranteed dollars Hernandez got is probably in spitting distance of the guaranteed dollars Welker would want at this point. Same for the $8 million a year Hernandez is getting.
Anyway if you had to have one guy next year, Welker or Hernandez who would it be? in my opinion, hands down, Welker.
Interesting take. Hernandez is so talented and versatile, but he's lost some luster because of his struggles to stay on the field and his inconsistency in big games. (Is that fair? I think that's fair.) But given the choice right now, I take Hernandez without a second thought. He's just 23, and his best days should be ahead. No matter where Welker signs or the amount he signs for, at 32, there's no denying he'll be getting paid for past performance rather than what he is likely to be. Welker should have a couple more highly productive seasons ahead. I hope the Pats keep him. But forced to make a choice between one or the other, there's not really a choice at all.
Ever wonder what your demographic is for the chat? Might be interesting to put that up as a question (ie, are you 18-34, 34-50, etc.) Might be risky for you though. :)
Tend to think my demo is roughly my age group or younger, extraordinarily handsome, and generally much smarter than me. I suspect there's pretty decent demographic appeal there than, say, what you'd find in the comments section of a Bleacher Report slideshow.
I can't be the only one who thinks that Big Papi plays in less than 81 games this year.
Beginning to think the same way, Jackie. He's 37, admitted recently that there was a partial tear in the Achilles' has played one game since last July 16, and doesn't exactly look like he was addicted to cardio (for understandable reasons) this offseason. He was great when healthy last year, but it's hard to fathom right now that he has 150 games or so ahead of him this year.
Meh. He did hit 32 homers last year, but he's redundant with Gomes. Maybe if he hit lefthanded. Actually wonder if he ends up with the Yankees since Curtis Granderson is out for a couple of months. Brian Cashman has denied it, which sometimes foreshadows it actually happening. By the way, I refuse to believe Soriano is 37. I still think of him as the young fella in the Yankees lineup who couldn't hit Pedro's breaking ball even if he had one of those giant red plastic bats.
How do you see Jeff Demps fitting into the Patriots offense next year?
-- Eric M.
Honestly, no clue. He obviously has electric speed and should be what they desperately need in the kicking game, but he's coming off a redshirt season and needed to put on some weight after making the transition from Olympic sprinter. Seems like overall expectations are higher than they should be. He was productive at Florida, but let's not anoint him the second coming of Percy Harvin until he, you know, actually plays some football. What did he have, three catches last preseason?
Every time I see a writer take a shot at Bobby Valentine, I'm reminded of a quote from "Married with Children"--"If you give a gun to a chimp, and the chimp shoots someone, don't blame the chimp." Thanks for 2012, Larry Lucchino!
-- Studio 00
Obviously. What you should do is name the chimp athletic director. Standard procedure.
In his three NBA seasons, Jordan Crawford has carved out a respectable niche for himself as a shoot-first, ask-questions-later two-guard who can get you a point pretty much every other minute.
But as our own intrepid Dave D'Onofrio beat me downcourt to point out, an NBA feat is not the first thing to cross a basketball fan's mind when Crawford's name is mentioned.
Unless he blossoms into a star in the NBA -- and given that he's essentially World B. Crawford, the shooting guard version of Brandon Bass, a useful scorer who isn't quite the weapon he thinks he is, it's probably not happening -- his hoops legacy as The College Kid Who Dunked On LeBron And Sent Nike Into Burn-The-Film Mode will permanently remain.
Which isn't a bad legacy to have, really. LeBron isn't embarrassed often these days, and Nike has never had much shame. It's a cool highlight, and the rare few who have clowned LeBron are always welcome on this roster. I'm curious how receptive Crawford is to talking about it these days.
As for what Crawford means to the Celtics, well, first of all, you have to like any deal in which you get a helpful player for an injured guy (Leandro Barbosa, who should be saluted for his fun, inspired play while he was here) and a tall guy (Jason Collins, who didn't do much other than ... um, stand tall.)
And he will be helpful. Crawford, 24, has averaged 13.4 points per game over 26.2 minutes in his career, and he's right around both numbers again this year. He plays with energy and great athleticism and should fit in well if Doc Rivers can convince him to play any defense at all. Then there's this:
Jordan Crawford is 1 of 7 players to average 18 pts, 5 ast, & 4 rebs per 36 min this season (LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Westbrook, Manu & Harden).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 21, 2013
Some fine company there, and those are the numbers of a guy who should be able to fit in with the push-the-ball, move-the-ball, post-Rajon Rondo approach. Crawford, Avery Bradley, and Jeff Green would be pretty fun to watch play together when everything is clicking.
Maybe some are disappointed that after all of the buzz and hype and skepticism of Danny Ainge's declaration that a big trade was unlikely, Crawford is the extent of the Celtics' haul.
I'm not among them. Despite the suspense-free recent losses to the Nuggets and Lakers, a sign that the superb, free-flowing stretch of play after Rondo's season-ending knee injury is sustainable only to a certain degree, I'm glad Kevin Garnett isn't a Clipper and Paul Pierce isn't a Net and talented knuckleheads like Josh Smith, Tyreke Evans or DeMarcus Cousins aren't arriving to remind us of how lucky we have been to watch gifted players who don't waste their talent, but enhance it.
The Celtics aren't winning banner No. 18 this year. We can admit that, right? Nothing they could have done Thursday, save for a Dwight Howard deal that never seemed more than conjecture, was going to bring them any closer to that moment.
So I'll take a perceived dud of a trading deadline, an acquisition of a useful supporting player, and another 40 or so games of watching Garnett and Pierce team up to nobly fight off Father Time, and I'll consider it a good day.
I mean, you just couldn't let a loss to the Lakers be their final scene together, right?
On the occasion of Bill Russell's 79th birthday, I offer one of countless statistics in support of his unmatched brilliance and unique place as team sports' greatest winner.
At age 34, in his final NBA season, he averaged 19.3 rebounds per game -- the second-lowest single-season total of his career. Bonus Russell stat: He dished out 4.9 assists per game that season, an average Jason Terry -- a guard -- hasn't managed in the past six seasons.
Let Doc Rivers in on those ridiculous items of confirmation concerning Russell's unmatched brilliance and he'd probably be pleading with him to give 10 good minutes off the bench Wednesday night against Joakim Noah and the Bulls.
Actually, Doc, who embraces the history of the league and the franchise as much as any contemporary NBA personality, is probably well aware of all of Russell's various incredible feats. (OK, permit me one more quirky one: Russell averaged just 8.4 shots per game during his final season -- almost one shot fewer per game than Brandon Bass is averaging this season.)
It seems appropriate to acknowledge Russell today not just because it's his birthday or because it's always appropriate to acknowledge Russell, but because his extraordinary victory-above-all-personal-glory approach to the sport has ancestral branches with the incredibly likable current edition of the Celtics.
Look at that Sports Illustrated cover from five whole seasons ago. (Five-plus seasons? Has it really been that long? It really has been that long.) Now go ahead, ask yourself this: How much mutual admiration must there be between Russell and Kevin Garnett, who is as unselfish and team-obsessed as any player, superstar or otherwise, of his generation?
And how fun has it been to watch KG, who turns 37 in May and is older now than Russell was when he walked away, rage against his age during this recent stretch in which the defiant Celtics have lost more players to apparently season-ending injuries than they've lost games?
Monday night's justifiable loss to the Bobcats excepted, the Celtics are playing wildly entertaining winning basketball. When Garnett and Paul Pierce have stepped away from the parquet and moved along to Springfield, we'll remember the triple-overtime victory over the Nuggets Sunday night as one of the most rewarding regular-season performances during their time here as teammates.
Watching them play now, fighting for every last inch their aging legs and extraordinary savvy will allow, I'm almost convinced that their last days in Boston won't be tinged with the broken-bodied sadness that accompanied the decline of the original Big Three, particularly Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. They're ancient by NBA standards, sure, but KG and Pierce aren't breaking down, not yet, and their will is so incredible that I don't want to see them play anywhere else but here. Barring any more season-ending injuries, the status quo works for me, Danny.
Besides, I don't think we could handle the culture shock of watching the likes of DeMarcus Cousins mope through, oh, a Tuesday night game in Orlando after watching KG bring it every single night for so many years.
There is a third Celtic who, though much younger, is a respected peer of KG and Pierce, having played a crucial role in winning that 17th banner and in so many memorable on-court battles with the Heat, Lakers, Bulls and lesser rivals since. Of course, Rajon Rondo is absent now, the Celtics ripping off seven straight wins before Monday's loss in the aftermath of his season-ending knee injury, and so it seems every game doubles as a referendum on just how important or unimportant the brilliant, flawed point guard is.
There's no doubt they've had their best run of basketball in his absence, with KG (shooting) and Pierce (facilitating) taking on even more responsibility and some of the crucial supporting cast suddenly thriving (by coincidence or not) since he went down. Jeff Green is playing with confidence and aggression, and at his best you're damn straight there's a little James Worthy in his game. Terry is hitting shots he was missing when Rondo was running the show, and he's come right up the line without outright saying that he's more comfortable when Rondo isn't running the show and dominating the ball.
While being mildly amused at the enigmatic tangle of Rondo's career -- he's called selfish for passing too much, and yet somehow the offense is playing with greater urgency and efficiency in the absence of one of the sport's premier playmakers -- I simply refuse to believe that the team will be better off in the long run without him, and not just because he's a guy who can drop 40 stylish points on the Heat or win a playoff series by himself. I don't know if this was ever said of Russell (I doubt it), but it has been suggested of KG and it also applies to Rondo: He needs to score more when the opportunity is there. Of course, with KG, his reluctance to shoot is perceived rightfully as unselfishness. With Rondo, he's accused of wanting to pad his assist totals above all else.
What I've recognized during this stretch of outstanding play and reassuring victories since Rondo's injury is this: There is actually room for this wonderful player to significantly improve. He needs to make the effort to get to the rim more often -- I feel like he really can do this at will -- and he needs to finish when he gets there rather than kicking the ball out habitually. He needs to forget about the embarrassment of missing a free throw and not let his issues at the line render him passive late in games. He needs to distribute the ball before 20 seconds have ticked off the shot clock. He needs to do everything he can to make sure his teammates are in the right spot to thrive, just as he did with pet project Avery Bradley last year.
He can do all of this things on top of all of his various otherworldly talents and skills. It's up to him whether he does, whether he becomes truly team-focused in that rare Russell/Garnett manner.
But it speaks to the uniqueness of Rondo -- and yes, to his enigmatic ways -- that a reduced assist total upon his return might actually be an indication that he's more unselfish than ever, at last ready to provide whatever it his his team needs on any given night.
The twin cruelties of attrition and age aren't about to start doing them favors, and so it would be easy and probably even accurate to declare this latest great era of Celtics basketball as complete, ready for the archives rather than prime time.
Rajon Rondo's season is over, the victim of a torn ACL in his right knee, an injury that could not be overcome by pure stubbornness despite his best efforts that night in Atlanta. Ray Allen left in a snit over the summer, and while the reasons may have been petty, that he's burying 60 percent of his corner threes for the Heat suggest the decision was prudent.
Only Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett remain from the championship team of five full seasons ago, and while the effort and the savvy are there every night, the ancient legs sometimes don't allow for those old familiar results of big numbers and entertaining victories.
While it's hard for me and perhaps you too to concede that the final buzzer will soon sound on the half-dozen mostly fulfilling and always entertaining seasons of New Big Three era, Celtics boss Danny Ainge isn't about to get sentimental on us now. He busted up the championship starting five with his out-of-nowhere swap of Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City in February 2011 for, essentially, Jeff Green, and Doc Rivers isn't the only one in that locker room who still cites from time to time that the KG-Perk-Pierce-Allen-Rondo quintet never lost a playoff series when all were united and healthy.
Ainge's lack of sentimentality springs from his own unquenchable competitiveness and his first-hand knowledge of what happens to a great team when the past takes precedence over the future. There are occasional flashbacks and endless ghosts on the descent to basketball purgatory (trademark, Washington Wizards/Bullets), and late picks in the lottery do nothing to relieve perennial mediocrity.
Ainge was the first of the Celtics '80s core to go, dealt for 14 feet of mediocrity in Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine, which isn't the way to maintain relevance either, but he saw from afar what happened when Larry Bird and Kevin McHale got old and eventually hobbled away. It set the franchise back half a decade, leaving them grasping for quick-fix bad ideas -- yes, Dominique Wilkins really did happen -- before finally crashing at the bottom.
Ainge has vowed time and again that he will not repeat that mistake, and with the Rondo injury snuffing out any glimmer of a championship hope, I don't think any of us would be surprised to see the two remaining pillars, Pierce and KG, sent elsewhere before the February 21 trading deadline. I mean, it would be shocking to see them go, particularly Celtics icon Pierce, because they are so associated with the rejuvenation and tenor of this franchise, but it wouldn't be a surprise, if that makes sense.
The rumors are already floating across your medium of choosing. Sean Deveney, who does fine work for The Sporting News, wrote Sunday in advance of the Celtics-Clippers matchup that Los Angeles covets Garnett and offered forward Caron Butler and guard Eric Bledsoe. Butler, who turns 33 next month, would have little long-term value to the Celtics -- he's the mid-'90s Xavier McDaniel in this scenario, and they have very similar careers in terms of Win Shares. Bledsoe is intriguing, a very talented kid who is expendable only because the Clippers have Chris Paul ahead of him, presuming he can be retained beyond this season.
Bledsoe is appealing, but the pieces don't quite fit, and it's a deal Ainge should not make even if the fiercely loyal Garnett, who says he's not going anywhere unless Pierce does, is willing to waive his no-trade clause. Now, if the Clippers want to include D'Andre Jordan (whom the Celtics passed on to take clueless J.R. Giddens in the 2008 NBA Draft) or recognize that Pierce might be a better fit for them, maybe it's worth reviving, if it ever existed beyond a Clippers wish-list fantasy at all.
Before we learn how it will all play out, I recommend making conscious effort to appreciate the moment. The Celtics have seven games between now and the deadline, including a pair of clashes with the Lakers, the first at the Garden Thursday, and the second a 10:30 p.m. start on Wednesday, February 20 in LA. That late-night nationally televised matchup could serve as a final, appropriate scene for Pierce and/or Garnett here, or it could be just one more game on the Celtics' road to a destination yet to be determined. Should they stay together, I'd love to see what they could do in a first-round series against the Knicks. Should they depart, well, count me among the newly-minted fans of the Clippers or Warriors or whichever team ends up with Pierce or Garnett, two of the truest, most admirable Celtics I'll ever have the pleasure of watching.
I count Rondo in that category, too. While the suggestion during this four-game winning streak that they're better off without Rondo is the half-formed blip of a thought by those whose opinions come from sports radio rather than watching the games themselves, there's no doubt certain players are performing better in his absence. Rondo is a dominating presence on the court and in terms of personality, and that's how it should be. You're damn right the ball should be in his hands as much as possible.
But there's no denying that Courtney Lee and especially Jason Terry and seem to have found themselves in his absence, and while Rondo's rehabbing here's hoping he recognizes that with his remarkable talent and intelligence comes the responsibility to make all of his teammates better. I do wonder how many of them he'll recognize when he returns.
But until February 21 delivers answers one way or the other, I'm enjoying watching this team, with Pierce and Garnett and young Avery Bradley and ol' Doc and a bunch of pieces desperately trying to fit together. They're exciting and exasperating and wholly ours, and I'll miss it when it's no longer this way.
New England sports fans have been so incredibly blessed during the last decade-plus, with the four major sports franchises (sorry, Revo) tallying seven championships since 2001. But we're also reminded of that old Tom Brady go-to line when he's asked which championship is his favorite: "The next one.''
I chatted with Kevin Paul Dupont on the topic of which Boston team will deliver that next one on "Globe 10.0" the other day. But two minutes of jovial bickering apparently didn't do the topic justice since the idea has been ricocheting around in my skull ever since, so here's a couple hundred bonus words on the topic ...
Championship contention? This franchise? I don't know. Do you know? I don't know.
I've gone on record time and again this winter as approving of Ben Cherington's long-range approach toward restoring this franchise's credibility on and off the field. Signing proven, respected veterans to short-term deals as the bridge to a core of prospects the organization truly believes in, all the while holding the reasonable expectation that previously established high-caliber players will return to health and/or form, is a very prudent way to go.
But does that translate to true contention? Probably not, unless a deep bullpen masks all question marks in the rotation, everyone in the lineup has a healthy, productive year, a premier player who fits their needs becomes available at midseason, and either Jackie Bradley or Xander Bogaerts emerges ahead of schedule. That's probably too much to ask, but at least the Red Sox will be worth your time again.
Next season of serious contention: I'm telling you, they'll be in the wild card mix this year, but that doesn't count, does it? Let's go with 2015, though I don't think even Cherington's crystal ball can provide an accurate forecast at this point.
If we couldn't admit it before Rajon Rondo's injury, we can now: The only way the Celtics were going to have a shot at reaching the NBA Finals is if Dwyane Wade went on a league-wide rampage of cheap shots unprecedented since the collective 1987 Pistons, with his misguided hackery, undercutting, and elbow-stomping somehow claiming teammate LeBron James along the way. So yes, we're saying there was a chance.
I'll miss watching Rondo doing stuff like this ...
... and this ...
... and I have no idea where Danny Ainge goes from here, though Zach Lowe's suggestion that the Celtics and Warriors might have a match with a Paul Pierce for Harrison Barnes/Richard Jefferson swap at least elicited a "hmmmm, interesting."
Next season of serious contention: Probably about the time Tim Duncan's son is eligible for the draft. He's five.
Rodney Harrison, whom Bill Belichick really should have cloned for future use during his peak years, is on The Dan Patrick Show as I'm writing this, and he just admitted to something that surprised me, though maybe it shouldn't. After some prodding by Patrick and a couple of verbal detours about the challenges of Super Bowl week, Harrison admitted that he thinks about the Patriots' Super Bowl loss in 2007 far more often than he considers the victories in 2003 and '04.
I suppose it's not news that he's tormented by the David Tyree catch, but it was a jarring reminder that the Patriots have had an almost unfathomable string of "what-ifs" since that last championship eight years ago. What if Harrison can pry that ball loose? What if Rob Gronkowski isn't injured last season and again this year? What if Deion Branch was still here in '06? What if ... well, that's enough. You don't require the reminders.
It's been a truly extraordinary dozen years for the Patriots -- they don't get enough credit for essentially turning over their entire roster save for the quarterback without as much as a hiccup -- and that should never be taken for granted. I just hope we never get to the point around here of remembering the disappointments ahead of the many victories.
Next season of serious contention: The pursuit of the elusive fourth ring -- that coveted "next one'' -- for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick begins anew in September.
Now, I'm not disregarding all of the people who lost income when the NHL owners and players were engaged in their petty little lockout showdown. But purely from a hockey sense, is it possible that all of the labor melodrama actually benefited the Bruins in a meaningful way?
A league-high 12 of their players went overseas, giving them somewhat of a conditioning advantage. The core of their championship team from two years ago is still intact, so perhaps training camp isn't as essential to them as it is to teams with considerable roster turnover. They have tremendous depth and should be able to navigate the condensed schedule with relative ease. Nathan Horton got extra time to make sure the clouds had gone away.
And how about that fortunate timing, essentially beginning their season as the Patriots were fading out? I think that went a long way toward limiting the potential lockout backlash, almost as if Boston fans realized, "Wait, how fortunate are we to be going from one championship contender right into the season of another?" OK, maybe it didn't quite work that way. You guys just can't resist hockey.
Next season of serious contention: We're five games into it. Thank goodness they came back.
If we couldn't already place his whereabouts in New Orleans, where he'll surely soon be asked and asked again about his recent forecast of the NFL's extinction, Bernard Pollard might be a prime suspect in what happened Friday night in Atlanta. The Ravens safety has an uncanny knack for being in the vicinity of serious injuries to New England athletes, and yes, I'll spare you Pollard's personal knock-out list.
Let's just say that had Pollard somehow covertly switched sports, slipped into the guard rotation for the Hawks, and been responsible for the injury to Rajon Rondo that ended the brilliant point guard's season and his team's thin glimmer of postseason glory, it would be only slightly less strange than how the whole devastating plot twist really played out.
Rondo's belief that he tweaked his hamstring in the loss to the Hawks raised the antenna of team doctor Brian McKeon, who told coach Doc Rivers before Sunday's much-anticipated national television reunion with Ray Allen and the Heat that his best player was a no-go and, in fact, en route to New England Baptist for an MRI.
McKeon's suspicion soon brought confirmation of the worst -- torn right ACL, season over -- and an eerie pall fell over the Garden as virtually everyone in the building learned about the crushing news, many via social media, long before the Celtics players were informed they'd being marching on without their dynamic, enigmatic floor leader.
In a truly weird sort of way, the Celtics had their season's high point -- a 100-98 double-overtime victory over the defending champs -- and the painfully obvious low point within the same hours. The last couple of days encapsulate who they have been this season.
Had they not grown complacent and punted away a 27-point lead in an eventual 123-111 double-overtime loss to the Hawks, Rondo may never have been in a position to suffer the injury, which is our basketball version of lamenting Rob Gronkowski's inclusion on the extra-point team. Watching Gronk fall, then Rondo, has made a Boston sports fan's winter just a little more frigid.
And yet once the Celtics lost Rondo, the improbable victory over the Heat reminded us of the toughness and stubbornness of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in particular. It reminded us why, for all of their uneven play this season, we never entirely wrote them off as a contender. They've proven us wrong before, and that's why so many of us were fine with what Bob Ryan calls Year 6 of a three-year plan. Those who won that 17th banner also won our admiration long ago.
Now? Well, now we can acknowledge that Banner 18 is not happening this year, and barring a Danny Ainge miracle, likely not in the near future. Rondo is gone, off to surgery in the next couple of weeks and then, hopefully, to mimic Adrian Peterson's rehabilitation regimen, and thus gone too are any aspirations of a prolonged postseason run, if they existed at all. As admirable as the Garnett-Pierce-Rondo core of this team can be, let's admit it: the only way they were going to come out of the East is if what happened to Rondo Sunday happened to one of the Heat's superstars along the way.
It's a miniscule consolation, if even that, but at least we now have clarity on this season, on what the Celtics are and who they can be. Rivers warned us Sunday not to write this team's obituary, and I'm not. Bill Simmons's Ewing Theory could come into play for a time -- as wonderful as Rondo is, the offense's efficiency has never fluctuated much in his absence. And given that the Kings and Magic are their next two opponents before they face the soaring Clippers Sunday, a couple of wins could serve as a temporary salve. They're still worth watching, even with the deflated expectations.
Barring an unforeseen blockbuster, it makes sense to keep the core intact, even if it may be too much to ask of Garnett and Pierce to supply anything more than sporadic flashbacks of true brilliance. Pierce in particular has to work hard to earn every statistic these days, and asking him to facilitate the offense in Rondo's absence is a surefire way to burn him out.
But that's a better option than trading him for the sake of trading him, and here's my plea: If your suggestion is to "blow it up,'' c'mon, give me some details. Tell me which players they can acquire who will make their future brighter when Rondo returns, because I'm not seeing much more than the water-treading modern versions of Danny Ainge for Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney right now. Don't give me Rudy Gay without looking at his contract status, and please, point me to a team that would have a desire to acquire Pierce and the ability/willingness to trade promising young players for him.
Suggesting trades for trades' sake is the lifeblood of sports radio's laziest vampires. Besides, there's enough here that if the roster remains fundamentally the same, the eighth-seed will remain in their possession. Hey, it's more interesting than bottom-feeding in the lottery.
It'll be fascinating to watch how they get to the postseason, how they avoid that obituary. But it won't be as fun. Rajon Rondo, the Celtics' most mesmerizing player since Larry Bird, has played his final game of the season. His plastic-man knee gave out in Atlanta, the extent of the damage immediately unbeknownst to him as he fiercely played through it. Now his team must play on without him. The extent of the damage to them will only be revealed in his absence.
Ten thoughts on the maddening, meandering, but not-yet-hopeless Celtics, who at least aren't the Lakers ...
1. The Celtics miss Ray Allen's shooting, particularly his ability to bail them out of small deficits late in games when his teammates suddenly remembered they had one of the best shooters in league history on their side. But they don't miss him as much as they miss Jason Terry, if that makes sense. The player Terry was two years ago -- and for many years beyond that -- was capable of giving the Celtics everything Allen did on the offensive end. But he's been a detriment on both ends of the court, and I don't know about you, but I'm kicking myself for not being more skeptical of this move. He's a small, 35-year-old shooting guard who showed serious signs of regression last year -- it was foolish to believe it was an aberration rather than signs of decline. For as much as he's struggled this year, his performance isn't much worse than it was a season ago -- he's shooting percentage is down just .008. I'm afraid this is who he is.
2. My appreciation and defense of Rajon Rondo is approaching my long-standing Manny Ramirez zealotry -- his court vision and decision-making amid chaos is breathtaking and actually underrated. His gift for running the game is more evident from the cheap seats at the Garden, where you can see the entire court and the play developing from above, than it is from the couch. That caveat out of the way ... I'm with those of you who are sick of watching him pass up layups to kick the ball out to the perimeter. This team, with it's inefficient half-court offense, needs easy points, not style points.
3. If you don't love what Jared Sullinger brings to this team, you're either not one for appreciating the nuances of basketball or a University of Michigan grad. Imagine what he'll be capable of once the refs stop whistling him for a foul every time one of his arms twitch. The last Celtics rookie I can recall getting this much unjust grief from the officials was Rick Fox 20-plus years ago.
4. I generally like Brandon Bass better than Glen Davis as a player, and he actually is the outside shooter Big Baby thinks he is, but the two have more in common than we realized last year. You get the sense Bass overvalues his ability and importance on offense, and when he's not getting shots, it negatively affects the rest of his game. Which was a Big Baby trademark, of course, and one of the reasons he was dealt for Bass.
5. I'm not abandoning the Courtney Lee bandwagon. Among the new guys and potential scapegoats, he's the one who plays hardest, and his defense is stellar, though certainly not Bradlian. (Avery, not Bill.) As a colleague noted the other day, his best role is as the eighth man on a championship-caliber team, not as a starter.
6. If you missed it, here's a wonderful pierce written by John Karalis for "The Classical" on Paul Pierce's genius for basketball geometry. I'm actually a little worried about Pierce right now -- he's in better shape than he was a year ago and yet is having a tougher time maneuvering around defenders, which doesn't bode well -- but this story is a dead-on, beautifully written appreciation of Pierce's aesthetically old-school game.
7. JJ Redick, Celtic? Sure, sign me up, presuming Danny Ainge can make something reasonable work. At 28, he's still a brilliant shooter and is one of the most efficient scorers in the league, and he's clearly worked extremely hard to improve from a defensive liability who essentially had a "Torch Me" sign taped to his jersey to a tireless, hard-nosed effort guy. And to think I thought he'd have the career of Conner Henry.
8. This one has nothing to do with the Celtics, but it blew my mind when I saw it on Twitter yesterday. (Thought it was via ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, but I can't find the source.) Ricky Rubio is shooting 24.6 percent this season in 14 games. I know he's shaking off the rust and tentativeness after knee surgery, but he should be able to hit more than a quarter of his shots even if he had a leg crafted from the finest mahogany. Of course, he's still capable of this ...
9. And while we're at it, once of my favorite passes of all-time. That thing broke like a Bruce Hurst curveball:
10. As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:
Because sometimes it really is random.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves arriving at the Garden Wednesday night on the occasion of Rajon Rondo's return from a two-game suspension more or less for having his teammate's back, I've found myself flashing back to when Rondo first arrived here, and when there seemed a real possibility of him departing just a year later.
Rondo missed a win over the Blazers and a loss to the Bucks while serving his time for defending Garnett. Just imagine what we'd have missed had he been traded for him all those years ago.
First, for the sake of setting up the timeline and providing a reminder of how quickly a perception of a player's talent can change, here is what Danny Ainge told the Globe for the June 29, 2006 editions after he acquired Rondo in a trade from Phoenix after the Suns drafted the former Kentucky star on the Celtics' behalf with the 21st overall pick:
"I don't think you can have too many [point guards],'' said Ainge, who also acquired Sebastian Telfair from Portland that night. "We feel like speed is the way the game is going now. You see in Chicago and you see in Dallas all those teams playing multiple point guards at one time. And we think [Rondo] has a chance to be a special player. We wouldn't have done the deal if we didn't think that he has a chance to be the quality of a player of an Al Jefferson, a Gerald Green, those kinds of players. We think he has that kind of upside."
Now, Ainge knew that night that he was getting a potential steal in Rondo -- he had said before the draft that he was the seventh-ranked player overall on the Celtics' draft board. But it was the acquisition of Telfair, the underachieving prep legend, that was the main point of interest in the aftermath of the draft, and it is amusing to consider that it was a compliment at that point to suggest he had the upside of Gerald Green, who washed out of the league for two full seasons before finding recent redemption with the Nets and Pacers.
The coincidence is that one year, 24 wins, and 58 losses later, Green and Telfair -- who must be in the starting five of the most exasperating players Doc Rivers has ever attempted to coach -- were gone to the Timberwolves as secondary pieces behind centerpiece Jefferson in the franchise-altering trade for Garnett. And Rondo got to stay behind and form a bond with Garnett that would result in a championship a year later, a silly incident a few days ago, and so much in between.
Six-plus seasons later, Rondo is still a source of frustration to an element of impatient Celtics fans. I get it. He probably should have avoided the impulse to do much more than shove Kris Humphries and throw a few easy insults his way rather than escalate the incident to the point of suspension. This is Rondo's team now, and restraint in moments of frustration is part of leadership, something he seems to understand.
"I want to get better; I want to run off about eight or nine games straight [wins]," he said Tuesday. "It starts in practice and it starts with staying in the game. I just want to go out there and give it all for my teammates and try to get some wins. We have to get this show on the road. We have to have a great December. November is behind us. We didn’t play well. We’re 9-8. But it’s a new month and I’m ready to go.”
But I also think his genius for his particular sport isn't always appreciated around here to the extent he should be -- in fact, the perception of Rondo strikes me as increasingly similar to that of Pedro Martinez during his heyday. I'm not saying Rondo is the point guard equivalent of the maestro Pedro was as a pitcher -- that would be Oscar Robertson, alone in his own stratosphere -- but the pride and intelligence and fierce competitiveness are sometimes overlooked at the expense of emphasizing the occasional petulance. Rondo threw the ball at an official. Pedro threw the ball at Karim Garcia. They aren't the world's first temperamental geniuses, you know?
That's my way of suggesting we recognize how fortunate we are to be able to watch him, my way of saying I'm glad he's back and that he wasn't gone before all the good times began. I'll always wonder how close Ainge really was to including Rondo in that deal in the summer of 2007. Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale coveted Rondo, who was coming off a rookie season in which he'd shown flashes of brilliance as a 20-year-old in 78 games (25 starts) for a brutal team. But Ainge knew what he had -- or at least thought he knew what he had -- and steadfastly refused to include Rondo in the trade, and wouldn't you have just loved to have heard his bartering with McHale as the deal was taking shape?
It helped the Celtics' cause that Telfair, who still held mild appeal as a prospect then, essentially had to be included in to make the trade work relative to the salary cap. But if McHale had said, "Include Rondo or I'm trading KG to the Lakers" -- a real possibility at the time -- would Ainge have relented?
He says no now, just as he said no then. But it's nonetheless fascinating to consider today, with Rondo -- essential, polarizing, brilliant, occasionally petulant, uniquely talented, and as much fun to watch when he is on his game than any Celtic since No. 33 -- returning to the Celtics lineup.
It sure beats the bizarro-world alternative that could have been set in motion in 2007 -- returning as a member of the Timberwolves to the place where he began his career. Thank goodness we know Rondo as Garnett's loyal teammate than as someone for whom he was once traded.
While last night's skirmish with Rajon Rondo might have been Kris Humphries's most terrifying personal encounter since Kris Jenner ordered him into her lair and laid out the terms of the contract, it wasn't really much of a fight.
Rondo may have airmailed a few punches -- based on what some reporters are saying, he'd better hope Stu Jackson doesn't have a better replay than the one we had on TV -- and the Nets' Gerald Wallace was ready to rumble, but Humphries didn't want much to do with it, and alleged hard-foul victim Kevin Garnett was a late arrival to the scene. Fight? I guess. But I'm sticking with skirmish.
You want a fight? Here's a fight: Some guy on the Knicks named Doc Rivers chasing down the Suns' Kevin Johnson, who had just flattened him right before the halftime buzzer with a dirty pick. It escalates quickly, but the whole clip is worth watching -- especially the guest appearance by Doc's current boss, sneering Suns guard Danny Ainge -- but the all-out brawl occurs right around the 4-minute mark. It's a wonder Anthony Mason doesn't kill a guy with a trident right in the middle of it, but he does get in a high-caliber cheap shot.
Kind of forget Doc was a willing member of those New York Knicks goon squads that set the NBA back 20 years, don't we? Man, those teams were despicable.
I know, we're not supposed to make light of fighting in the NBA. The Malice in the Palace was eight years ago but still hovers over the league, and the Kermit Washington/Rudy Tomjanovich near-tragedy is so ingrained that it spawned at least one very dull book a couple of decades after the incident.
A fight might be wildly entertaining from the comfort of the couch, but nothing good comes of it beyond perhaps team unity. There were a couple of kids courtside in the middle of the maelstrom who may not look at their heroes the same way. That's a bummer.
But count me out of turning this into another referendum on Rondo's maturity. I'll leave the sanctimonious scolding and finger-wagging to others. While you hope he grows, seven years into his career, we also have a pretty good idea who he is at this point, and either you're with him or against him. Usually, it's complicated with him, because he's a complicated dude -- brilliant, enigmatic, selfless, reckless. There are more adjectives to describe him than he has assists, and he's as polarizing an athlete as there is in Boston.
It's not complicated this time, though.
Both sides are correct -- he was being a good teammate for having Garnett's back and he was being an irresponsible one for taking it beyond shoving Humphries and perhaps calling him a few colorful words. I mean, if there's one guy in the league who should be easy to chop down verbally, if it's not him, then he's the runner-up to Lamar Odom.
It stinks that a team that is struggling to find an identity will be stuck in neutral through a couple of games while Rondo serves his inevitable suspension, but the timing could be worse. The hope is that he learns to control the heat-of-the-moment impulses and his temper and it doesn't happen again in a situation or at a point of the season where it really matters.
Maybe he takes a lesson out of this. Sure, you hope he does. But there were bigger lessons learned Wednesday night that had nothing to do with the fight. We learned that the Celtics-Nets is a legit rivalry now. And we learned that when you're getting taken apart by Andray Blatche, you have no right to call yourself anything more than a work in progress.
The Celtics have each others' backs. That's always good, even if it comes with fallout. Now let's see them start fighting their way forward in the standings once their best player returns from his self-inflicted hiatus.
Posting up with a few Celtics notes while looking forward to tonight's Boston-Brooklyn showdown that this time includes Rajon Rondo ...
It's an easy angle to suggest the Celtics miss Ray Allen, who has had his share of big moments and big makes in Miami already. But Jason Terry has done a fine job replacing him as the guy who you remember you have when you're down six with two minutes left. The narrative isn't as appealing, but the truth is, the Celtics miss Avery Bradley much more. His relentless defense is an element that can't and hasn't been replaced. Remember, the Celtics rocketed and found their identity when KG moved to the 5 and he Bradley was inserted into the lineup in place of Allen last year.
Once Bradley returns, the depth and relative redundancy has me convinced the Celtics are set up for a trade. If I understand the rules correctly, free-agent acquisitions such as Jason Terry and Courtney Lee can't be traded until December 15 or at the three-month mark after he signed, whichever is later, while a Bird rights player such as Jeff Green can't be moved until January 15. So there will probably be nothing brewing anytime soon -- for instance, there's no one on the roster they can or would trade right now that would bring, say, Marcin Gortat from the Suns. But with Bradley, Terry, Lee, and Leandro Barbosa all eventually worthy of minutes at 2-guard, and Danny Ainge's creativity and utter lack of sentimentality suggesting he'd pull the trigger on any deal that would help, I bet he acquires a useful big man in time for the playoff push.
The irony of accusing Rajon Rondo of being selfish for striving for an assist record is just such a perfect encapsulation of the nonsense he has to put up with around here. Was it a little curious that he came back into the already-settled Pistons game to record a 10th assist and keep his streak alive? I guess. But Doc knew it mattered to his player, and he did a smart thing, building goodwill by allowing him to keep it going. It's probably because of the proliferation of sports talk -- on the radio and television -- but we spend way too much time around here worrying about what could happen instead of enjoying what did happen. I hope Rondo, at 37 games of double-digit assists and counting, blows away Magic Johnson's record of 46. And I almost hope he has to come back into another game to keep it going, just to annoy those who can't appreciate a good thing and don't want the rest of us to, either.
I'm getting as much of a kick as anyone out of the Rasheed Wallace comeback/redemption/R-rated comedy tour. At his Pistons peak he was a truly brilliant all-around player, and while he could be a real [ad-lib your unprintable of choice here] during his his Jail Blazers youth, he was also a bit misunderstood. Celtics president Rich Gotham once told me that Rasheed was one of the most down-to-earth, introspective players the Celtics have had, remembering a conversation they had on a flight about the modern self-defeating foolishness of having a posse. I remember his season here well, though the recollection of him shooting 28.3 percent on 290 attempted had faded until I was looking at his basketball-reference page. That's a lot of bricks. Stat don't lie.
One more item tangentially related to 'Sheed: Someone should write a book on the 39-win 1995-96 Washington Bullets, Wallace's rookie year. His teammates included Juwon Howard, Chris Webber, Gheorghe Muresan, Mark and Brent Price, Tim Legler, Kevin Pritchard, Michael Curry, and Ladell Eackles. Eclectic doesn't begin to describe it.
I love the camaraderie and chemistry between Tommy Heinsohn and Brian Scalabrine on the nights Scal sits in for a while on Comcast SportsNet New England's game telecasts. There's a mutual respect there among two people who understand the game on a deep level and have the ability to articulate it succinctly and with good humor. And I don't want to say Mike Gorman gets out of the way when Tommy and Scal are bantering, because Mike Gorman is never in the way. But it's noticeable and admirable that he just lets the conversation flow organically between the two analysts with only occasional interjection, because a lot of play by play voices less accomplished than Gorman wouldn't allow it.
Random Dave Cowens Highlight Reel Interlude. Why? Because he'll flatten you like he did Mike Newlin if you don't watch, that's why.
Have to admit, I'm a little surprised how much frustration there seems to be with this team 14 games into this season. Isn't this kind of what we expected at this point, with Doc monitoring KG's minutes, no Bradley, Jeff Green (who, for all of his inconsistency gets way too much grief) and Chris Wilcox returning from heart surgery, and several new players trying to find their roles, particularly on the defensive end? They'll be fine. If any team north of Foxborough deserves your faith that they'll get it figured out over the course of the season, it is this one.
I ... I can pretty much assure you it will never be more random than Kevin Pittsnogle. Even if I do someday find the elusive Conner Henry or Nate Driggers.
Two years ago at this time, it was the Heat that had to mesh after LeBron James's talents arrived from Cleveland, and the argument could be made that the puzzle never consistently had all the pieces in the right place until his transcendent performance during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
This year, it's the Celtics who are trying to figure out how everything best fits, something we were reminded of during their opening-night hiccup, a 120-107 loss to the defending champion Heat.
While the circumstances are different -- the Heat had to integrate newcomers LeBron and Chris Bosh with another superstar, Dwyane Wade two years ago, while the Celtics used five new players among the nine who saw the court Tuesday night -- it's apparent that it's going to take a little time for this thing to work, especially on the defensive end. I'd be willing to bet that we've already seen their worst defensive performance of the season, and wouldn't a June peak be nice?
So with the Heat looking comfortable and familiar, newly crowned and basking in their designated shooter upgrade from James Jones to Ray Allen, let's pass on assessing the teams for now, one game in and 81 to go, and instead focus on some opening-night takeaways regarding individual performances.
We'll start with a Celtic who is getting way too much grief for his performance ...
Jeff Green: Maybe Scal's half-serious James Worthy comparison is valid. After all, James Worthy is 51 years old. All right, Green's tentativeness coming off a very encouraging preseason was frustrating, a flash back to his struggles to fit in after the Kendrick Perkins trade two years ago. But despite my inability to resist a weak joke, I'm going to try my best to be patient with him. After all he's been through and the determined effort he puts forth, he deserves that much. Last night was his first NBA game since May 11, 2011.
Rajon Rondo: Yeah, his performance was a letdown if you were expecting him to seize control of the game or carry himself with maturity in the face of frustration, things he needs to do this season if he's going to take that next step to becoming a genuine franchise player and not just a cornerstone. He didn't score his first hoop until the score was 43-42, and he probably overdid himself trying to involve all of the new players in the offense. Then again, when a bad night is 20 points, 13 assists, and 7 rebounds, that does get you thinking about how much fun the frequent good nights will be.
Paul Pierce: He didn't shoot particularly well -- 6 of 15 en route to 23 points -- yet his performance might have been the most encouraging sign of the night for the Celtics. He looked healthy and spry, the greatest confirmation yet that it was injury and not the effects of age that rendered him so ineffective at times Also: He should be miked up every game. His defensive orders to Jared Sullinger and his admonition of Rondo ("You need to play ball right now and stop thinking so much!") were gold.
Kevin Garnett: He gave Ray Allen the cold shoulder and never got the hot hand. He was out of sync the whole game, something that won't happen more than a half-dozen times this season. Personally, I think he was thrown off by Allen's weird attempted acknowledgment as he checked into the game. (KG's instant monologue: "He touched me. Did you see that, Darko? I can't believe that traitorous @(#*%&!*@* jump-shooting *$@(@)!***#()!)@) front-running ##$(% momma's boy touched me. $**$#@@.")
Shane Battier: Didn't notice him. Might have something to do with the cracking down on flopping. Poor guy must be so lost right now.
LeBron James: I get loathing him as an opponent; hell, it's encouraged. Great players are great villains. But as an aficionado of basketball played at its highest level, I love watching what he's become, which is essentially a point-power forward who dominates the game selflessly, almost casually, then flips a switch and imposes his will when he senses or the scoreboard suggests. He could average a triple-double. It's his world now, cramps, self-aggrandizing commercials and all. We'd better get used to it.
Mario Chalmers: Still carries himself like he's never considered there might be a better player on his team.
Courtney Lee: Can you have three first impressions? Well too bad, because I do. 1) Though he got beat on a couple of back cuts by Dwyane Wade, he's going to be a tremendous asset defensively. 2) We know he can shoot the corner three as well as just about anyone in the league, but I was impressed with his finishing ability at the rim. 3) He totally looks like an elongated Dana Barros in that No. 11 jersey.
Dwyane Wade: Does he ever miss a bank shot on continuation after he's fouled? He must shoot 80 percent after contact. Anyway, a team-leading 29 points for him, and a near-Rambising by Rondo. The latter is slightly more surprising than the former.
Brandon Bass: Can't imagine he'll ever have a better game than his tour de force 27-point effort -- with 18 coming in the third quarter -- in Game 5 against the Sixers last May. But last night was about as well as he can play under the umbrella of reasonable expectations. In 28 minutes, he had 15 points and 11 boards -- including six on the offensive glass, which led to some rare easy hoops against the Heat. My fledgling campaign for Jared Sullinger to start is suspended immediately.
David Stern: Kommissioner Katrina's verbal gaffe confusing his natural disasters was embarrassing enough, but weren't you more annoyed by his cloying interaction with LeBron during the ring ceremony? I may have heard a word or two incorrectly, but did he not say, "I told you you'd do it. I told you in August"? Given the ease with which NBA conspiracy theories are created, I'm just going to have to presume the Heat's title as predetermined as Patrick Ewing, New York Knick, and nothing can ever convince me otherwise. So there.
Jason Terry: His aggressiveness in going to the hoop is going to be a huge asset, though he could have been more selective in his debut. When he ran the offense during Rondo's four minutes on the bench, he was the definition of a shoot-first point guard. He'll shoot much better than 2 of 7 on most nights.
Ray Allen: He laughs first. The Heat come to Boston January 27. Laughter will not be the dominant expression then.
Why eight? Well, to be honest, I'm not really sure of the number's significance, though I can assure you it's not some sort of hackneyed tribute to Antoine Walker.
After all matters of the 2012-13 Celtics were considered, eight just happened to end up being the number of questions we asked Boston.com Celtics writer Gary Dzen and columnist Chad Finn regarding this fascinating team, which tips off its season tonight against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and the rival Miami Heat. Here is their back-and-forth on what's ahead for the Green as they pursue Banner 18.
1. WHO WILL BE THE MOST IMPROVED CELTIC?
Dzen: Is choosing Jeff Green too obvious? Probably, but if we're adhering to the literal version of the question, Green will improve more than any other Celtic, and not just in comparison to last season, when he didn't play. After coming to the Celtics two seasons ago in a trade for Kendrick Perkins, Green averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 26 games in Boston. That was way down from his 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds with Oklahoma City that year.
Expect Green's numbers to be right back near those Thunder numbers this season. For starters, he's healthy. That's obviously not a minor detail for Green after going through heart surgery in January. But he also knows the system now, having spent last season hanging around the team and taking it all in. He's motivated, and he's needed more. Paul
Pierce averaged 34 minutes per game last season without a viable backup. Expect that number to go down and Green's minutes to go up near 30 minutes per game. Green truly is a feel-good story, and there's no harm in getting on board.
Finn: If he were healthy and hadn't kept popping his shoulder in and out of its socket like Martin Riggs in "Lethal Weapon 2'' during the Heat series, I'd be giddy about watching Avery Bradley continue to build on his breakout sophomore season in which he did such things as ...
... posterize Kevin Durant and ...
... swat D-Wade and ...
... pull of the ol' you-can-pass-it-honest-I'm-just-tying-my-shoelace-over-here trick. I'm going to miss him while he's out, and I do wonder whether the accumulated guard depth is a clue that he may be out longer than they've acknowledged.
Anyway, most improved ... hmmm, I'm doubling down on your choice, Jeff Green. I don't think he's quite the force he was during the preseason, and the James Worthy stuff is insane even if it's partially tongue-in-cheek.
But as much as I value statistical analysis, I think there is a grayer area there in basketball than in baseball, and I almost get the sense that because he was habitually inefficient with the Thunder that some people are rooting for that to be the case in Boston just to validate the numbers. Consider this from ESPN's John Hollinger:
I can't stress this enough: Green is 26 and played four full seasons in the league, and after all that time there's no evidence he's actually any good and considerable evidence that he's a health risk. Yet he's being paid like a second-tier star. This was, without a doubt, the worst contract of the summer.
Without a doubt, huh? I'll take that bet. Green's a damn good player, a good shooter, a good slasher, and a good defender, and he has a point guard who has stopped throwing him hard-to-catch passes and will help him succeed. To put it another way: He's a hell of a lot more valuable going forward than Kendrick Perkins.
2. WHAT'S THE TEAM'S BIGGEST QUESTION MARK?
Dzen: Frontcourt depth continues to be this team's biggest weakness. That's not to say Danny Ainge didn't address it. He used his two first-round picks on what he thought were the two best big men available in this year's NBA Draft in Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger. He re-signed Chris Wilcox and added Darko Milicic and Jason Collins. The Celtics are much deeper in the middle than they were last season.
That's all good, but the fact remains that just like last year, the Celtics are a Kevin Garnett injury away from being virtually irrelevant. Garnett is the plan in the frontcourt. There's no equivalent player on the Celtics, and that's fine. Had Garnett gone elsewhere, he would have been the best free agent big man on the
market for some other team. It's difficult to find a superstar big guy.
Brandon Bass is a fine power forward, and Sullinger looks like he'll contribute right away. But they're both power forwards, not center. Without Garnett in a preseason game against Philadelphia, using Sullinger at the five did not work (Evan Turner got to the rim
whenever he wanted). The Celtics might not need to go big often, but when they do they'll need their full complement of players to be at
Finn: You know, part of their appeal, I think they actually have a big question, at least one that doesn't have a logical, attainable answer. Sure, KG is irreplaceable, and should the knee injury from a couple of years ago recur, of course everything changes. No one wants to see Chris Wilcox and Darko Milicic splitting 46 minutes at center. (I'm accounting for two minutes of garbage time for Fab Melo there, though he'll probably be spending the majority of the winter in scenic Portland, Maine.)
But the Garnett injury thing isn't so much a question as it is a worst-case scenario. Instead, I'm looking at a couple of smaller questions that I think will be answered to their liking.
Can Garnett and Paul Pierce, who have a combined 71 years on this earth and roughly 97,000 minutes played in the NBA, continue to play at an elite level?
Can Doc Rivers, who likes to have a set rotation, utilize the unusual bench depth to greatest effect? It's going to be fascinating to see how he rations out the minutes between Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa and Avery Bradley once he returns.
Perhaps most important, can Rajon Rondo live up to his vow to be more of a leader, which includes keeping his temper in check and bringing it pretty much every night? He's permitted the occasional night off in Sacramento in January, since Dennis Johnson did the same thing from time to time and we all love Dennis Johnson. But this is his team now -- his 44-point performance in Game 2 against the Heat last year was the clearest reminder of what he can and should be -- and he knows this is his time. It's up to him to seize it, and I believe he will.
3. WHICH ATLANTIC DIVISION TEAM IS THE BIGGEST THREAT?
Dzen: I think it's the Brooklyn Nets, but I say that with a lot of uncertainty. On paper the Nets have the most talent with Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Kris Humphries.
Philadelphia should be a contender with Andrew Bynum, but we haven't seen it yet. I'm not convinced Bynum, once he's healthy, will buy into Doug Collins's system of getting guys to dig in on defense and spread the glory around on the other end (in other words, playing games with scores in the 80s).
The Knicks are now the AARP Knicks. I'm also not sold on any Carmelo Anthony-led team playing its way into serious contention. Too many matadors on the defensive end with that group.
Actually the more I think of it, Philadelphia could be interesting. Bynum gives them a player the Celtics can't match up. Put Lavoy Allen or Spencer Hawes next to Bynum and you've created a matchup nightmare for Boston.
Finn: I like your point about Philly, though with Andre Iguodala in Denver they're not what they were defensively. I agree New Jersey is the biggest threat. It'll take some time for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson to mesh -- for a guy who got way too many isos in Atlanta, Johnson can also be too unselfish, and I know that makes no sense -- but there are quality pieces (Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, Celtics nuisance Gerald Wallace) who should fit together well enough for 48 or so wins, conservatively.
The if-you-can-make-it-here Knicks hype is nauseating. Marcus Camby will help Tyson Chandler bolster the defense, but he's also so old I think he was at UMass with Dr. J. Jason Kidd is 39, Amar'e Stoudemire is already hurt, and Carmelo Anthony plays efficient basketball only when he's surrounded by players of equal or greater talent that he respects. That does not describe this crew. That describes what happens every four summers.
Put 'em down for the eighth seed and let's see how they fare against the Heat.
The Celtics never had an end-of-game lineup problem with Allen here. He was the two-guard, no questions asked.
Boston added Terry and Lee to fill the loss of Allen, and both are good to very good players, but neither of them equals a Ray Allen on his own. In other words, is the sum of the team's parts greater than the individual if only one guy can play at a time? I have a hard time saying yes.
Look, there's been plenty of hatred spewed Allen's way since he signed with the Miami Heat. I get it, he signed with the enemy. But that doesn't mean he wasn't valuable here or that the Celtics won't miss him. Allen's ankle injury might also have fooled fans into thinking he was rapidly deteriorating. Remember Allen had surgery on his bum ankles just before he was traded here in 2007 and he was much-improved afterward. He's older now, but with his level of fitness there's a very good chance he regains some of his former form.
Who makes the big shots for Rivers down the stretch? It's probably Terry, and it may even be Rajon Rondo, who has shown he's looking for his own jumpers much more in crunch time. Someone else will shoot, but they may not go in as often as Allen's did.
Finn: Not as much as he thinks he will.
Listen, I loved watching him play here. You can make the argument that he is the best all-around shooter in the history of the league, and he's one of those guys who makes it look effortless through extraordinary discipline and hard work. You have to respect that, just as you have to respect that he occasionally was an afterthought until he was called upon to bail them out with late 3s, or that he sacrificed the most of the Big Three -- he averaged 26.4 points per game in 2006-07 for Seattle the year before he came here.
But he's also at the point where his ego has exceeded his ability. He's still a brilliant shooter when everything is right, but he's a liability defensively and is a downright poor ballhandler. As accomplished as he is, he has to be blind not to realize that inserting Bradley into the starting five was the right thing to do, and he's downright delusional to believe he was as vital to the Celtics' success last year as Kevin Garnett.
I'm sure it eats at him that Rondo, a smarter player who shunned Allen's attempts to mentor him, went to Doc and suggested Bradley should start ... and then Rondo was proven right. He hasn't forgiven Doc for that slight, which of course was no slight at all when it came to what was best for the team.
He left because he felt disrespected, and that's understandable to some degree. He probably ended up in a better situation for himself going forward. But with Terry, Lee, and eventually Bradley, the Celtics are better at shooting guard than they were a year ago. That concept is probably unfathomable to Ray Allen, 10-time All-Star and all-time 3-point champ, but it's the truth.
Rondo should be a virtual lock so long as he stays healthy. He may be the best point guard in the league this season. Garnett and Pierce both have good chances to make it. Why I give the edge to Garnett is because he exploded in the playoffs last season. People will remember that. Pierce is always under the radar, and while I'm not expecting him to be any less effective, I think he'll play less with Green in the mix. There's also the issue of position. Pierce's appears to be more crowded with stars, while Garnett could have less competition if he's listed as a center. All three players could make it, but I'm guessing two.
Green is a long-shot to make the All-Star team, but it wouldn't be unheard of if he had a stellar season off the bench. He wouldn't deserve a spot over Pierce, but juxtaposed with his recovery from heart surgery, Green could win some of the popular vote. Did I mention he's a longshot?
Finn: Who cares? All-Star Games are such a Laker thing. All right, I'll say this much: Rondo who is poised to be one of the top five players in the East if not the entire league this year, had better start. He's way overdue to get his due.
6. WHAT WILL BE THE BIGGEST SURPRISE, GOOD AND BAD?
Dzen: First the good: Darko Milicic will be more than a punchline. When the Celtics signed Milicic, fans let the jokes fly. The former No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft has not lived up to his draft position, and he never will. But that doesn't mean he won't contribute. Milicic is currently the top backup to Kevin Garnett with Chris Wilcox still getting up to speed. Darko is a legitimate 7-footer with good touch and strong basketball instincts. He rebounds and blocks shots. As much as fans loved Greg Stiemsma, Milicic is the vastly superior player. His issues are known, and they've started to show in preseason. He can lose focus, sometimes in the middle of a play. But he'll be a factor.
Now here's the bad. The Celtics will lose to teams they shouldn't lose to this season. As we've seen since 2007, nothing comes easy with this group. The Celtics are the best team in the Atlantic Division, but that doesn't mean they won't struggle to beat the Nets, Sixers, and Knicks during the season. There will be losses in places like Golden State and Detroit. That doesn't mean, however, that there's a strong danger of losing to any of these teams during a seven-game playoff series.
Finn: The Celtics have such an accomplished core and familiar bench that surprises with this group are hard to come by. We know who they are and who they should be. Even Jared Sullinger is a very well-known commodity compared to most No. 21 overall picks. I'll say Courtney Lee, because his profile is relatively low among casual fans for a player of his skill-set, and his attributes (hitting the corner 3, playing tough D) jibe perfectly with what Doc will ask him to do. Negatively, I think we're all intrigued by Darko because there was something there the led Joe Dumars to take him over Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh, and it's hilarious that he's apparently developed a bond with KG over their favorite 12-letter words, but he is what he is at this point. And what he is at this point is Dwayne Schintzius without the party in the back, a good-passing big man with a low motor.
7. WHICH BENCH PLAYER WILL HELP MOST?
Dzen: Jared Sullinger is going to have a huge year. He gets the nod over Green because he helps in an area where the Celtics are sorely lacking: rebounding. We've already seen what Sullinger can do with those big paws of his. He has a nose for the ball, can carve out space, and the ball just sticks to his hands. In this one area he is already a superior player to likely starter Brandon Bass. On offense Sullinger is also skilled, possessing an array of floaters and runners and baby hooks that may not look pretty but are highly effective. He'll play right away, and he'll play a lot.
Jason Terry and Courtney Lee also get votes here, but their roles are different. The Celtics are really looking for both players to combine into one Ray Allen. In that way, they're not really an addition to the team but more of stabilizing force. Lee can make more of a difference with his defense than Allen ever could.
Finn: The Celtics actually have a couple of potential Sixth Man of the Year candidates, and when is the last time we could say that? James Posey in 2007-08, maybe? Kevin McHale in '84?
It's tempting to say with Jeff Green based on the minutes he'll get and his encouraging preseason, but I'll go with Terry, who actually won the award three years ago. (Barbosa is also a previous winner.) Terry will shoot 36-38 percent from 3, make those clutch late 3s Allen was often called upon to make (Terry is a better 3-point shooter percentage-wise in the postseason than he is in the regular season), make 80-something percent of his free throws, and mesh better with Rondo on the court -- and off, obviously -- than Allen did.
He's a perfect fit in style and temperament -- he's so effervescent in interviews that a cynic might think he's auditioning. I think he's just a good dude who's happy to be here. I can't believe there was a time when I thought Miles Simon would be the better pro.
I don't think Sullinger will be a bench player by season's end. Wouldn't be surprised if he's the regular starter over Brandon Bass by the All-Star break.
8. WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE OLD GUYS?
Dzen: It's not a big secret that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are getting older. The morbidly curious game is guessing whether Pierce (35) or Garnett (36) will break down first. I'm not a fan of using the term "break down" because I don't think it's that simple. But the skills of both players won't be as sharp in two years as they were two or three years ago. Some loss of effectiveness is going to happen.
Before the second half of last season it was easy to say that Garnett would lose more of his effectiveness before Pierce did. Then Garnett went out and was arguably the MVP of the team during the playoffs, while Pierce struggled at times. Garnett was fairly healthy, while Pierce labored through a knee injury. It will be interesting to see what kind of season Pierce has without being hampered. Given his status as a professional scorer, I expect it to be a good one. The addition of Jeff Green is huge and allows Pierce to get more rest. Garnett will get his rest no matter what, because despite the drop off without him in the game, the Celtics need him for the playoffs.
Finn: It's funny, "old guys'' should probably include Terry, who is 35. But he's a new guy around here.
We're talking about our old guys, I think, the guys who have been through the six- and seven-game postseason battles here. Which means KG and Pierce, heretofore known as The Big Two Featuring Rajon Rondo. To answer the question honestly, I have to say I don't know if I can answer it other than to say they will play with astounding toughness and pride no matter what their physical state happens to be.
I did not see Garnett's renaissance as a defensive force coming last year, and on the opposite end of that, it was jarring to see Pierce, who has always had an old man's game (I mean that as a compliment), struggle to get the familiar angles and openings in the Philadelphia series. Part of that -- a large part -- was his knee injury, but it was also a window into what he will look like when his skills begin to noticeably erode.
The hope is that with the with the additional depth, any natural regression because of age is countered by Doc's willingness and knack for finding them a little bit of extra time off every now and then. That'll be easier to do with Pierce than KG, but it will be done, because this team is still about June, not November.
My weekly media column can be found here. It includes items on a couple of new hires at NESN, Greg Dickerson's status, and various other notes, but leads with a conversation with Steve Kerr, who will call the Celtics opener Tuesday at Miami along with Marv Albert on TNT.
Kerr, the former dead-eye 3-point shooter for the Bulls and Spurs among other teams and later a successful general manager with the Suns, is an excellent analyst, and he's always fun to talk to whatever happens to going on in NBA.
Here are few of his other thoughts about the Celtics and various other story lines that didn't make the column:
1. I saw one projection that had the Celtics finishing third in the Atlantic Division, behind New York and New Jersey. Do you see that a possibility? They have much better depth than a year ago, but being in peak condition and good health when it's playoff time will be Doc and Danny's priority over all else, right?
Kerr: "Well, it's about time Boston had a challenge in their division. They've had it easy the last five years. Last year was obviously a little different with the shortened season and everything, but four years in a row, they blew everybody out of the water. It's gotten a lot tougher for the Celtics now. Philly New York, New Jersey should all be good teams. Maybe not great teams, but good, competitive teams that could possibly win 45-50 games. Boston, with Pierce and Garnett at the age they are, they're not going to run away and hide in their division anymore. As you said, the job is to be ready and peaking for the playoffs. Giving guys rest, particularly having the older two guys take time off during the regular season, Boston has to do that. I think that makes their division reign that much more vulnerable."
2. The consensus seemed to be that the Celtics would move on from this New Big Three group by now, yet Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still essential entering their sixth year together, and the team they have this year is deeper than the one they had a season ago, when Marquis Daniels and Ryan Hollins ended up playing meaningful minutes. Did it surprise that Danny Ainge was able to bolster the roster to the degree that he did when there was a perception that he might blow it up?
Kerr: "It's really difficult to do what Danny did, but that's why he's so good. He doesn't miss a thing. They used the mid-level on [Jason] Terry, which is a home run in replacing Ray [Allen]. They were very clever getting Courtney Lee in a sign-and-trade. They benefited from having Jeff Green's Bird Rights and were able to re-sign him. I think outside of the Lakers, Danny and the Lakers had the best offseason of anybody in terms of retooling. I've always been impressed with Danny and the job he does and the aggressiveness with which he tries to make his team better. He did a great job."
3. Now that LeBron has overcome the stigma of not winning the big one, is he going to go on a run like Michael Jordan and the Bulls did, winning three in row and taking no prisoners along the way after finally getting past the Pistons? Is it possible that LeBron's silly "not one, not two, not three" championships routine when he signed with the Heat might actually come true?
Kerr: "If I remember correctly, it wasn't two or three it was seven or eight, wasn't it? [Laughs.] But who's counting? I do think this year will be much easier for LeBron and Miami. Some teams struggle to repeat because they get fat and happy. But I think with this team, there was such a burden on their shoulders to win and they broke through, they're going to be able to relax and enjoy the journey at lot more now. I think repeating … there's an excellent chance it will happen. Whether they win another title this year, they have an excellent chance to have a run where they win 3-4 titles over the next 6-7 years. You know it and I know it, if you follow this league long enough, you know it's just not that easy. I think they're primed to have an extended run. But who knows, maybe he leaves in a few years as a free agent."
Back to Cleveland?
Kerr: Or LA. That city seems to be the destination of choice.
4. Speaking of LA, the Lakers have done the super-team thing before when they brought in Gary Payton and Karl Malone in 2003-04 to join Kobe and Shaq. This is a little different because you're getting a guy in Dwight Howard who is a dominant big man in his prime, but is there any way this will fall short of the hype like the team nine years ago did?
Kerr: "I expect this to take some time. I really do. Howard missed all that time with the back, so in theory he's going to be a little rusty coming in. The Lakers were at the bottom in 3-point shooting last year, and all of a sudden Steve Nash is playing for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, without a great outside shooting team. And he’s got two dominant post men, and he's always played in Phoenix with no dominant post man save for a year and a half with Shaq. Steve’s had the ball and he's had four shooters around him and he's had a wide-open court. So now you look at it, he has two dominant low post men and very little outside shooting. It's a huge adjustment for Steve and for Kobe, and then Howard and Gasol have to learn to play together on that block. So I think there are a lot of questions for LA. But I think by the end of the season they will have figured a lot of that out and they will be very formidable come playoff time. I'm delicately picking the Lakers to be in the Finals. But I do think it will take them a long time to figure it out."
5. So you've got the Lakers in the West and the Heat in the East. Something tells me David Stern would be all right with that matchup.
Kerr: [Laughs] "Yeah, a ratings bonanza for sure and the matchup would be fascinating because Miami really thrived last year playing [Chris] Bosh at center and going small, putting LeBron at the 4. It absolutely killed Oklahoma City in the Finals. Oklahoma City doesn't have any bigs that can hurt you down low. You put Miami against the Lakers and you get the ball consistently inside to [Pau] Gasol and Howard. If you’re Miami, you can't play that small lineup the whole game. That changes everything, and I think that's probably the most intriguing matchup from a basketball standpoint that we could have as NBA fans for the Finals, though folks up there in Boston may not see it that way."
Brian Scalabrine, a popular role player for five seasons with the Celtics, including the 2007-08 champions, will have a new role when the NBA season begins.
Scalabrine, who played last season for the Bulls, will join Comcast SportsNet New England as an analyst on its Celtics broadcasts, though the deal is not yet finalized according to industry sources. His decision to turn down an assistant coaching position with the Bulls and join CSNNE was first reported by Yahoo! Sports’s Adrian Wojnarowski Thursday.
"Saying no to [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau] was the hardest decision I've ever had to make,’’ Scalabrine told Yahoo. A free agent, he said he wasn’t yet ready to formally announce his retirement but that he had “zero opportunities’’ to sign with a team.
His foray into television is no surprise. Scalabrine has often said he’d prefer broadcasting to coaching once his playing days were done, and he earned good marks for his work as a guest analyst during pre- and postgame programming on CSNNE last spring during the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
He said he will handle color analysis on 11 games -- most likely on road trips in which color analyst Tommy Heinsohn does not travel -- and also take on some studio work. Industry sources confirm his hiring is an addition rather than a replacement, with the legendary Heinsohn and analyst Donny Marshall both continuing in their current roles. Scalabrine’s role will be similar to that of Bill Walton and Dave Cowens , who have contributed to CSNNE Celtics broadcasts in the recent past.
Ten free minutes for me, 10 free throwaway lines for you ...
1. I suppose the five hits he has in nine at-bats since his return to the lineup has served as a reminder, but I thought not enough was made of Jacoby Ellsbury's absence and the effect it had on the Red Sox. Based on MVP balloting, he was the best offensive player in the league last season, and his numbers (212 hits, 32 homers, 46 doubles, 39 stolen bases, .928 OPS) stand as a historically great season. Future NL-pinch-hitter-extraordinaire Daniel Nava filled in beyond expectations in Ellsbury and Carl Crawford's absence, and Scott Podsednik had his moments, but the Red Sox also had to endure 268 mostly fruitless at-bats from Marlon Byrd, Darnell McDonald, and Ryan Kalish while biding their time until the varsity (copyright Larry Lucchino) returned. Seeing Ellsbury back at the top of the lineup makes it easier to have optimism about this team without searching too hard for it.
2. A three-run homer every once in a while would be swell, but any grievances regarding Adrian Gonzalez should stop well shy of suggesting he's jaking it by missing games due to illness and a back issue recently. He's a player who prides himself of being in there every day -- the fewest games he's played any season among the previous five is 159. He may be a disappointment, but he's not a malingerer.
3. One way to kill time before the start of Patriots camp, which can't get here soon enough: Stare at the depth chart, rattle off the names, and marvel at the talent Tom Brady will have at his disposal this season in the passing game alone: Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Donte' Stallworth, Julian Edelman, as well as Danny Woodhead out of the backfield. There will be attrition, of course, and someone like Stallworth may not even make the cut. The passing game probably won't be as productive as the record-setting Randy Moss/Wes Welker fireworks show of 2007, but it will be able to torment a defense in more ways.
4. As far as the running backs beyond Woodhead are concerned, you have to figure Stevan Ridley, who suffered from acute fumbleitis late in his rookie season, will pick up most of BenJarvus Green-Ellis's carries, presuming he spent the offseason carrying a football everywhere he went like Darnell Jefferson in the "The Program.'' I can't envision Joseph Addai being anything more than the new Fred Taylor. Shane Vereen, whose rookie season was lost from the beginning, is my sleeper. The kid is electric in the open field.
5. Bruins one-timer: I'm probably in the minority on this, but I'd rather trade Milan Lucic than David Krejci in a deal for Anaheim's Bobby Ryan or another top-shelf forward. As enigmatic as Krejci can be -- he reminds me of Rajon Rondo in that regard to some degree -- he also has a track record of playing his best when the spotlight is brightest. But if it's Krejci or Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, forget it.
6. The theory that he was having ex-Celtics Remorse is interesting, and Ray Allen was certainly subdued at his introductory press conference (perhaps he was expecting a house DJ and maybe some pyrotechnics?) but it's hard for me to figure anyone going to Miami for millions of dollars to play with LeBron James is going to be bummed about much of anything for long.
7. As you probably can imagine, I can't get over the story about the haul of rare baseball cards found in someone's attic in Ohio. It's every baseball fan's daydream. Or a fan of loot and money, for that matter. I spent hours as a kid scouring my grandmother's attic trying to find my dad's extensive collection of '50s baseball cards, with not a trace of vintage '52 cardboard to be found. We all have a similar story, don't we? I can tell you this: Those cards, estimated to be bring $3 million if they are sold or auctioned, will go for a lot more than that. I'd bet double.
8. So assuming that Andrew Bailey returns to the Red Sox while the games still matter this season, is he the closer immediately, does he have to prove himself in a setup role first, or has Alfredo Aceves done enough to keep it? I'm leaning toward the latter, though there are fantasy baseball biases at play there.
9. Brent Lillibridge has a minus-33 OPS+ in 16 plate appearances for the Red Sox. It's a puny sample-size to be sure, but I look at his career 67 OPS+ in 600 at-bats -- not a puny sample size -- and I find myself hoping that the Red Sox don't ditch Ryan Sweeney to keep Lillibridge around, even considering his speed and defensive prowess. For some noodle-bat perspective, Craig Grebeck had a minus-55 OPS+ during his 43 plate-appearances with the Red Sox in 2001, while Cesar Crespo put up a beastly minus-4 OPS+ in 79 plate appearances in 2003.
10. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
Still waiting for Lucchino's report on how "cheerful" he was after Bobby Valentine called him out for a lackadaisical defensive play Sunday.
Sources say Ray Allen might have stayed in Boston had the enthusiastic dude in the Rondo jersey been wearing No. 20 instead.
OK, that's fiction. But given some of the rumors and reports regarding Allen's checklist of reasons for ditching Boston to join the Celtics' postseason conqueror and biggest rival of the moment, I'm about willing to give credence to any slight, real or perceived, that may have contributed to his departure for Miami. I imagine insights will be scarce when he's formally introduced as a member of the Heat and officially becomes a Celtics adversary Wednesday.
It's not that his abrupt farewell is a surprise. More of an inevitability that overwhelmed a Celtics fan's wish that he liked the idea of remaining here as much as Garden denizens liked having him here.
Allen's lingering on the court after Game 7 to congratulate the Heat seemed to be a gracious, typically classy gesture. It probably was. But it also felt a little then like it feels right now: that he was a willing participant in an impromptu postgame recruiting push by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Man, great series, great series. Respect. Say, by the way, if you can't beat us, join us ... hey, and did we mention the beautiful golf courses down here? And you can yell at Chalmers all you want! You really need to talk to Riley. He'll show you his bag of rings!
Maybe it's not easy to admit for someone who appreciated the five-year Big Three Sequel era and this particular team so much, but his decision to join the Heat is at least a logical choice. Playing with LeBron will ease his burden defensively and get him a sharpshooter's daydream's worth of wide-open corner 3s. And as much as it may pain a Celtic fan to admit, he does have a better shot there of winning another championship ring, or two, or three or ... well, damn, you know. It would be hypocritical to blame a player for taking less money elsewhere for a chance to win, though any suggestion that the Celtics didn't respect him should be negated by their two-year, $12 million offer. That's pretty respectful for a 37-year-old shooting guard coming off ankle surgery.
There is an unbecoming aspect of this, particularly for a player and person of Allen's reputation and intelligence. His frustration with losing his starting job to Avery Bradley falls somewhere between pettiness and prideful; the team did thrive after it happened, and it was the right thing to do. I doubt he'll ever admit it, but it must bother him that it was his backcourt partner who apparently suggested the switch to Doc Rivers.
Allen's issues with Rajon Rondo were no secret even to someone like me, whose actual in-person coverage of the team is periodic, so you can only imagine the details many beat writers and media confidantes know about the relationship. I always suspected Allen's fingerprints could be found on stories about Rondo's odd (remaining in his car as long as possible before games) and sometimes petulant behavior, though I never imagined that his frustration with the brilliant, brash point guard would be a factor in driving him away. Those glorious days when Rondo appeared on Mrs. Allen's vanity-project cooking show feel like so long ago.
Allen and Rondo had more in common than they probably cared to admit -- you can start with extraordinary talent, note their immense personal pride and go from there -- and it would be a shame if those character traits prevented them from recognizing how mutually beneficial their backcourt partnership usually was. For whatever it's worth, Allen expertly masked whatever aggravation he carried regarding with Rondo publicly.
After Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, a Heat overtime victory that pivoted on a brutal no-call when Dwyane Wade raked Rondo across the face, both players were on the postgame podium. When Rondo, clearly trying not to say the wrong thing but surely tempted to do so, hedged while answering a question about the conspicuously swallowed whistle, Allen interrupted and came to his defense: "We all thought he got hit," he said. "He did.'' Rondo gave him a sideways glance that could have been interpreted as gratitude or surprise, depending on what you were looking for.
It was a solid veteran move, and that, rather than the egotistical score-keeping on such matters as the Celtics reaching out to franchise fulcrum Kevin Garnett before contacting him this offseason, is one way I'll choose to remember him. While from what I've heard the anti-Allen venom from callers on sports radio has been a little much even by that medium's standards, most Celtics fans I've talked to are genuinely conflicted, ticked that he jilted Boston for a rival (and at a bargain rate, no less, though that lack of state income tax in Florida closes the margin a bit) but appreciative of what he did here.
Even if you're among those trying to justify his departure -- Jason Terry is a better fit, Allen can't defend anymore, etc. -- you must admit there was so much to appreciate. Humiliating Sasha Vujacic in the 2008 Finals, the epic 51-point Game 6 in the first round against the Bulls a season later, setting the 3-point record in February 2011. It was nothing less than a privilege to watch that gorgeous shot, perfectly crafted and honed with hour after hour of flicking 25-footers in quiet gyms, no wasted motion to be found. My wife always rolled her eyes when, after Allen inevitably buried back-to-back threes to turn a six-point deficit into a tie in a game's final moments, I'd tell her he's the best shooter ever to play. But I believe that. He's the all-time leader in 3-pointers made, has hit 40 percent of his long-range attempts in his career, and is an 89 percent free-throw shooter. You can have, I don't know, Dale Ellis, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, whoever. Larry Bird always gets the last shot on my team. But the best shot? That belongs to Shuttlesworth.
Sometimes you wished the Celtics emphasized it more, and if Allen feels like he's the one among the Big Three who sacrificed the most in Boston, well, he's right. This is a player who was every bit the offensive force with the Bucks and Sonics that Paul Pierce was for the Celtics. In 2006-07, the year before coming to Boston, he averaged 26.4 points per game for Seattle in a season abbreviated to 55 games by ankle troubles. He averaged 21 field goal attempts per game that year. His high with the Celtics was 13.5 in 2007-08, and that fell to 10.7 last year. Pierce's shot attempts also dipped when the Big Three was united, but not to the extent they did for Allen. It must have been frustrating to run through that labyrinth of screens only to have a play end with Pierce choosing to go one-on-one at the top of the key or Rondo throwing up a jumper in a race against the shot clock. At times, they seemed to overlook him until they needed him to bail them out of a deficit.
Among the Big Three, he was sometimes perceived to be the third wheel, and for a player of his elite accomplishments, it must have gnawed at him. Still, while the concept of Ubuntu ended with the Kendrick Perkins trade, the end of the Big Three is officially on Allen, and I'm curious whether he comprehends what that means to his legacy here.
When the Heat and Celtics inevitably play on Christmas Day, presumably in Boston, I suspect he's going to get booed, though the ideal reception would be a raucous standing ovation during player introductions, then boos beyond that. The Johnny Damon comparisons are understandable, though it may elude some that Allen was actually a Celtic a year longer than Damon was with the Red Sox. Both also played for two teams before coming to Boston. They're not traitors so much as they're mercenaries. Here, both were immensely likable, charismatic and productive and integral to championship-winning teams. Both also apparently underestimated how their departure to a rival would be received. The UConn connection to New England really only matters to those who spent four years or so in Storrs.
Allen's place in our provincial sports lore would have grown had he remained here. Leaving irreparably dents it, and any chance of seeing his No. 20 in the Garden rafters is gone like a gust of the South Beach breeze. Next time he returns to his basketball home of five seasons, we know he'll be cheered by the forgiving, jeered by the jilted, and he'll look damn weird in that Heat jersey playing with them.
And you're looking for the perfect epilogue to this week's ending, give this one a shot: When the showdown comes around, perhaps he'll be repeatedly reminded by Rondo, who surely will be motivated to steal the moment, that it really was the Big Four anyway.
When the 2006 NBA Draft was complete, the Celtics' brain trust was confident it had acquired the franchise's point guard of the future.
The dynamic Rajon Rondo would eventually prove the polar opposite of an afterthought during his career with the Celtics, but that's pretty much how he was treated the night he became, by luck, by design, or perhaps a little of both, one of the best draft-day moves in franchise history.
Rondo came to Boston courtesy of a deal with the Phoenix Suns in which they chose the Kentucky point guard on Ainge's behalf with the 21st pick, then sent Rondo and Brian Grant (or at least his contract -- he never played a game here) to Boston for a first-rounder in 2007.
The deal is part of Celtics lore now, and just think of all the entertainment we'd have missed out on had the Celtics instead chosen, say, UConn's Marcus Williams, who was considered stride-for-stride with Rondo as the best playmaker in the draft, or even Thabo Sefolosha, the current shutdown defender for the Thunder who was also believed to be on Ainge's radar at the time.
Maybe you remember how Rondo became a Celtic. But do you remember that it was another precocious point guard the Celtics acquired that night who generated the biggest headlines the next morning, a player about whom Rivers said this: "It worked out for us.The things we like most about him are his great speed and great decision-making."
Let's just say that was probably one of the last times -- perhaps the only time -- Rivers verbally associated great decision-making with Sebastian Telfair.
Telfair, the New York City high school legend, was two seasons into what would become a journeyman's career -- the current Suns guard's top career comp is Mitchell Butler. But in 2006, he still had some of his Sports Illustrated cover subject luster, and the Celtics were genuinely thrilled to acquire him on draft night from the Trail Blazers.
Such a thrill was enhanced by the opportunity to unload the bloated contract of Raef LaFrentz in the deal; he went to Portland along with Dan Dickau and the No. 7 overall pick (used on Randy Foye, but turned into Brandon Roy) for Telfair, Theo Ratliff and a second-rounder in 2008. Rivers said he believed had Telfair been in that year's draft, he would not have been available with the seventh pick.
"We addressed some needs and we think we got two terrific young players and get some cap management at the same time," Ainge said.
The rumor at the time was that the Celtics were going to use the post-Raef cap space to pursue another guard already long-established in the league, and while it would have been fascinating to see Allen Iverson play for the Celtics, had it happened, Banner 17 would not be hanging from the rafters.
That's how it goes. Sometimes you're lucky a desired move didn't happen. Sometimes a coveted young player like Telfair never fulfills the expectations. And sometimes the 21st pick of the draft is spent on a player who will grow into one of the most electrifying performers in the league.
Don't get me wrong; the intent here, in retelling the Rondo/Telfair draft-night story, is not to suggest that a significant portion of Ainge's success in the draft is due to good fortune and luck more than any other factors. Thursday night will mark Ainge's 10th draft with the Celtics, and there is plenty of evidence within that decade-long sample-size that Ainge has an extraordinary knack for finding NBA talent at a point when many of those selected will end up stocking D-League rosters or shelves in a supermarket.
Sure, there have been misses, out-and-out airballs. Gerald Green, taken 18th overall in 2005, had the talent -- Rivers said he "absolutely'' reminded him of another straight-from-high-school player he had coached in Orlando, Tracy McGrady -- but lacked both maturity and fundamental basketball acumen and is only now salvaging an NBA career.
J.R. Giddens, picked 30th overall in 2008, four spots ahead of Mario Chalmers and five before D'Andre Jordan, was a talented, charismatic space-shot who habitually wore sunglasses indoors and didn't have the good sense to take advice from Garnett, which is an effective way to wake up and find yourself playing for PAOK Thessaloniki in Greece by the time you're 27 years old.
But for the most part, Ainge has used his draft picks shrewdly and with enough savvy that you imagine Red Auerbach would be proud of the job he has done.
He's selected two unpolished high school big men, Kendrick Perkins (27th, 2003, via a trade with Memphis) and Al Jefferson (15th, 2004), who turned out to be fine NBA players. Perkins has had the best career among those involved in a deal with Memphis that brought speedy and clueless Marcus Banks to Boston while sending Dahntay Jones and former Boston College sharpshooter Troy Bell to Memphis.
Jefferson ended up in Boston after Seattle drafted Robert Swift, to whom the Celtics had reportedly made a promise, three picks earlier, so there was a little luck involved there. But Ainge is the one who made the most of it, and in the same draft in which he secured Jefferson, who of course would become the centerpiece of the franchise-altering Kevin Garnett deal, he added Delonte West (24th) and Tony Allen (25th), great value at that point in the draft. Both became valuable, if sometimes exasperating, pros.
While it's hard to top the Rondo move in '06, he's not the only dynamic young guard Ainge has plucked at approximately that point in the draft.The Globe's mock draft in 2010 had the Celtics selecting a University of Texas standout with the 19th overall selection -- forward Damion James. Right campus, wrong player. Instead, Ainge stole his Longhorn teammate, Avery Bradley, who declared for the draft after his freshman season.
Bradley was regarded as No. 1 overall pick John Wall's near-equal coming out of high school, but an ankle injury and inconsistency plagued his lone collegiate season -- which of course turned out to be a blessing both for him and the Celtics. "I've been the best defender on ever team I've played on since first grade,'' he said the night he became a Celtic. "I feel like you can always have an off offensive game, but my whole thing is I'll never have an off defensive game." Not a bad way to endear yourself to your coach right away, kid.
Celtics fans also appreciate Ainge's knack for coming up with useful "tweener" types in the second round -- say, an undersized forward who may do one thing exceptionally well, or a player with an extraordinary work ethic or instincts so sharp that he can overcome his physical shortcomings.
There was Ryan Gomes (50th overall, 2005), the Providence College star who might have been chosen in the first round by the Celtics had Green, projected in the Globe's mock draft to go sixth overall to Utah, not fallen their way. Leon Powe (49th, 2006, via Denver) and Glen Davis (35th, 2007, via Seattle) also were second-round keepers.
The hunch here is that last year's second-rounder, E'Twaun Moore, soon will be regarded as a draft-day bargain, too, and his success in the second round leaves me almost as curious to learn what Ainge will do with the 51st pick Thursday night as I am regarding Nos. 21 and 22.
I'm nodding hopefully at colleague Gary Washburn's mock draft, which has the Celtics ending up with Iowa State's Royce White and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger in the first round. I'm also intrigued by St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson, an athletic, bright big man who would be a fine understudy for Garnett. And the reports that indicate Ainge is trying to move up into the lottery add a whole different level of intrigue.
But no matter how it plays out, no matter which tall, talented kids become Celtics tonight, fans would be wise to be satisfied right away. Danny Ainge is both lucky and good. Soon enough, we'll probably be saying the same thing about the players he chooses tonight.
It's not so much that the Celtics lost. It's that we don't get to watch them anymore.
Sappy? No. It's the simple truth, a notion no more sentimental and no less sincere than cheering "Let's go, Celtics'' in the closing moments of a blowout loss, a gesture that led more than one of the multimillionaire, presumably jaded professional athletes in the Celtics' locker room to admit to having goosebumps during the impromptu serenade.
This team's run to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals was an unexpected coda to a three-year window that turned into five. A sixth season of the second Big Three era is unlikely at best, and so there's something larger at play here than just the end of a season. As it turned out, the Game 6 serenade was as much a farewell as it was a salute.
It's the end of an era that resulted in the resuscitation of the franchise, delivering one championship, the long-awaited banner 17, but so many more banner moments and performances. If you don't miss watching this bunch, I'm not going to believe you were watching much in the first place.
So here we are, three days after LeBron James, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat ended a fascinating and mostly fulfilling Celtic season in the fourth quarter of the seventh game, it's OK to admit it: The team that won deserved it.
Sure, the missed opportunity of closing out the Heat in Game 6 will hover over the offseason, and what happened Saturday night -- a tight seventh game snowballing into a loathed opponent's coronation in the fourth quarter -- felt way too much like what happened in Los Angeles two seasons ago.
It stinks losing to those South Beach frontrunners, but the Heat were worthy, especially LeBron, who gets way too much grief. The Celtics -- the aging, proud, depleted Celtics -- gave it all they had, and it wasn't enough. No shame in that.
The disappointment is not so much in the defeat, but the departure, of this team from the present tense to the past and, soon, of some of the players who made it so fun to follow. Though any season that Larry Bird was around ranks as a joy I wish I could relive, I can't think of a Celtic team I've enjoyed more than this one among those that didn't end their season by securing a banner. This was a special team.
Part of the appeal here, admittedly, is the Cranky Old Dude Factor. For someone wondering where his 30s went and whether Just For Men can help get them back, it was reassuring and affirming to watch Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce humble and vanquish younger, less-savvy foes during this postseason. In other words, get off our lawn, Josh Smith.
They weren't supposed to be able to do this during their lockout-abbreviated season. And it did not always seem like they would. There were personnel losses -- thank heavens, not in the tragic sense -- when Jeff Green (during the preseason) and, later, Chris Wilcox required surgery for heart ailments. Those conventional wisdom subscribers who thought age and attrition would lead to their downfall were looking prescient. They were just 17-17 as the calendar turned to March, and their condition was such that the idea of dealing Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen at the trading deadline was considered reasonable.
But then the great Doc Rivers, equally adept as a tactician and a people-person and so essential to this franchise, made an crucial adjustment, shifting Kevin Garnett to center, while the emergence of defensive whiz Avery Bradley from bench-warmer to cornerstone in his second NBA season added another element. The Celtics beat the Heat three times in April (once coming against the LeBron-less, Dwyane Wade-less jayvee version), went 24-10 over their final 34 games, and dispatched the Hawks in six games and the lively Sixers in seven to reach the NBA's final four.
The final shining moment would not belong to the Celtics, however, and so the season's final scenes featured the Celtics acknowledging their conquerors (or, in Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett's case, evading them). While watching Ray Allen graciously shake hands with the Heat players after Game 7, one couldn't help but wonder whether the sharpshooter, a free-agent-to-be who wasn't thrilled with ceding a starting role to Bradley late in the regular season, will be among Miami's ranks next season.
If so, that would raise the count of Heat players who are tough to root against to one. We'll remember him for an effortless style that was the product of compulsive dedication, and a toughness often masked by his grace. Allen will have surgery on his ankle Wednesday. A lesser competitor would have had it done weeks ago.
As for Garnett, well, he has to come back, because after his resurgence this season, due as much to good health as anything else, no one around here wants to fathom what it would be like should he opt for retirement. I have a hunch that he is leaning toward walking away and the Celtics know it, with no other evidence than his wrenching emotional reaction to being removed from Game 7 when defeat was a foregone conclusion.
KG took a moment to tell Doc that he loved him, and name me another athlete who would ever be secure enough, man enough, to say that to a coach while a crushing defeat was still technically underway. Doc choked up, and one can only imagine how the goodbyes played out behind the scenes. KG treated it like something bigger than the end of a game, a season or an era. He can be melodramatic, but this felt like his famous final scene. We're not ready to say goodbye to this team. Cross your fingers and hope KG isn't, either.
The Finals begin Tuesday night, and it's too compelling a matchup to shrug aside. We'll watch, and a massive percentage of us will root for the Thunder, and we'll probably catch ourselves wondering once or twice, without regret, how Celtics history would be different had Kevin Durant ended up with the Celtics in 2007.
But even as the worthy finalists battle, we'll think and think again of the Celtics and what's to come. Will Danny Ainge pursue restricted free agent Roy Hibbert, or are there less-obvious targets on his radar? Will Bradley return to health and will Green be back to give Rondo some running mates? Will Paul Pierce recognize that it's Rondo's offense now and cease treating the third quarter from time to time like it's his turn to get his?
And maybe we'll continue to wish we could trade some of the future for a little more present, just to see this team play a little bit longer, to tack a few more games on to an era.
Say, anyone up for a Spurs-Celtics consolation round? Not in the blueprint, Mr. Stern? Then there's only one thing left to root for:
Go get 'em, Perk. We're used to rooting for old Celtics. The best we can do now is root for a former one who knows what we're missing.
The Celtics' compelling Eastern Conference Finals showdown with LeBron James and the Heat continues to draw enormous ratings for ESPN.
The Heat's 98-79 victory in Game 6 Thursday night earned a record 8.2 overnight rating, making it the highest-rated NBA game on cable television since records started being kept in 2003.
The previous standard was set all of two games ago, when the Celtics' 93-91 victory drew a 7.9 rating.
ESPN said the 8.2 was up 49 percent from the most recent conference finals Game 6 aired by the network, a Celtics-Magic matchup in 2010.
Game 5 had a 7.6 rating. The last three games of this series, which is tied 3-3 heading into Game 7 Saturday night in Miami, rank as the three top NBA games ever on ESPN.
Game 6 drew a 22 rating in Miami and a 20.5 in the Boston market.
During our always aggressive Friday chat, we discussed the Celtics chances in Game 7, LeBron's ability in big moments, whether Clay Buchholz has turned the corner, and the usual media matters. Click the replay button below to join the fun.
LeBron James has apparently come up with a counter to the perception that he shrivels in the final moments of a close game, and it's one that should terrify Celtics fans:
Play with such extraordinary force of talent and will in the game's first 40 or so minutes that the final ticks on the clock are irrelevant to the outcome.
At least that's the approach James seemed to take last night, when he silenced, however temporarily, the noise about his ability in the clutch with a performance that was exceptional even by the reigning most valuable player's standards.
James scored 45 points -- 14 in the first quarter when Miami raced to a 26-16 lead, 30 at the half (on 12 of 14 shooting), and 41 (with 10 rebounds) after three -- as the Heat breezed to a 98-79 victory over the Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He shot a staggering 19-of-26 from the field, accounting for more than half of the Heat's 37 field goals.
"It’s a great feeling to be in, when you feel like everything you put up is going in,” said James in a surprisingly subdued tone afterward. “But you can never let go. You can never let it die down or anything like that."
It wasn't just about his shooting. He played his usual relentless defense, and in 44 minutes and 49 seconds of playing time, he added 15 rebounds and 5 assists, becoming the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964 to put up a line matching or exceeding 45-15-5 in a playoff game.
"That's the best I've ever seen him,'' said Dwyane Wade, who had 17 points on 6 of 17 shooting. "You just give him the ball and get out of the way.''
James was so overwhelming in his brilliance that the "good job, good effort'' kid is going to have to come up with some far better superlatives should he match the performance in Game 7 Saturday.
"I hope now you guys can stop talking about LeBron and how he doesn't play in big games," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "He was pretty good tonight. So we can put that to bed."
For much of Game 6, as James drilled difficult shot after difficult shot -- his step-back jumper was exasperatingly unstoppable to the Celtics' helpless defenders -- it seemed as though he'd surpass his playoff career-high of 49 points, challenge his career-best of 56, and make a run at the 63 Michael Jordan dropped on the Celtics in Game 2 of a first-round series in 1986. And he might have, had his performance not single-handedly turned the game into a rout early in the fourth quarter.
"It was a matter of too much LeBron,'' said Rivers. ''He was absolutely sensational. Made every shot, set the tone for their whole team. I thought he gave them comfort in the way he played tonight."
There was little comfort to be found anywhere for the Celtics, who airballed their chance to close out a series few thought they could win when it began. Now they must go to Miami for a Game 7 against what should be a confident James, who outscored the Celtics' Big Three alone by 14 points while sapping all drama from a game that began with great anticipation. The Celtics' offense was all fits and stops save for an occasional flash from Rajon Rondo (21 points, 10 assists), and it never did put together anything resembling a threatening run. There seemed to be a flicker of chance with 2:22 remaining in the third quarter when a Mickael Pietrus tip-in pulled the Celtics to within 10 at 69-59, but LeBron answered with a 3-point dagger, and that was that.
"LeBron was absolutely fearless tonight,'' said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "The way he approached the last 48 hours ... nobody likes getting dirt thrown on your face before you're dead.''
Those who might be tempted to do the same to the Celtics before Game 7 -- hello, ESPN studio show -- might be wise to refrain from doing so given the habitual resilience of a bruised and aging team that will rank as one my favorites from the post-Bird era no matter Saturday's outcome.
But the problems that plagued them tonight cannot arise again. The Celtics received just two points from the bench in the first three quarters. They had just one more assist (14) than they had turnovers (13) overall. They were 1 of 14 from 3-point territory. And perhaps most worrisome of all, Paul Pierce, so often a foil for James, had another terribly inefficient shooting night.
Pierce's huge 3-pointer in Game 5 masked a 6-for-19 performance ... and that was actually better than he shot in Game 6. Pierce hit just 4 of 18 shots Thursday night, missed all six of his 3-point attempts, and shot just two free throws. The cocky, creative scorer who went shot-for-shot with James in Game 7 of the 2008 Finals, scoring 41 points to then-Cavalier LeBron's 45 in a Celtics victory, was overmatched and overwhelmed Thursday, finishing with just 9, 20 percent of LeBron's total.
"He'll bounce back. Paul is a big-game player,'' Rivers said. "Game 7s are the biggest that you can possibly have. What I saw tonight, I thought he was ready for the game. He just didn't have a great game. We don't look into it much more than that, at least I don't.
"You know, he was down. Kevin was down. The whole locker room was down. You could see the resolve in the locker room. They're not just going to pack for Sunday. They're going to bring suits for Tuesday, and they're going to bring suits for Thursday. And that's the way we're going to play through it.''
The hope, perhaps faint, perhaps burning bright, is that they will go to South Beach and duplicate Game 5, but with better shooting from Pierce in the first 47 minutes. Even after witnessing his masterpiece, it's fair to wonder whether Thursday's performance is one more grand tease from LeBron, setting up the biggest letdown yet and further emboldening his critics.
But LeBron is coming off a Game 6 that should have emboldened him, while the Celtics' highlight was a stirring, prolonged "Let's Go Celtics!" chant with three minutes left and the deficit hovering around 20. But even that cool organic salute was bittersweet and uncertain, for even those cheering could not be sure whether they were sending their flawed, admirable team off on a victorious trip, or bidding farewell in case the Big Four had just played their final game together on the parquet. Only Game 7 will tell.
I have to admit that the enthusiastic kid's words to the demoralized Heat players as they left the floor Tuesday night -- words that made him an internet sensation, and words that were essentially paraphrased during Erik Spoelstra's unconvincing postgame remarks -- add up to a more coherent narrative than I can probably muster right now in an attempt for perspective on this series.
There's just so much to process, and so little time between games to do it. I suppose we could start with KG's three-way excellence -- offense, defense, postgame interviews -- or maybe we begin with Doc Rivers's tactical dominance of Spoelstra, whose dog-eared copy of the Quotable Pat Riley is failing him now, or maybe find a half-dozen other worthwhile jumping-off points. But the every-other-day schedule of this series just doesn't leave enough time to thoroughly analyze and reconstruct what happened, let alone to properly ponder the human condition.
When it comes to discussion of last three games (and probably the last four, given Rajon Rondo's for-the-ages 44-point masterpiece in the Game 2 loss), it doesn't leave Celtics fans enough time to savor it, to revel in a turnabout performance so stunning that ESPN has actually ceased its perpetual anointing of the Heat to begin the hunt for scapegoats and potential trade partners.
Of course, maybe that's a good thing. For Celtics fans to revel in what happened so far is understandable and irresistible, but it also isn't so far away from the foolishness anointing the Heat the victors after one game. (Bows head in shame, despite it being a rare misstep in analyzing this team, if I do say so.) Game 6 Thursday night is going to be fierce unless the Celtics somehow break the Heat's will in the first half, and that's unlikely given how difficult it has been to sustain leads in this series. Maybe LeBron James has a 40-18-9 in him. Maybe Rajon Rondo has a masterful 40-something minutes in him. Maybe Paul Pierce drops a vintage The Truth performance. Maybe ...
Ah, there we go getting ahead of ourselves. Forget the maybes right now, because no one (not even David Stern, conspiracy theorists) knows what Game 6 holds. Let's just recognize that the series is not over and anything, as KG famously said, is possssssibuuuulll.
Instead, let's use these remaining hours of relative downtime to do a little random reconsidering of the events of Tuesday night ...
* * *
Am I wrong, or was Paul Pierce's grit-and-you-know-what-else 3-pointer with 52.9 seconds left perfectly encapsulate what Celtics fans adore about the guy, and also why he occasionally can leave us muttering about "hero ball"? Is that OK to acknowledge today?
He was 5 for 18 shooting at that point, has had a habit of falling into gonna-get-mine-now mode when the Celtics build a decent lead in this series ... and yet there he was once again when the game was dangling in the balance, wiping away a subpar performance with an enormous, pivotal basket just as he has so many times in his 14 seasons here.
It was your classic "no ... no ... YES!" shot, something his boss Danny Ainge also specialized in during his playing days. None of us were surprised that he took it, or that he made it, even if we might have flinched as it left his hand a split-second before LeBron James closed in.
I swear after watching the replay a half-dozen times that James was baiting him into taking the shot. Of course, unlike LeBron, Pierce hardly needs encouragement to rise to the occasion in those situations. More often than not, he does put the "hero" in "hero ball."
* * *
I'm sure I wasn't the only one wondering what Wally Szczerbiak was thinking when KG went to the line for two free throws with 8 seconds left, the Celtics holding a 92-90 lead, and everyone in New England holding their collective breath.
I assume you're well aware that Szczerbiak, Garnett's teammate for six-plus seasons in Minnesota, got steamrolled with backlash after tweeting during Game 2 that, "KG is another one who lacks the #clutchgene. Always has!"
Even though it was hardly an original knock on KG, and no newsflash is required when noting that they weren't the most copacetic of teammates (I'll always wonder whether KG's change of heart in deciding to come here had less to do with the Ray Allen acquisition and more to do with Szczerbiak leaving Boston in the deal), it was still a bit surprising that Szczerbiak threw it out there for the Twitterverse to devour.
KG swished 'em both in those final seconds, as clutch as clutch can be, and while I suspect Szczerbiak might have said something to his companions watching the game along the lines of, "Just watch. He'll miss,'' he was singing a different tune on WEEI's "Dennis and Callahan" show this morning.
"KG proved me completely wrong last night,'' Szczerbiak said. "[He] made two huge free throws down the stretch and made a big 15-footer. If I'm one of the naysayers that's helping motivate KG play at this level, then maybe the Boston fans owe me a little thank you. Because he's just playing off the charts."
I don't buy that Szczerbiak suddenly believes KG is clutch. And I certainly don't believe that likes him. There's too much history there for a change of heart. But that part about playing off the charts? Not even an enemy could argue that.
* * *
One of my recurring aggravations of this season, particularly in the early days, came from readers who suggested Danny Ainge was a lousy GM because he'd allegedly struggled to build a bench or fortify the roster beyond the Big Four since the 2007-08 season.
These correspondents -- and you know who you are -- usually cited letting 2007-08 favorite James Posey go as an example of his incompetence, perhaps unaware that Posey has faded from the league and letting him depart was the right move. (Full disclosure: Not even I can rationalize the Jermaine O'Neal disaster, though I had and have no issue with the Sheed gamble.)
I haven't heard from many of them lately, and so they should consider this an invitation to explain whether they've noticed that Mickael Pietrus is doing a pretty fair Tony Allen imitation (and in his best moments, such as last night, gives us genuine Posey flashbacks), or that Keyon Dooling has a little bit of Eddie House in him, or that Brandon Bass is a more stable option over Glen Davis, or that Avery Bradley, the 19th pick in the 2010 draft, could not have been more essential to their turnaround.
I'm not sure there is a P.J. Brown in this bunch, but it's become apparent that Ainge did an exceptional job in a short offseason of culling together this roster beyond the first four spots. As if he didn't deserve the benefit of the doubt before.
It's rained pretty much nonstop for three days straight in scenic Wells, Maine. Maybe I'm weird -- I know, no maybe necessary, right? -- but I don't mind at all. Mostly because it's good for sleeping. Sure didn't do the trick last night, though. That Celtics-Heat Game 4 was the kind of tense masterpiece that keeps you awake, replaying the highlights in your mind, especially after the jolt of adrenalin that come from Dwyane Wade's "What-a-fake-on-Daniels-looks-perfect-out-of-his-hand-it's-gonna-swish-the-C's-are-done-(#(@))@)-OH-MY-GOD-HE-MISSED" final shot in overtime. Even with the rain falling, I couldn't sleep for hours after that one. Bet Wade couldn't, either.
Here are a few brief, scattered thoughts that passed through my Spalding of a head while staring at the ceiling and mentally replaying the game ...
* * *
Chris Gasper hit me with the question on Boston Sports Live (you should be watching; it's fun) this afternoon, and I'll admit it caught me a bit off guard even though it's been a favorite recurring topic around here since roughly November: Would you trade Rajon Rondo for Chris Paul right now? I sputtered for a few seconds before essentially saying, "No, because I enjoy watching Rondo too much, good or bad.'' And you know what? That's the truth, the answer I'm glad I gave. Of course I understand why someone would want to trade Rondo for Paul, who is a better shooter than Rondo (on nights he doesn't score 44 points and transcend, anyway) and more conventionally brilliant in that Isiah Thomas sort of way. Had Danny Ainge somehow managed to acquire Paul from New Orleans for Rondo as the season was getting started, well, who could have a beef with that? But I like things how they are, not just with this esteemed team, but with the always-compelling point guard who is so expertly running it.
* * *
Game 4 felt like the first time in a long time that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were in close to their usual form in the same game. Neither shot a high percentage (Pierce was 8 for 18 en route to 23 points, while Allen scored 16 on 6-of-16 shooting), but that's at least in part to the quality of the defense being played on them. They both looked sharp -- Pierce is angling his way into the lane again and seems to have some lift back in his legs, and Allen found the beautiful arc on his jump shot. After Game 1, when I was one of the buffoons who wrote off this team after vowing never to do so until their demise was official, I was doubtful that we'd see them play at the level they did Monday night, particularly in unison. This is beyond encouraging.
* * *
The only difference between Mickael Pietrus and Tony Allen (the maddening Celtic version, not the relatively stable All-Defensive first-teamer with Memphis) is that one of them can tell you where the Eiffel Tower can be found. Pietrus has been exasperating for the most part during the postseason, shooting inconsistently and falling for jump shooters' pump-fakes time and again. (Imagine if he was on Wade on that last shot rather than Marquis Daniels. Wait. Don't.) But like the occasionally lamented TA, Pietrus showed a knack for making a big play out of nowhere Sunday night, corralling two of his five rebounds on the same Celtics possession in overtime. He's one of those players who leaves you shaking your head in both frustration and admiration.
* * *
One thing I've come to realize in this series: I like LeBron James better than Dwyane Wade, and it's not really close. I admire LeBron's relentless effort on defense -- is there any other player on this planet or any other who could guard Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett effectively? -- and I think he gets too much grief for his performance late in games. He had time to think on that 3-pointer with 37 seconds left last night, and still drilled it. On the shot at the end of regulation, Udonis Haslem might not have been the best option, but making the pass was the correct basketball decision. Hey, even Michael Jordan dished off to Steve Kerr and John Paxson in a couple crucial situations, didn't he? As for Wade: Amazing talent, killer instinct, and dirty as hell. Johnny Most would call him McFilthy and McNasty, with an occasional Little Lord Fauntleroy mixed in.
* * *
Is there a Celtics fan who is comfortable when the Green holds a double-digit lead? The Heat started less effectively than Lane Pryce's Jaguar last night, falling behind 21-6 out of the blocks, and yet you knew they'd make a game of it. Though both are factors, I'd say it's more the ability of two particular players on the Heat than any complacency on the Celtics part that all but ensures that the outcome will hang in the balance in the final minutes no matter how fast one team or the other starts. I don't believe in the silly notion that you only need to watch the final two minutes of an NBA game, because then you'd great stuff like this ...
... but I do believe that the normal ebbs and flows of two talented NBA teams eventually even out over the course of 48 minutes.
* * *
Man, this series is just too much fun. I don't want it to end. It has too go seven. Anything less is a disappointment. Heck, how about making it best of 11? Or maybe mixing in a few more ties?
In the quest to put another wildly entertaining and wholly unpredictable game in the Eastern Conference semifinals in perspective, perhaps this item culled from the official Game 3 play-by-play report does the trick:
With a little more than four minutes remaining in the third quarter of the Celtics' eventual 101-91 victory, Marquis Daniels had nine points. Dwyane Wade, the fiercer of the Heat's two superstars? He had eight.
Yes, we're talking that Marquis Daniels, the rotation-player-turned-afterthought, the nine-year veteran who averaged just 3.2 points on 34.6 percent shooting during his 38 appearances in the regular season. That Marquis Daniels, the one who played just three minutes or more in a game twice this postseason, who saw the floor for a total of 1 minute 59 seconds in the first two games of this series, who scored just 12 total points the entire postseason, who hasn't been quite the same since he suffered a career-threatening bruised spinal cord during a game in February 2011.
Marquis Daniels, the one and the same. Yet there he was, in the middle of absolutely everything during the most crucial stretches of one of the Celtics' most crucial games of the season last night. The stat sheet formally documents his contributions, and 9 points (on 4-of-6 shooting), 5 rebounds, an assist and a steal in 17:19 of playing time is an admirable line.
But the numbers don't come close to revealing the full magnitude of his performance. During a stretch bridging the final 2:35 of the first quarter to the 7:20 mark of the second, the Celtics outscored the Heat, 15-0, turning a 28-22 deficit into a 37-28 lead. Daniels was essential in building the momentum and extending it in to the minutes after the run ended. He forced a backcourt violation on LeBron James with 3.9 second left in the first quarter. He gave the Celtics a 39-30 lead at the 7:04 mark with a soft put-back plus a foul. Twenty-five seconds after that, he tied up James on his trademark
travel/ double-dribble combo crab-dribble, forcing a traveling violation.
All in all, it was a vintage Daniels performance, and you know, there really is such a thing. Maybe performances like this have been scarce this year, but the all-around contributions, selfless play, and creative moves near the hoop reminded you of his best days as a valued contributor for three season in Dallas and another three with the Pacers. Daniels was the leader of a strong and necessary bench contribution last night, which also included an energetic 7-point, 4-rebound performance from Keyon Dooling.
"I thought what the second unit did was that they came with a defensive energy that changed the game,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ""And they scored off the defense. They got stops, they ran the floor, Marquis cut and got to the basket. Marquis made great passes, and then we posted him up a couple of times as well. But I thought it was more from that. And that's who they are. Listen, they're not going to put up great numbers offensively. But they know exactly who they are. They accept that, and they are comfortable with that."
Daniels may be OK with his role, but he makes sure to prepare for a bigger one. He's respected among his coaches and teammates for putting in his work even when more than a spare minute or two of playing time is not assured.
"You've just got to stay ready,'' Daniels said. "I say that every day, getting my work in at the shootaround because you never know when your number is going to be called.
Whatever coach asks me to do, rebound, defend, or just bring energy.''
Daniels smiled when he was asked whether Rivers told him to expect a bigger role tonight.
"It's kind of funny, he told me to be ready before the first two games,'' Daniels said. "He didn't say that tonight.''
While Daniels's contributions were valuable, the continued brilliance of the player who was serenaded with "M-V-P, M-V-P!'' chants by the Garden crowd throughout Game 3 must be acknowledged. For as maddening and enigmatic as Rajon Rondo can be, if you don't enjoy and appreciate what he's doing right now, you're probably not someone whose opinion is going to register with anyone paying attention.
Rondo did not match his breathtaking 44-point, 10-assist performance of Game 2, but he was beyond brilliant once again. He guided and cajoled the offense as only a premier point guard can, controlling the tempo while making sure to emphasize Kevin Garnett (24 points). Rondo finished with 21 points (9 of 16 shooting), 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and he probably scored the game's biggest basket, a driving layup with 1:39 left that gave the Celtics a 99-89 advantage after the Heat whittled away a 24-point deficit.
It was another gem of a performance, albeit one with more nuance than his 44-point tour de force. Afterward, he was asked about his approach to Game 3. Was it on his mind to try to be such a scoring threat again?
"My goal was to win, by any means necessary,'' he said. "I just wanted to sacrifice, to do things for my teammates, to get the lead, keep the lead, and run the show. My job is to be the leader out there, an extension of Doc, and I just wanted to call a great game, keep my focus, and keep guys happy.''
His coach said he didn't find it necessary to offer Rondo pregame advice.
"No, I'm like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter, you stay away from that joker," said Rivers, and you suspected he was somehow aware that the Mets' Johan Santana had completed a no-hitter earlier in the evening. "The guy scored 44 points. What can I possibly tell him? I didn't tell him a word. I told him to keep running the team. Keep running the team. The only thing we told him offensively was we had to get Kevin involved. Other than that, just go play."
Rondo did just that, playing well and with great confidence and pride, just like KG and Paul Pierce (23 points) and Ray Allen (10 on 4 of 8 shooting), and yes, even ol' Marquis Daniels. And suddenly, a series that felt like a lost cause after the heartbreaking Game 2 loss has become truly intriguing, marked by unexpected twists and the genius of a point guard who right now is making anything seem possible.
Maybe that's not the most flattering picture -- weren't they so much more photogenic in June 2008? -- but we might as well get a good look at them while we can.
The Big Four, still often misidentified as a Big Three, and down to the Big Two in terms of current effectiveness, are one frustrating game into what sure looks like an anticlimactic last hurrah in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, the quartet responsible for one championship banner and countless good memories the past five seasons, probably have three games remaining as teammates, maybe four. Five? That feels a daydream after what we saw Monday night.
With their 93-79 victory in Game 1, the Miami Heat did more than take a 1-0 lead in the series. They established the inevitable. Barring an injury to LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or sudden, whistle-happy irrationality from Danny Crawford that benefits the Celtics, the Heat are winning this series, their opponent more a pylon than a road block.
It's not a fun thing to have to acknowledge. The Heat, as electric as they can be, have shown themselves to be mentally fragile front-runners. This core of Celtics, at full strength, could overcome them. Hell, I believe they would overcome them. But save for that Big Two -- the extraordinary Kevin Garnett, who should touch the ball on every possession, and Rajon Rondo, maddening and brilliant and maddening again -- the Celtics just do not have enough to expose the Heat, let alone defeat them in a long series.
The Heat struggle to match up with Garnett, and to a degree Rondo, though challenging the latter at the rim proved effective in Game 1 (he shot 8 for 20). The Heat may not be able to neutralize them entirely, but they don't have to, because the Celtics have no answers for their superstars.
It's uncertain how much Paul Pierce's knee is still bothering him, but this much we do know for sure. He has no lift after he plows and plods his way to the hoop, and he can't do much more than body up to James on the defensive end. Pierce rises to the occasion of dueling LeBron, but right now, his the only time there is any space between the floor and his sneakers is when that commercial with him sitting in the Garden rafters airs during a break in the action.
And what is there left to say hobbling Ray Allen? Arguably the greatest shooter in league history is but a ghost of his past greatness, having hit 1 of 7 from the floor and -- this is just incomprehensible -- 3 of 7 from the line Monday while often dealing with the relentless Wade on the defensive end. It's hard to watch it come to this for such a proud and accomplished player, and I might suggest Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge should shut him down if there were anything resembling a legitimate alternative to take his minutes.
There was, of course, and it's a cruel irony it's an injury to a young player rather than one of the veterans that is truly crushing this team right now. Save for the cloning of Bill Russell or Larry Bird, Avery Bradley is exactly what the Celtics need right now -- someone who can run with Rondo and get a well-timed easy basket or two, while also playing lock-down defense on Wade. Instead, he's recovering from shoulder surgery. I used to love that commercial Comcast SportsNet New England runs promoting its Celtics coverage that features Bradley blocking Wade's shot at the rim. Now it's just a reminder of who, and what, is missing.
I hate thinking of the Celtics this way. It's been a remarkably resilient group, a true team, and one that beat the Heat three times in April alone. Hope did exist not so long ago. Conceding the ending before it arrives is no fun. But it's much easier to do than coming up with a logical way the Celtics can play on beyond the next three games, maybe four.
Brandon Bass is in many ways the quintessential working-class ballplayer, a one-time second-round pick who has earned every break, every contract, every single good thing to come his way during his seven-year, four-team run in the NBA.
So it should come as no surprise that Bass took the grinder's approach to snapping out of the funk that plagued him during the first four games of the Celtics' Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Philadelphia 76ers, during which he averaged 11.8 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting, down slightly yet noticeably from his regular-season numbers of 12.5 and 47.9.Bass confirmed he watched extra film to identify how the Sixers were defending him. He recognized, according to coach Doc Rivers, that he needed to be more aggressive coming off picks. And Bass said he spent plenty of time in the gym, "putting up a bunch of shots."
"It's just hard work,'' the first-year Celtic explained. "Grinding is what got me to this point, and that's what I'm going to continue to do."
All of the above are reasonable explanations for why he played better during the Celtics' 101-85 victory over the Sixers Monday night to give the green a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven series. But when it comes to how the 27-year-old forward played in the third quarter, well, that might just defy explanation. Some masterpieces are just meant to be admired. And make no mistake, Bass authored a masterpiece.
Bass scored 18 of his 27 points in the third as the Celtics turned a 50-47 halftime deficit into a 75-66 lead entering the fourth. In the span from the 6:38 mark of the quarter to the :42.6 second mark, he hit four free throws, had three dunks, and buried two jumpers as the Celtics turned a 57-55 deficit into a 73-66 lead.
That's 14 points in the span of 5 minutes and 55.4 seconds. That's LeBron James stuff, a stretch of dominance Kobe Bryant would be proud to call his own. In current Celtic parlance, it was something a hoops observer might expect out of Kevin Garnett, or perhaps a healthy Paul Pierce. But from Bass, sometimes derided as "No-Pass Bass,'' an undersized 6-foot-8-inch power forward, a player who had struggled to get off Doc Rivers's bench in the fourth quarter recently and who had never been on the podium for a postgame press conference in the postseason until Monday night? Who saw this coming?
"Yeah, it's a first time for a lot of things, man,'' laughed Bass, who said he had no idea he scored 18 points in the third until a reporter mentioned it. "That's why you see all these beads on my forehead, because I'm a little bit nervous."
Bass might have been sweating after the game, and certainly in preparation for it, but the performance itself was almost casual in its efficiency. His point total in the quarter was one shy of his previous playoff single-game high, set in 2008 when he was a member of the Dallas Mavericks. And he achieved those 27 points by hitting 9 of 13 field goal attempts and 9 of 10 free throws.
It was so reminiscent of Leon Powe's 21-points-in-15-minutes outburst in Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals that one couldn't help but wonder whether Phil Jackson was somewhere deliberately mispronounce his name as "Base'' just for old snark's sake.
Sixers coach Doug Collins, who is engagingly candid and articulate in his postgame press conferences, not surprisingly was more gracious and forthcoming about Bass's game than Jackson regarding Powe four years ago.
"Brandon didn't depend tonight strictly on his jump shot, he made some dunks, got in the paint, and when that happens that opens up the basket for you,'' Collins said. "All of a sudden that basket looks a lot bigger for that jump shot.''
Bass was asked whether it was the best game of his career. His straight-faced reply: "To be honest, I didn't even think about it yet. Once it settles in, maybe I think about it after we get the next win. I just want to keep going, continue to help my teammates and do what I can.''
It was a working-class player's answer, putting the team first, and while suitable, the more appropriate answer might have been, "Are you kidding, man? The third quarter alone was the best game of my career.''
This is not to suggest the victory was a solo effort by Bass. Garnett was stellar, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the first half to keep Philadelphia from expanding the lead it held from the 4:42 mark of the first quarter until Bass took over in the third. Greg Stiemsma chipped in with 10 essential points in 14 minutes of action. Pierce battled for every one of his 16 points.
But even with Bass's tour de force, it's hard to imagine the Celtics emerging victorious without the efforts of the facilitator, the one and only Rajon Pierre Rondo. (That's right. Pierre.)
"It starts with Rondo,'' said Sixers forward Elton Brand (19 points). "You have to stop Rondo. When he's aggressive and scoring layups and getting into the paint, that leaves Kevin Garnett open for a jumper, or Brandon Bass open for a jumper or a drive. And as many jumpers as Bass hit, there were a lot of layups and free throws. And that's how you get 27 points on 13 shots."
Rondo did not blow up the stat sheet -- he finished with 13 points, 14 assists, and 4 rebounds -- and there was at least the suggestion that this might be another enigmatic performance from the mercurial point guard. After scoring six of the Celtics' first nine points on slashes to the hoop, he missed a pair of free throws at the 1:18 mark of the first period. Suddenly, the aggressiveness vanished, and he did not score again until the third quarter.
But burdened with additional on-ball defensive responsibilities in the absence of injured running-mate Avery Bradley, Rondo could be excused if he was pacing himself to a degree on offense. While sometimes it looks like he can get to the rim at will, that's because he makes it look effortless. It's not. And you have to say this for him: He had a knack Monday for picking the right spots.
Rondo assisted on seven of the Celtics' 11 field goals in the third quarter, then stepped on his own accelerator in the fourth, scoring three baskets in a span of less than two minutes midway through the quarter to leave the Sixers in the dust and his own coach raving.
"I thought the second half, in my opinion, was one of the best games he's had this year for us,'' Rivers said. "Because it wasn't just the basketball part of it. I thought his will, his leadership, whether he scored, I thought it was one of the best halves he's had. And he got us in our stuff. Barking at guys, demanding guys get into their spots. And that's not something he loves doing. I thought that was as good as a leadership role as he's had for us in the playoffs. He's had better games statistically, but I thought what he did was huge for us.''
Huge, but not unexpected, for as spectacular as Rondo's feats can be, they rarely surprise now. He's capable of anything. Before Monday night, did you ever believe we'd be saying the same thing about Brandon Bass too?
Today's media column, which is basically a 700-word wish that Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn were permitted to call Celtics postseason games beyond the first round, is over here on BostonGlobe.com.
Because the column runs exclusively there now and yet I still want to acknowledge it on the blog, I think what I'm going to do each week is something like this: On Friday morning, I'll write a brief outtake or footnote from the column, or a sidebar directly related to it, then add a poll related to the topic. It's rare that there's a week where the topic doesn't lend itself to strong opinions, so let's give it a shot and see where it goes.
It's easy to understand why Comcast SportsNet New England and the regional cable networks that broadcast specific NBA teams' games get squeezed out after the first round of the playoffs. TNT and ESPN pay roughly $930 million a year combined to the league on the current eight-year television deal that runs through 2015-16. Given that CSNNE's ratings nearly doubled the national numbers in the first round, well, if you were an executive at TNT or ESPN, you wouldn't want to be dealing with that, especially considering what you're paying for the rights..
I generally like Dick Stockton on the TNT telecasts -- mostly because his voice takes me back to the "NBA on CBS'' in the mid-'80s, when the Celtics, Lakers, and Sixers reigned and the game was never better. But his partner, Chris Webber, often says things that make me wish for another alternative, such as when he noted Wednesday night that the Celtics will require Rajon Rondo to play "one guard, two guard, and even three guard because of injuries.''
Presuming Heinsohn was watching the game at CSNNE -- he and Gorman at least get to appear on the pre- and postgame programming -- I'd have loved to have witnessed his reaction to that silly comment. I imagine it was something like, "Are you KIDDING me, Chris Webber? Rah-JON RON-do is a POINT guard.''
One last thought, regarding Game 4 that is just a few hours away: I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this team tonight, though Paul Pierce's sudden (and to me, stunning) return to form and apparent health in Game 3 certainly bodes well going forward. After watching him struggle to move in Game 3, I never thought we'd get the whole Truth until November. But that's how it goes with this often maddening and yet so damn likable team. You wonder if they've hit their ceiling, and somehow they smash through it. Their incredible ability to overcome just about any obstacle -- including the self-inflicted ones -- is part of their charm.
Through two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Celtics and Sixers have each scored 173 points, with the difference between victory and defeat in each game a single point.
It would seem upon initial consideration that Doc Rivers had the evenness of this matchup of two intriguing but dissimilar teams in mind when he lamented following the Celtics' 82-81 loss in Game 2 Monday night at the Garden,'' I don't think we have a big margin of error.''
But the Celtics coach wasn't so much talking about the scoreboard as he was the limping collection of players he has to work with. The injuries and attrition -- Avery Bradley, indispensable against a quick team like the Sixers, missed time last night when his shoulder popped out for the third time in two weeks -- has led to such bizarre configurations as Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins playing alongside each other for a time during a pivotal third-quarter stretch in which the Sixers built a 57-49 lead.
The state of the roster, more than an aggravating Game 2 loss in which the Celtics scored 11 points in the third quarter, missed 32 of 46 shots after hitting their first four to start the game, and ultimately allowed the fragile-minded Sixers' collective confidence to swell heading home to Philly for Game 3, is why this loss could hover over this team for a while, perhaps even after they go their separate ways.
While Ray Allen (17 points) is playing sporadically well on his creaky ankle, it's not as if the Celtics will become healthier during the grind of the playoffs.
"We knew that [the injuries would have an effect] coming into this whole playoff run,'' Rivers said. "With the bodies we have, we've got guys coming in and out of games. Paul clearly is not 100 percent."
No, he is not, and the relevance of this cannot be overstated.. Paul Pierce is playing with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee, and the truth about The Truth is this: It has completely negated him. The guy in the No. 34 jersey, the most well-rounded scorer in Celtics history, looks the same as ever. But the basketball player is sadly unfamiliar. Monday night, he was little more than a ghost on the parquet.
Pierce, the geometric genius with the extraordinary footwork and endless array fakes, simply cannot angle himself into position to make his moves. When he's single-teamed, he can't beat his defender off the dribble, and he doesn't have the lift in his legs to shoot consistently from outside. When a second defender runs at him, the Sixers are drooling at the chance to hop in the passing lanes. At his best, Pierce isn't exactly quick, but he'll kill you methodically, then do it again. Now, he's just slow. The rim must look so far away right now.
The stat sheet is further confirmation that Pierce is not even close to right. In 37 minutes, he scored 7 points on 2 of 9 shooting. He took just a pair of free throws, a telltale sign if there ever was one. He had more turnovers (5) than assists (3) overall, and more turnovers (3) than points (2) in the second half.
Other than a three-pointer with 3.1 seconds remaining in the first half to give the Celtics a 38-36 lead, there were few signs that Pierce was capable of being a contributor on offense, let along the go-to guy. Heck, he took six fewer shots than Brandon Bass, who has been abysmal in this series.
Pierce refused to make excuses -- "The knee was fine. I wore my knee brace today,'' he said afterward, quickly dismissing the line of questioning -- and some of his struggles can be attributed to Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, a superb plastic-man of a defender, as Sixers coach Doug Collins was quick to note.
"I feel like Andre Iguodala is a premiere defensive player at his position,'' said Collins. ''We played Boston three times this year, we played Atlanta three times, and Indiana four times. And we had seven wins against those three teams. A big part of that was having a guy who makes Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce or Danny Granger work hard every single night."
Pierce may have had to work hard every night during the three regular-season meetings between the Celtics and Sixers, but it wasn't without statistical reward. He averaged 17.6 points per game against Philly this year, below his average, but he hit 19 of 36 shots. He made Iguodala work, too.
Look, it's no fun to hammer on the Pierce story line, but his injury and the effect it is having on him and the Celtics' offense is the rare underplayed story in the Boston media. He is the fulcrum of their offense, the player who grinds out the points in virtually any situation. The vintage Pierce would have been essential during the third quarter stretch in which the Celtics were held scoreless for 4 minutes and 40 seconds.
Instead, when Mickael Pietrus, who apparently believes the best way to end a slump is to keep firing away, at last hit a pair of 3-pointers 38 seconds apart early in the fourth to bring the Celtics to within 61-59, one couldn't help but wonder whether he should get some of Pierce's minutes. He didn't -- Pierce came in for him at the 7:46 mark. Pietrus never saw the floor again, and Pierce did not score again. He was shut out in the fourth quarter.
Maybe he has a miracle in store for Game 3 -- even Lakers fans know never to fully write him off, even if (or especially when) there's a wheelchair involved -- but given the nature of his injury it's hard to envision him being much more than a facilitator or a decoy. And the Sixers damn well know it.
While Collins wouldn't admit to as much beyond praising Iguodala, it appeared the Sixers recognized that Pierce wouldn't be able to hurt them and instead concentrated on shutting down Kevin Garnett.
You'll may hear on your radio today that Garnett didn't play well; disregard those basketball bandwagoneers. Dealing with double-teams virtually the entire game, Garnett entered the fourth quarter with just four points. After hitting 5 of 7 shots down the stretch, he finished with 15, as well as 12 rebounds. While the frustrating memory of his performance for many will be the offensive foul he was called for while setting a screen with 12 seconds left -- a legitimate whistle, if unusual for that point in the game -- it was a performance that should be remembered well.
"We tried to put some strength on him," said Collins. "We tried to take away his rhythm shots. They do such a great job of getting you strung out and throwing back to him. "all those shots he catches in rhythm, he doesn't miss. So it was really trying to dismiss the efficiency and timing. And our guys were able to do it. He was still 15 and 12, but we made him work hard for his points and that is critical.''
Conversely, Rivers didn't think the Celtics worked hard enough to get Garnett the ball, particularly in the early stages.
"We didn't go to him, plain and simple,'' Rivers said. "We never established the post. The second unit established the post during one stretch in the fourth quarter. I really thought we started out the first four minutes playing the game the right way, moving the ball. We are a great ball-movement team, a next-pass team. I thought everybody was trying to beat their defense rather than playing the way we played the other night. We chased shots as a group."
Rivers may be disappointed, but he cannot be terribly surprised. When your surest scorer is rendered an afterthought, chasing shots suddenly looks like a reasonable way to fill the void.
Ten free minutes for me, 10 throwaway lines for you ...
1. I learned long ago not to write off this particular group of Celtics until the final buzzer has sounded, and that goes for a particular game or this remarkable season as a whole. But while I do think they get by the fledgling Sixers even with an injured Paul Pierce, it has been somewhat disheartening to watch him struggle to play through a knee injury that is hampering him significantly. He's unable to beat defenders off the dribble, and his uncanny knack for gaining position and leverage on his defender has been neutralized. He's also struggled with his passing, especially when the Sixers (and Hawks previously) run an additional defender at him and then jump the passing lane on the rotation. I think the Celtics could beat Miami with a healthy Pierce (and Ray Allen, and Avery Bradley). It'll be disappointing if this injury prevents us from finding out for sure.
2. Never thought we'd see Daniel Nava playing for the home team at Fenway Park ever again, but I guess that's what happens when the outfield depth chart reads like a list of casualties (Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Repko, Darnell McDonald, and even Ryan Kalish). And kudos to Nava for being ready for it. He's reached base in 12 of 16 plate appearances, and the way I understand it, a .750 on-base percentage is not bad. What he's done this time around is more impressive than when he first arrived in '10, which is saying something considering -- and I think this is mentioned on the Sox radio broadcast every time he comes to the plate -- he hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw.
3. Two favorite non-KG moments from Game 1: Avery Bradley beating Rajon Rondo to the loose ball and taking it all the way for a reverse layup. Man, that kid has some mega-jets. Also, Rondo's three-quarter-court perfect strike to Bradley for an in-stride layup. I could get used to watching these two play together for the next half-dozen years or so. OK, and an obvious tied for third -- Rondo's presence of mind to foul Jrue Holiday with a little more than three seconds left, then, on the inbound pass, recognizing that Evan Turner couldn't keep up with him as he dribbled out the clock. Anyone who questions Rondo's hoops IQ should be required to watch the fourth quarter of that game on an endless loop.
4. The suggestion that a player established at one position should move to an unfamiliar one to accommodate another player or to fix a logjam at one spot usually drives me nuts. I still don't like the idea of Adrian Gonzalez playing the outfield, though we'll probably see it in Philadelphia over the weekend. And I know it's not practical to put Kevin Youkilis in left field when he returns -- when he played the position briefly in 2006, he made Manny Ramirez look like Paul Blair, and that's when Youk was healthy. But I do believe Bobby Valentine needs to find a creative way to keep Will Middlebrooks in the lineup when Youkilis returns, and if that means he plays a super-utility role until his inevitable next injury, maybe that is the best way to go.
5. Really curious to see how the Patriots' wide-receiver situation shakes out. I loved the Jabar Gaffney signing -- he came in during '06 and instantly earned Tom Brady's trust -- and I'd be surprised if either Donte' Stallworth or Chad Ochocinco make the team. This much we know for sure: Some established names are going to have a tough time making the Patriots' final 53.FULL ENTRY
During the two press conferences on two channels separated by an hour or so in time and a million miles in tone, Kevin Garnett and Josh Beckett reminded us that they have one thing in common beyond the standard intense fame and seemingly endless zeroes on the paycheck of the modern athlete.
A extraordinary gift for defiance.
Not that the way one uses it at all resembles how the other does.
On Garnett, the victor in the immediate aftermath Thursday night of what astute observers said was his defining performance as a Celtic, his defiance was both serious and amusing, an admonition not to write him off at age 35.
"I'm really good at my craft and I take my craft really seriously,'' said Garnett after his 28-point, 14-rebound, 5-block instant classic. "I guess being 35 -- soon to be 36, not 37, 76 -- look it up. I put a lot of work into my craft. I take this very seriously. I always have since '95 when I was able to come into this league and it's almost like you guys are shocked."
On Beckett, stone-faced and outwardly indifferent in defeat, his stubborn defiance was enough to make you wish the World Series star of just five years ago would pack up his spikes, glove, smirk, fading fastball and collection of fancy new punch-top Miller cans and go back to the mansion, hunting blind or some combination thereof where he spends the 4 1/2 offseason months that apparently don't count as days off in his mind.
"We get 18 off days a year,'' he said when asked after his 2 1/3-inning, 7-run gem whether his golf outing the day after missing his last start could lead to a perception problem. "I think we deserve a little time to ourselves."
For Garnett, there is no perception problem. His was defiance as pride, a way to use slights both real and imagined as fuel for his extraordinary and intense performance in the Celtics' Game 6 victory over the Hawks.
"Like this ain't what I do every day and this ain't what I was built for," he continued. "It does come off kind of disrespectful at times. I put a lot of work and time into this, so when I hit the floor there's certain things I expect of myself. Certain levels I expect out of myself.I take this very seriously, so you guys calling me old, that number fueled the fire. You have no idea what y'all even doing when you do that."
For Beckett, it was defiance as petulance, an almost daring refusal to concede that perhaps playing golf wasn't the brightest idea considering the Red Sox are dead-last in the American League East and seem to careen off rock-bottom every other day.
"I spend my off days the way I want to spend them,'' he said. It was surprising he didn't punctuate it with a belch.
Garnett was reminding us not to doubt him. Beckett, yet again, was giving us every reason to just that.
While Garnett has made adjustments this year -- his willingness to play center, a position he has long loathed, is a tribute to the people skills of Doc Rivers and the respect his players have for him -- I really do not believe Beckett ever will. I'm not sure he's capable, and not just because he was central in burying a manager in Terry Francona who had many of the same strengths as Rivers.
Beckett, born with lightning in his arm, has always been this guy. I remember interviewing him during his brief stay in Portland a decade ago during his rapid ascent to the major leagues, and the only differences between then and now were that he swore more creatively, had a haircut not even Bryce Harper could love, and was probably 30 pounds lighter.
The attitude worked for him when he had a 97 miles per hour moving fastball to fall back on. It worked for him in 2003 and '07 when he was integral in championship runs. When all was right, his attitude was even part of his charm. But now, in the wake of the September disaster that has somehow bled into this season, a disaster in which Beckett was both complicit and, surprise, defiant about, you'd think the man would mature and learn to deal in humility and accountability from time to time. It's not like he hasn't had a lot of opportunity to practice recently.
But while his fastball his lost a few crucial ticks of velocity, that defiance is as blazing as ever. Because Beckett doesn't appear to take great care of himself and seems too stubborn to admit his heat will never be what it was in his youth, I've always thought he would lose it faster than a pitcher of his ability usually would. I wrote in the offseason that they should consider trading him, though I never expected that they would do so.
No matter how much Sox fans howl for it, no matter how loud the boos become, it's not happening now. He's a 10-5 guy, meaning he can veto a deal to any destination he does not like. He's pitching poorly. His reputation is tattered. He has two years left on a four-year, $68 million deal. He's not going anywhere other than the driving range, and given his history, the disabled list for a two-week siesta this summer.
Garnett hinted last night that this might be his last year. Let's hope that is not so for many reasons. He is not the one among last night's defiant duo who should be leaving.
But wouldn't it be just like Beckett to stick around for two more years and force the remaining Fenway faithful to watch him stink up the joint. What a final masterstroke of ignorant defiance it would be.
Trying to look ahead to Game 6, but inevitably rewinding the final 10 seconds of Game 5 just a few dozen more times ...
1. You know what the Celtics really needed on that doomed final possession -- I mean, besides a better angle on KG's screen, movement to open space from Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce and Michael Pietrus on the weak side, and sharper instant decision-making from Rajon Rondo?
A line change, hockey-style, to get Ray Allen in for Bradley after Rondo stole the inbounds pass. Well, that, or one more timeout. Your choice.
I'm convinced some of the confusion once Rondo and the Celtics scrambled to set up the final shot came from having Bradley on the court rather than Allen. While Bradley seemed to break out briefly ahead of the pack, once the Celtics were in the scramble of the half-court set, he looked frozen by ... something. It could have been the magnitude of the moment, or maybe it was just the recognition that Rondo was going to try to run a pick and roll with KG.
But in retrospect, it's impossible not think that Allen, who is as worthy a choice as anyone in the league to launch a potential winning shot, would have found his way to an open seam and given Rondo a worthy alternative plan after Al Horford and Josh Smith disrupted the plan with Garnett.
It's no one's fault that Allen wasn't on the court, because Bradley should have been out there for defense. It's just too bad that once they had the ball, there was no way to sneak one of the best shooters in the history of the game on the court.
2. Yeah, I'm worried about Paul Pierce. How can you not be? It was evident even when he was playing well in the game's first few minutes that he was having a hard time moving laterally, and it became more obvious over the course of the game. While he's the first to admit that he's not the quickest player in the league, his lack of mobility prevented him from even getting the leverage and clever angles that allow him to constantly beat quicker defenders off the dribble. Pierce has a sneaky-good first step because of superb footwork and a great first shoulder, but last night, his lack of the former prevented him from using the latter. He could not be the Paul Pierce whose funky old-school game we've come to admire, and that is worrisome with Game 6 just 30 hours away as I write this.
3. There's a lot to like about Mickael Pietrus -- his toughness and dogged defense, his sunny personality, his genuine appreciation of playing for the storied Celtics. Given the frightening fall and subsequent concussion he suffered in late March, it's remarkable he's out there at all. But it's impossible not to acknowledge that in a production sense, the Pietrus who became such an important part of this team really hasn't been out there in this series. In 92 minutes, he's 3 for 14 from the field and 2 for 13 from 3-point territory, with nearly twice as many fouls (a team-high 15) as points (8). Pietrus is not shy about teeing it up, and that's not necessarily a bad thing even though his 3-point percentage (33.5) was worse than Bradley's (40.7 in 54 attempts) this season. But he's overdue for a few actually finding the bottom of the net.
4. Man, that was the full Josh Smith experience last night, wasn't it? Horrible fade-away jumpers in the first half to the point he seemed like he was going to give the game to the Celtics, dependable rebounding, some passes that no player his size has any business pulling off on the break, and one atrocious and almost predictable turnover at the end. As talented as he is, should he ever join the Celtics, I may retire from watching basketball. Can you imagine how crazy he'd drive Tommy Heinsohn?
5. One of my colleagues is insistent this afternoon that Game 6 is really Game 7 for the Celtics, meaning that should they lose tomorrow night, there's no way they take the win-or-go-home in Atlanta. I respectfully counter that such a notion is absurd. If you've been watching this Celtics team consistently this season, you know they are extraordinarily resilient whether it comes to injuries, tough losses and big deficits, but also have a maddening habit of adding extra degrees of difficulty to any accomplishment. I think they wrap up this thing tomorrow night, but if they don't, I'll still presume they'll find a way to win Game 7. That's how they do it, bringing out our admiration and aggravation on any given night. It's never easy. That's both their charm and their curse.
Maybe it's because whenever the Celtics play the Hawks in meaningful game it's natural to immediately flash back to May 1988, the Eastern Conference semifinals, and the epic Larry Bird/Dominique Wilkins shootout in Game 7.
Maybe it's because as Paul Pierce grows older, your appreciation of his basketball IQ and the geometry of his game grows as large as his repertoire of moves. All the angles and elbows and step-throughs and fakes that help him earn two and three points at a time aren't as aesthetically pleasing as a Ray Allen three from the corner, but he can score in more ways and places on the court than any Celtic since Larry Legend, and probably including him.
Or maybe the biggest reason Pierce's instant-classic, 36-point, 14-rebound, 4-steal performance last night in Game 2 vs. Atlanta reminded me so much of a vintage Larry Bird tour-de-force was this:
Everyone knew he was going to have to be exceptional for his team to prevail. And he went out and delivered, leaving no doubt from the beginning.
Pierce had nine points before the blowhard P.A. announcer had finished screeching starting lineups. He scored 13 points in the fourth, and outscored the entire Hawks roster, 19-15, from late in the third quarter on after the Celtics had fallen behind by 11. He was extraordinary, unstoppable, a force of basketball nature. He was downright Larry-like.Yes, I know you can be convicted of blasphemy quickly around here for comparing anyone to Bird. I may have been on a few of those juries myself. Of course I'm not suggesting Pierce is Bird's equal, though the argument is becoming easier to make that Pierce belongs with him on the Celtics' all-time starting five. And I recognize that what unfolded last night lacks the magnitude of the Bird/'Nique win-or-go-home duel.
But this game wasn't more than a Josh Smith heave away from that in terms of importance. Had they lost, they'd be down 0-2 at home, Rajon Rondo would be under siege, and those who howled at midseason that Danny Ainge should have blown this team up would be coming out of the parquet.
Now? This series is over at 1-1, we've again been reminded why you never write off this core of players, and Rondo owes Pierce a Rolex or a Maybach whatever NBA players give each other in lieu of thank-you notes.
And there is one other characteristic of greatness that he shares with Bird: He lives for situations like last night's. If you've followed Pierce's career closely and made your own judgments, you probably had a decent clue that what happened was coming.
Kobe and LeBron can begrudgingly confirm he has a few big game pelts at their expense, and have we already forgotten his Game 3, 38-point, 14-for-19 shooting performance against the Knicks last postseason? And this is not a recent thing; he averaged 27.1 points per game during the 2002-03 postseason, and 24.1 the previous year when the Celtics went to the Eastern Conference Finals with a roster featuring Pierce, Antoine Walker, and 10 role players.
Pierce's supreme self-confidence is as important to his success as his ability to outmaneuver quicker defenders off the dribble, knock down a pull-up three, or score with either hand among the trees. When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived before the 2007-08 season, it eased Pierce of the burden of having to carry the team himself every night. But every once in a while, it's still a blast watching him do it. You may remember Bird doing the same.
Sometimes Pierce's confidence hurts his perception. It is the mind-set that makes him believe the Celtics' best option in last-shot situation is him dribbling the clock down at the top of the key. It can be maddening, particularly when Allen is healthy. But considering he's made his share of those shots, I'll take the tradeoff.
He believes in Paul Pierce.
After last night, is there really anyone left who doesn't?
Question, Boston sports fans: How many times did you replay Tyler Seguin's winning goal in Game 6 immediately after it happened? Five? A dozen? Or are you still hitting the rewind/play combo on your DVR this morning, two days after one of the most beautiful big-moment goals you'll ever see and a day before one of the most delicious events in sports, a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
There were so many reasons to watch his game-winner, then watch it again and again and one more time again. The magnitude of it, for starters, for his OT score kept the defending champions' season alive against Alex Ovechkin and the gifted, enigmatic Washington Capitals. Milan Lucic's gorgeous, almost casual, pass that sent Seguin on his way. The roadrunner-on-skates beep-beep speed with which he left the defense in his wake and closed in on Caps goalie Braden Holtby. The shot itself, which was from an angle you didn't need to be a geometrician to appreciate.
For me, and probably a lot of you too, there was one aspect of the play that impressed me more than the rest: Seguin's extraordinary patience.
I mean, for a 20-year-old athlete to have the presence of mind in that situation to wait ... and wait ... and wait to shoot the puck until the goalie all but says, "Will you please *$*@*($@ shoot the puck already, eh?'' before committing and essentially leaving an open net ... well, the poise Seguin showed under those circumstances, when he could have shot sooner, is just an incredible thing. That's why I kept hitting rewind and babbling to my sighing 8-year-old daughter why the play was so special.
Pardon me if this strikes you as a stretch of a connection, but I don't believe it is. See, it hit me like a Zdeno Chara check in the aftermath of the Game 6 victory that there is something all of us can take from Seguin's approach to that moment when it comes to our approach to following professional sports:
The value of patience.
To me, it seems like it's in shorter supply among sports fans and media members nowadays than it has ever been. I'm sure a large part of it is due to the prevalent sports-radio culture, in which every loss and negative play is magnified and dissected beyond recognition, and two losses in a row guarantee that the carcass will be picked bare. Everyone has to have a take, and you're not going to get your 30 seconds on the air with your favorite over-caffeinated host by being reasonable.
I don't like that, but I do get it. What I don't understand is how it rewards you as a fan, or where the satisfaction comes from when patience pays off. What do fans who were yelping for Danny Ainge to "blow it up'' and trade Rajon Rondo just a few weeks ago -- usually without any logical solutions regarding what they could and should get in return -- think now that the Celtics are the team no one wants to play in the Eastern Conference playoffs and Rondo has played his way into All-NBA consideration?
Do they admit that waiting it all out is sometimes the best route? Do they find joy in watching this fascinating team, which bickers like family and has each others' backs like family? Or when the going gets good, do they just move on to the next projected crisis, finding more satisfaction in griping than in success?
I suspect the same people who were piling on Danny Ainge back in February are the same ones who will shriek when Bill Belichick passes up that outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid you just know is the perfect fit for the Belichick scheme, if only he'd see it himself, to take a defensive tackle or a guard in the first round during the upcoming draft.
And yes, of course this is about the Red Sox. They've been awful, no doubt. Hideous. Bobby Valentine has made more curious decisions in 15 games than Terry Francona did in eight years, and that's only a slight exaggeration. The bullpen is a Toby Borland Tribute Band. Proven players such as Kevin Youkilis and Clay Buchholz have been brutal, and it's natural to wonder whether they'll perform up to their expected levels. There are real issues to fret about.
Which is why it puzzles me that some fans and media seem to invent things to worry about on top of the real problems. Barring injury, Adrian Gonzalez is going to hit for power; his second home run last year didn't arrive until May 3. When he gets hot, he will carry them. Barring injury -- again with that caveat -- the starting rotation will be better than a season ago. Jon Lester has actually had a better April than he usually does. There's no reason Josh Beckett will not remain a top-of-the-rotation starter. Buchholz's command isn't there yet, but is that really unexpected for someone who didn't throw a meaningful pitch after mid-June last year?
And the back of the rotation will be better. Between them a season ago, John Lackey and Tim Wakefield gave up 202 earned runs. That's 31 fewer than Clayton Kershaw has allowed in his 738.2 career innings in the major leagues. Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard have both shown the potential to be more than back-end starters, and should Bard be called upon to rescue the bullpen beyond his start Friday, mediocre Aaron Cook and his career 4.53 ERA should still be an upgrade on what they had last year.
I know, you're probably not going to listen to me. Sometimes I'm too patient -- I was with my wife for 12 years before we got married -- and this Red Sox team is legitimate turmoil in some ways. But there's too much talent here for it to stumble for long, and the schedule ahead is favorable, with lots of Kansas City, Baltimore, Cleveland and Oakland in the near future. But you should listen to me, because reason is often proven right, and I'm still all right to smile.
What's that? Why yes, that is a line from a certain Guns 'n' Roses song. "Patience,'' as a matter of fact. Right, the one with the whistling.
And if it's going to prevent you from coming up with cockamamie sports problems to worry about, you bet I hope it's stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
Well, since it's cool with him and all, why the heck not?
I have to admit, the idea has grown on me since it was floated out there, sometime amid the Celtics resurgence and Avery Bradley's ascent as basketball's version of a shutdown corner, that Ray Allen should come off the bench once he returns from his ankle injury.
It's easy to imagine Allen, arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history, checking in and providing instant offense, a smoother, modern-day Vinnie Johnson. I've often yowled that he gets lost in the offense too much, that not enough plays are run his way. Perhaps in a designated gunner role, he would rarely be an afterthought.
I didn't think he'd go for it, though. He's beyond a creature of habit, and his routine is to prepare to start, something he has done in 1,139 of the 1,143 games he has played in his NBA career. Not that he's terribly selfish, but he is quite and rightfully proud, and it can't be easy for any player, particularly a 10-time All-Star, to consider the transition game of coming off the bench. Even with this amazing resurgence, there's the train of thought that Kevin Garnett will retire rather than play out his NBA days as a role player.
But with the team thriving in his absence -- 10 wins, including five in a row, in the 11 games he's missed this season -- and young Avery Bradley providing a fierce defensive element alongside Rajon Rondo, there is a case that it is the right thing to do. And Allen, to his immense credit has said he would do it, telling the Globe, "Whatever we need to do as a team" he'd be willing to do.
So . . . how about it, Doc? Do it tonight, against the Spurs.
Allen, hopefully, will get a higher volume of shots in the off-the-bench role, he'd still see significant minutes, and it cannot hurt to give his 36-year-old legs more rest as the postseason nears.
And let's admit it: Bradley has seized his opportunity like he rips the ball away from unsuspecting point guards.
There is a lot to like about the 20-year-old second-year guard, not the least of which is that his success, which has come with remarkably accelerated progress lately, has silenced all of the unabashed Danny Ainge bashers who have failed to comprehend how difficult it is to find talent late in the draft, something he, the Spurs' R.C. Buford, and very few others have consistently done.
Bradley's defense is dogged and spectacular; it justified his place in the league even when he approached offense like the basketball was a hot potato. I've seen his block on Dwyane Wade Sunday maybe a dozen times -- I keep running it in slo-mo, Zapruder-style, to see whether "Spaulding'' is imprinted in reverse across Wade's forehead -- and while I haven't solved that, this much I can confirm: Watching that clip is never going to get old.
Offensively, he's still raw as a playmaker. While his defense might serve as a reminder that Rondo is a bit overrated on the ball, Bradley's offense stands as confirmation of Rondo's genius in orchestrating the offense when he's fully engaged.
But Bradley moves tirelessly when he doesn't have the ball (perhaps the one trait he has in common with Allen), finishes gracefully and creatively near the hoop, and when he makes a couple of those bunnies in a row, his confidence soars. Not coincidentally, his jump shot starts falling more often. And he's already pretty accurate from mid-range.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bradley is his desire to learn. We got a glimpse of it during NBA TV's "The Association: Boston Celtics'' program last year, when Rondo seemed to take the rookie under his wing, taking him to dinner on the road and giving him advice.
As surprising as it was to watch Rondo, all of 24 at the time, playing the role of sage veteran, it was a encouraging sign regarding both mentor and understudy, and perhaps it partially explains why they play so well together despite an uncommon array of skills between them.
And then there was this, from Gary Washburn's story in the Globe Monday:
Kevin Garnett has offered assistance to younger Celtics over the years, only to be rebuffed and soured by their cockiness. Bradley soaks in all information, forming friendships with Rondo, Dooling, and Marquis Daniels.
Allen isn't mentioned there, but it's not a huge leap to conclude that part of the reason he'd be willing to cede his spot in the starting five, even if it's just temporary, is because he respects the way Bradley has gone about his business.
There's nary a player in the league who is more dedicated and by-the-book than Allen. Bradley's game has few similarities to Allen's, which is why they both can be tremendous assets going forward in this suddenly intriguing season. But his approach and determination, particularly for such a young player, sure appears to be similar, and Allen's appreciation of that might just evident in his willingness to alter his own role.
If so, that's the greatest compliment the kid has received yet.
After some delay in getting it posted online this morning, my weekly media column, leading with a conversation with CBS's outstanding broadcast team of Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery, and Lesley Visser, can be found here and here.
I spoke to them together at the Garden before Wednesday's practices for the teams playing in the East Regional, and it was a blast. Raftery's renown as a master storyteller was on display, but Lundquist and Visser more than hold their own. Just for the heck of it, or perhaps because I enjoyed the interview so much, here are a few other reminiscences that didn't make the column:
Lundquist, recalling a Celtics-Knicks playoff game in the '80s that he said was perhaps his favorite memory of calling a Boston sporting event. ‘‘I remember Larry Bird, to this day, fueling a run, and he hit a jumper from the corner before the Knicks finally called time out. And we went to commercial, and it was the most extraordinary thing in the world. People cheered through the timeout. Two-minutes-and-30 seconds. And they were still cheering at thesame volume when we came back out. We’d gone in with no commentary, and we came out and let it keep going. Finally, after it started to die down, I said they haven’t quit since we left for commercial. It was amazing.’’
I'm drawing a blank on the specific year and game -- the Celtics and Knicks met in the playoffs in 1984, '88 and '90 during the Bird era. Anyone remember watching this? Or better yet, have a video clip?
Raftery, recalling dealing with Bird while working on a feature to air during a Nets broadcast in the '80s: "The public stock for the Celtics had just come out. I bought a share. That was the gimmick. They'd had a couple of losses, and I was there to complain about Bird's play, and Red [Auerbach] and that was the gist of it. So I got the cam, came over here, and Jeff Twiss [the Celtics' p.r.] director says, 'Bird's going to shoot and leave.' Well, without him, there's no feature. I say, 'All he has to do is shoot one free throw.' Twiss asks Bird, comes out, and says he's not going to do it. So I went to him, I said, 'Larry, Bill Raftery,' and he looks at me like, who's this [expletive]. So he finally says, 'I'll do it if you shoot a couple.' So I shot a couple, and made 'em, and he looks at me and says, 'You old son of a [gun].' "
I suspect some money may have changed hands there given Bird's hobby of beating reporters in free-throw shooting contests -- with the bait being that he would shoot lefthanded.
Raftery, on whether he's run into Jerome Lane in recent years (Raftery's joyous call of Lane's backboard-shattering dunk in a 1988 Pitt-Providence game -- "Send it in, Jerome!" -- is a famous phrase in college basketball's lexicon): "I ran into him at a Pitt game once, but a couple of years ago, the 20-year anniversary, I was on ESPU down in Charlotte, and they hooked him up, and I didn't know it was coming. I was on this panel of experts, coaches who couldn't win, basically, me being one of them. So they hooked him up and run the footage, and he's on and he said that his son now sees this thing and gets so excited, and he said, 'Thanks, Mr. Raft, for making me famous with my son.' It was the nicest thing. I had never said "Send it in" before. It just popped out. People nowadays use "flush.'' You want to say your own thing, and it just comes out naturally."
The play-by-play man for that game was Mike Gorman, who worked with Raftery on Big East games for years. One of the cool things about the video of Lane's dunk is the genuine excitement of the announcers. All these years later, the love of basketball for both of them -- Gorman on CSNNE's Celtics telecasts, of course -- is still obvious and true.
Presuming Danny Ainge keeps these aging, often admirable Celtics together through Thursday's NBA trading deadline, it's not difficult to predict their final scene before we see it on the screen.
Like the New Big Three itself, it may look very much like a shot-by-shot sequel. Celtics glory will probably end for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the same manner as it did for their spiritual brethren 20 years ago.
And you know what? I'm completely OK with that, for a few reasons, the most sentimental of which is that this team deserves the chance to play together to the end, even with the knowledge that the end will be bittersweet at best.
Before further explanation, a relevant flashback. On May 17, 1992, the original Big Three era ended not with a celebration or another appropriate sendoff, but a whimper. The legendary Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish lost to the ascending, worthy Cleveland Cavaliers, 122-104, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
They were down 14 after one quarter, 18 at the half, and 24 after three. They trailed by as many as 27 points in the anticlimactic fourth quarter. Larry Bird, who would retire that August after winning gold with the first Dream Team and the only one that mattered, scored 12 points in his final NBA game. He missed four of the seven games in that series due to injury and spent the final moments of his NBA career flat on his stomach near the Celtics bench, his chronically aching back tormenting him to the end.
"We had problems with our defense. We had problems with our offense. We weren't aggressive at all," said Bird after the loss, a blunt assessment that has applied to the current Big Three at times this season. But it was Bob Ryan who recognized it was the official and ignominious end of an era in his column for the next day's Globe, writing:
As for the big men, yeah, the Big Three can still play, but every night? Sorry. You can pick your spots during the Big 82 and so much of what happens during the regular season depends on matchups and who's hurt when you show up in City X and other vagaries. In the playoffs you must confront a quality opponent every night, and if the foe happens to be younger than you, friskier than you and every bit as smart as you, then he will prevail. This is exactly what transpired in this series, and it doesn't matter whether it took four, five, six, or in this case, seven games for it to kick in.
McHale would limp proudly through one more season, his post-moves still textbook even as the nifty footwork of every up-and-under brought agony. Parish, who apparently found what Ponce de Leon was looking for, played on the longest, playing two more seasons in Boston, two in Charlotte, then winning a title with the Bulls at age 43 in 1996-97. Given the current Celtics' lack of size, Doc Rivers might be able to find 10 minutes a night for the Chief right now.
Of course it was difficult to watch it end the way it did, and Ainge, the first member of the starting five of the Celtics' legendary '80s teams to depart, has said often he does not want this era to play out in a similar manner, with injuries mounting, glory fading, and a reluctance to deal aging, iconic players stalling the inevitable rebuilding project.
But the irony as we await any news from the trading deadline this afternoon is that it should be apparent by now that Ainge should stand pat, presuming equal value and genuine building blocks won't be offered for Garnett, Allen, Pierce, or mercurial, wholly original point guard Rajon Rondo.
The best game-plan for the Celtics' long-term future is to retain the Big Three through this season, let Garnett and Allen walk, try to sign a big-ticket free agent or two. Should that fall through, that's when Ainge starts relatively anew, retaining the roster's few young and valuable pieces (Rondo, Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson, perhaps Jeff Green) and begin building from the foundation up. Trading aging stars for a few mid-level players does nothing but assure that you'll be a mid-level team in an irrelevant place in the NBA order, somewhere between prolonged purgatory and hoop hell.
Besides, there can be plenty of fun to be had and memories to be made en route to the inevitable breakup. There were good times back in '92 -- we all remember Larry's 49-point game against the Blazers that March, which stands as the coda on his brilliant run with the Celtics. Those C's won 15 of their last 16 regular-season games and beat Reggie Miller and the Pacers in the first round, with Reggie Lewis scoring 36 points in the tone-setting opener.
To paraphrase Garnett, sure, I'm aware enough to realize that anything is not possible this year. These Celtics are already staring down the barrel of a similar ending to that of the original Big Three. Derrick Rose or LeBron James will probably do to them in the first round what Mark Price and Brad Daugherty did 20 years ago: cruelly inform them of their own basketball mortality.
That's all right. I'll be ready for the ending when it comes. But I'm not ready today. I want to enjoy watching this team a little bit more, the team that showed the cocky, undisciplined Lob City Clippers what real toughness looks like, rather than that get-my-mug-on-ESPN posing. The team that won a wildly entertaining game at Golden State Wednesday night. The team that every now and then, when their creaky legs are spry and the Gatorade flows like that fountain of youth, still plays with the elan of '08 champs.
No, the 2011-12 Celtics are not going to be champions. But more nights than not, they'll fight like one. Hell, I still miss Bird, McHale and the Chief. I'm in no hurry to see this fight end.
If there's ever lived a superstar athlete with more genuine effervescence and charisma than Magic Johnson, he's not coming to mind right now, probably because he (or she) does not exist. As a Celtics fan, I can, begrudgingly, admit that includes ol' No. 33. Magic's smile was as electric as the Lakers' fast break he orchestrated, his personality as big as his typical performance in big moments.
Save for the occasional disastrous talk show, Magic has always made us watch, particularly when he and his glitzy Lakers were dueling Larry Bird in the Celtics during the NBA's '80s heyday. Yet it's also true that even for those of us who wax nostalgic for those days, we will always remember watching Magic more than anything else for a reason that resonated well beyond the world of sports.
On November 7, 1991, Magic stepped to the podium in front of black curtain at the Great Western Forum and told the world that he was HIV-positive. "Because of the
HIV virus I have attained," he said. "I will have to retire from the Lakers." If you're of a certain generation, the words rattled you to your core. I can still remember the blood rushing from my face while watching the announcement on CNN in my college apartment.
He occasionally smiled, forcing it for the first time perhaps in his life, but his eyes did not. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, the words of this extraordinarily vivacious athlete shook a generation. He vowed to beat the disease, but the statistics countered with an awful reality. As he spoke that day, you believed Magic Johnson, just 32 years old then, was going to die, possibly publicly and surely soon.
Twenty years later now, and we have another reason to watch Magic, and no, that's not a reference to his studio duties on ESPN's NBA programming. (He never has quite mastered the TV thing.) Tonight at 9 p.m., ESPN debuts "The Announcement,'' a look back at that staggering day and Magic's exceptional life since. He's a wildly successful businessman, a grandfather, an advocate, and with his burly physique, literally more larger than life than ever.
The film, directed by Nelson George, is extraordinary as the basketball player and the man himself. For the basketball junkie, the NBA archival footage of Magic as the peak of his powers is reason enough to tune in. But "The Announcement'' also delivers for those wondering how Magic survived the devastating news and the 20 amazing years since.
It becomes quickly apparent that his beautiful wife, Cookie, who has rarely spoken at length publicly about his diagnosis until now, is the heroine of the story, something her husband, whom she first met at Michigan State, recognizes bluntly. "If she had left," Magic said, "I probably would have died.''
And Celtics fans may not want to hear this, but Pat Riley comes across as a truly good man. In 1991, he had since moved on from the Showtime Lakers to the Knicks and was implementing his brand of goon basketball that would set back the league a decade. But Riley gave Magic a shoulder when he needed one, once working him out at Madison Square Garden because he knew it would boost Magic's spirits (it also helped spur one of his two comebacks). Riley's emotion and candor when he discusses Magic jostles the feelings Magic's fans felt the day the news came down.
"The Announcement'' is a must-watch, but it is not without obvious flaws. I'd put it a notch below ESPN Films's best offerings, such as Jonathan Hock's "The Best That Never Was.'' Very little time is spent on Magic's promiscuity and how he contracted the disease other than vague and seemingly sentimental those-were-some-times references to wild nights at the Forum Club, where Magic was the superstar among superstars and women treated him accordingly.
I would have liked to have heard from former teammates Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott, A.C. Green and Michael Cooper. Only James Worthy's voice is prominent. Comedian Chris Rock, a longtime friend and collaborator with the director, is overused, particularly when he's talking about the anything-goes L.A. nightlife in the '80s. Rock was 20 and only on the fringes of fame in 1985. I'd rather have heard more from someone who experienced the times with Magic, or more from his friend Arsenio Hall, and yes, this is probably the only circumstance in which I'd say that when Chris Rock is an alternative.
But those are small gripes about a film you'll want to watch again immediately the moment it ends. As Magic, who narrates much of the film, charmingly banters with a crew member, you'll recognize that few men could handle November 7, 1991, the announcement, and the aftermath, with the grace, determination, and positivity of Magic Johnson. Magic's words, as recalled by longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, are sure to stay with you. "When God gave me this disease, he gave it to the right person." What a remarkable, reassuring thing it is to see him alive and thriving in every way two decades later.
As if Rajon Rondo's 18-17-20 tour de force Sunday wasn't enough evidence for you that for all of his flaws, trading the enigmatic but breathtakingly inventive point guard would be a transaction liable to haunt, you're probably too busy mentally trading him for a more flawed player that you're far less familiar with anyway.
So let me take another approach, one I think should strike you at your soul as a Celtics fan:
Why would you want to risk Rondo becoming someone else's DJ?
I know, it may seem borderline blasphemous to compare Rondo, not yet six full seasons into his NBA career, to Dennis Johnson, a Hall of Famer who has a case that the Big 3 on those eternally revered '80s Celtics teams really was a fantastic four. Larry Bird famously called him the greatest teammate he ever had. At DJ's posthumous and long overdue induction in Springfield, Magic Johnson remembered him as "one of the smartest players ever to play.'' His No. 3 hangs from the Garden rafters, an acknowledgement of his role in winning championships in 1984 and '86, of all the big shots ...
. . . and heady plays . . .
... DJ made along the way. If Bird didn't have the ball in his hands at the end of the game, you wanted it in DJ's.
That's something we're obviously not quite ready to say about Rondo at the moment. And I'm not suggesting Rondo is DJ's peer as a Celtic, though I think it's someday possible provided this storm passes and Danny Ainge finds a way to reload the roster without losing a couple of seasons -- and Rondo's interest -- in pursuit of lottery ping-pong balls. I don't dish comparisons to DJ lightly; he is probably my favorite non-Larry Celtic of all time, depending upon which flashbacks I've seen on NBA TV recently. He's in the starting five for sure.
But it must be remembered that DJ was not a Celtic lifer. He built his career and his reputation -- for better and worse -- in Seattle and Phoenix before coming to Boston in what would be a heist of Lowe/Varitek-for-Slocumb proportions, arriving for Rick Robey in June 1983. There's a reason Johnson, the 1978-79 Finals MVP for the Sonics, a six-time first-team All-Defensive choice and four-time All-Star before he ever took the court for the Celtics, was available.
He was an incorrigible pain in the neck. And that's the watered-down DJ fanboy version.
In writing about David Halberstam's classic "The Breaks of the Game'' a few weeks back, I made reference to one of his references about Johnson's petulance and his negative effect on chemistry with the Sonics, eventually leading to him being dealt to the Suns, where he played three productive but tumultuous years before coming to Boston. Here's another DJ anecdote from that book:
During the previous year's playoff series against Phoenix, with Dennis Johnson going into a childish funk during a crucial game, [veteran forward Paul] Silas had sat next to him on the bench and lectured him in harsh terms about how much was at stake and how much he was costing his teammates. Johnson had gone back in the game, played better, and hit the last-second shot which allowed Seattle to win. After the game, a reporter had approached Silas. "Good game to win, Paul,'' he had said. "Yeah,'' Silas agreed, "too bad an [expletive] had to win it for us.''
Still skeptical? Here's Bob Ryan's lede on his column the day after DJ was finally elected to the Hall of Fame:
He wasn't always beloved. Headstrong from the start, he continually tested the patience of Seattle coach Lenny Wilkens to the point where the Sonics were happy to trade him to Phoenix one year removed from being a Finals MVP and a mere weeks after being named to the All-NBA second team. And despite protestations to the contrary, the Suns never would have traded him to Boston three years later had there not been some issues during his time in Phoenix.
Bob noted in the piece that DJ would occasionally take the night off during, say, the random January game in Sacramento. It was part of the package. But the big performances in big games became habit, and DJ earned the cachet to get away with it:
What the Celtics learned for themselves was the meaning of that stellar 1979 Finals performance. DJ liked the big stage, and he had an inner mechanism that enabled him to perform at his absolute best when it most mattered. "I know DJ is really up for the game when he takes it to the basket," Bird would say.
Did you notice yesterday that Rondo again rose to the challenge on national television against a hyped opponent, in this case Jeremy Lin? Like DJ, he sometimes gets bored with the NBA routine, and Bird's he's-into-it-when-he-takes-it-to-the-basket measuring stick probably applies to Rondo as well. When he's challenged and engaged, you wouldn't want him on any other team but the one for which you cheer.
I recognize that DJ and Rondo aren't precise comparisons. They are two of the most diversely and unusually skilled players in league history. There is not a spot-on comp for either of them, though it's impossible not to recognize that they do have much in common, particularly when you're talking about the spry DJ of his youth, who was every bit the ridiculous athlete Rondo is.
DJ was the defender Rondo is purported to be (he blocked an astounding 14 shots in the '79 Finals. Find me another 6-foot-4-inch guard with that in his repertoire). Rondo is a superior playmaker and plays with more duende. DJ shot better the bigger the moment, while the foul-line-phobic Rondo still shrinks from time to time in the fourth quarter. Both could fill out a box score. Both had tremendous defensive skills, though DJ's were more refined and consistent. Both annoyed the hell out of their teammates at times. Both were regarded as temperamental, eccentric, intelligent, instinctive and unorthodox. Both played a major role in winning a championship at a young age (DJ at 24, Rondo at 21).
Ainge can live with Rondo, not as a centerpiece, but as an essential piece. Remember, the Celtics boss knows a thing or two about playing with complex teammates, having been DJ's backcourt partner for nearly six full seasons.
It seemed like it should have been longer, didn't it?
Here's hoping Rondo is here long beyond this, his sixth year.
We don't want to know what Suns fans felt like watching Dennis Johnson became the epitome of a Celtic, wondering why he couldn't stay with our team longer and how anyone ever thought trading him for Rick Robey was a bright idea.
Maybe that headline should come with the caveat that you shouldn't give a thumbs-down to any potential trade until you know what's coming back in return.
But I'm pretty comfortable in saying that at this point of the abbreviated, condensed NBA season, there's no chance the Celtics will receive equal, let alone greater, value for enigmatic, electric All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.
And that is the only circumstance in which Danny Ainge should trade him.
I suppose I could talk myself into the likable, talented Stephen Curry, right up until the next time he rolls an ankle. But the very suggestion that they should trade Rondo for a couple decent parts and not a player of equal promise or value is absurd. That is the fastest way to that NBA purgatory of perpetual mediocrity, and that's exactly what the Celtics are trying to avoid. If Danny Ainge trades Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and yes, Rondo, it's going to be for real value that expedites the rebuilding/reloading process, not a deal for the sake of "blowing it up.''
It's harder to put together a genuine championship contender in the NBA than it is in any other sport. You either trade Pierce/Garnett/Allen for equal quality -- and that's not happening -- or you let the expiring contracts walk after this year and aim to sign two max contract guys. If no one of magnitude takes their money, that's when you start fresh. Not now.
Ainge knows those treading-water trades get you nothing but a 38-44 record, perhaps an eighth seed every other year, and a spot in the draft that assures you of picking a half-dozen or so places after the last potential difference-maker has tried on an ill-fitting hat and shaken David Stern's hand.
I'm not disputing that Rondo's quirks -- OK, go ahead, call it a knack for being a mercurial pain in the, er, posterior -- are extraordinarily aggravating, and one can only imagine the behind-the-scenes stories we don't know. (Write a book someday, Doc.)
It's frustrating to witness Rondo contributing in so many spectacular ways one night (a triple-double Wednesday against the Bucks, his third this year of the eight in the league) and so distracted or immature (chucking the ball at the ref and getting tossed at a time when the shorthanded Celtics desperately needed him) on other nights. It's on him and only him to start providing the night-to-night consistency.
Like everyone else who watches him -- Doc, Danny, Mike and Tommy -- of course I wish he were more engaged sometimes. You watch him at his dazzling, original best, when he's playing like he has a point to prove, and he gets to the rim at absolute will, you're left wondering why he doesn't do that all the time. I think of him and David Krejci in the same regard -- superb talents who too often play like they're bored with their gifts.
And for a guy with so much self-confidence personally, you wish it would manifest itself in the fourth quarter more often. It's amazing how much more often free throws go in when the shooter believes they will.
But the Aggravations of Rondo shouldn't overshadow the good times. His scattered brilliant postseason performances and showdowns with the Derrick Roses and Chris Pauls when he rises to the occasion and doesn't back down. Famously beating Jason Williams to that loose ball he had no business corralling. Stepping in and running the point on a championship team dominated by the abilities and egos of three future Hall of Famers. That plastic-man athleticism that sometimes makes other NBA players -- the best athletes in the world -- look like Over-40 rec league grinders.
Rajon Rondo is 26 years old. He's one the top-five point guards in the league. His contract is a bargain. You don't trade that guy. You look to bring in a couple of players who can run with him.
Yeah, he's an enigma. But the good outweighs the bad, and he's our enigma. I hope he's still a Celtic when he puts it all together, physically and mentally. And if he never does, well, he's still a pleasure to watch more often than not.
We're a dozen games into the Celtics season that almost wasn't, and no, the thought that the entire 2011-12 season could have been wiped out by a lockout is not wishful hindsight brought on by watching the green slog their way to defeat in two-thirds of their game so far.
Yes, it looks bleak. This was supposed to be a last hurrah, and there hasn't been a whole lot of hurrah so far, with two-thirds of The Big Three (The Sequel) either aging before our eyes, injured, out of shape, or some combination thereof.
Ray Allen is such a freak that I have no doubt he'll be drilling 3s off a contender's bench when he's on the wrong side of 40, and who would have thought when he arrived here four years ago, coming off serious ankle injuries, that he'd be the one with the most staying power? We're lucky to watch him, and it drives me crazy that he doesn't get more shots, particularly when the offense is laboring.
At the moment, the same can't be said regarding staying power for his future fellow Springfield inductees. Paul Pierce showed up heavy, got hurt and it's difficult to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg there. This much is certain: It's unrealistic to expect everyone to match Allen's commitment to fitness, but I'm disappointed Pierce arrived in less-than-optimal shape. Since his early years in the league, he's had an old man's game, all geometry and fakes, and that's a compliment. But with his timing not properly calibrated because his legs aren't in shape, he's too often ended up with an old man's results.
Presuming Pierce stays healthy and isn't traded (more on that a few aphorisms from now), he'll sharpen up and those relatively efficient 24-point games like the one he dropped on Oklahoma City will become a frequent and familiar as ever. But if you want to see vintage Kevin Garnett, I'm afraid you'll have to tune into NBA TV during the down hours. He's averaging 13 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, and the sad truth is that's what he is these days. In Big Three parlance, he's Robert Parish circa 1992-93, the difference being that The Chief was 38 years old then. If you want any of those 20/10 KG flashbacks, I suggest Hardwood Classics, or better yet, your 2007-08 championship DVD.
Still, while fully acknowledging the reality of the situation, I don't want Danny Ainge -- to borrow that annoying operative phrase these days -- to "blow it up." Trading Garnett and Allen makes absolutely no sense in the big picture if for no other reason than the massive salary cap space they will leave behind when their contracts expire after this season. While skepticism regarding their ability to convince a max-contract player or two to sign with Boston is understandable -- you've got to sell this place, Doc -- letting them go has to be part of Ainge's master plan.
The possibility of trading Pierce . . . well, that's trickier. It's understandable to believe he should be a Celtic for life; his No. 34 will hang in the rafters someday, appropriate since his game is somewhere on the hallowed spectrum between Larry Bird's and Reggie Lewis's. But one of Ainge's attributes as a general manager is his lack of sentiment. Sometimes it backfires -- yes, we were reminded Monday, Kendrick Perkins is beloved and missed by those in the stands and the locker room, even if the trade was made for all the right reasons -- but it's great to have a general manager who his daring enough and emboldened to do what he believes is right. He saw the original Big Three get old -- at least right up until he was the one from that classic '80s Celtics starting five who got traded -- and he's said he would not allow that to happen here. If he feels he can get real value for Pierce, I trust him to do it.
But the time is not now. Not yet. It's frustrating to look at the five-game losing streak, the 4-8 record, realize that nearly 20 percent of the schedule is already complete, and conclude that it's time to . . . heck, you know the phrase. No matter how negative your perception of this team is right now, no matter how much Jermaine O'Neal reminds you of "Rigor" Artis Gilmore, or no matter how rude the awakening was Monday that Russell Westbrook might actually be superior to the admirable Rajon Rondo, it's not fair to judge them. Not yet. It's been underplayed how downright hellacious their recent schedule has been. They played the defending champs (Dallas), the two teams I believe will meet in the Finals (Chicago, Oklahoma City), and twice dealt with a young and deep Indiana team built to give and older opponent fits. You have like to have seen them win a game or two or three, but you should be able to understand why they didn't.
If ever a game against the perpetually irrelevant Toronto Raptors is a must-win, that game is tonight. The Celtics began a stretch of eight games tonight in which their six opponents (they play Orlando and Cleveland twice) have a combined record of 34-44. Taking the Magic (10-3) and the Pacers (9-3, and sheesh, just how many times do they have to play these guys?) out of the equation, that's a combined 18-38 record for four of those opponents. They have a chance to get this right, starting tonight. And for all of the lumps they've taken, they're just a game and a half back of the overhyped Knicks for second in the division.
Yes, they're 4-8. They look old -- are old -- and it's been ugly. Time isn't on their side.
But from us, they deserve just a little bit more.
Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn will begin their 31st season together calling Celtics games tonight when the 0-2 Celtics (who have opened with two national TV games) take on the New Orleans Hornets on Comcast SportsNet New England.
I chatted all things Celtics with Gorman, of whom I've often said is as good as it gets when it comes to basketball play-by-play, earlier today.
Here's some of the conversation to feed your pregame basketball jones, including his educated guess that rookie JaJuan Johnson (pictured) gets meaningful playing time tonight:
Doc Rivers has always done a great job of keeping the big picture in perspective, of resting guys even it costs them a game or two in the standings along the way. But it's going to be challenging this year if there are injuries -- Ray Allen has played more than 40 minutes in each of the first two games with Paul Pierce out -- even though it is absolutely imperative. I mean, the schedule gets brutal. There are 17 games in March alone. That's incredible:
Gorman: "Yeah, it is. Doc will be the first one to tell you that he goes into these games with a plan on how he's going to keep the minutes down, and then he gets involved in the game and he looks up and somebody's got 36, 37 minutes. This is virgin territory for both coaches and players on how they're going to take care of themselves and how they're best going to be cautious, I guess is the word now, so that when you get into that stretch in March and early April when you head to the playoffs, you have a complete team and not a team that's flat-out exhausted. It requires a change in style, and again, Doc will be the first one to tell you, he's probably going to have to play rookies more. A little inside information: We're sitting on the bus last night, about to leave Miami, and JaJuan Johnson gets on the bus and Doc looks up and says, "You gotta be ready tomorrow night." This is a difficult situation, the third game in four nights, back-to-back on the road, we checked into the hotel in New Orleans this morning at about 3:30 a.m. You're going to have to play kids, you're going to have to play guys, who in the usual year you'd go 30 or 40 games before you start working somebody into the lineup. Now you go 5 or 10 games.
"From where I sit as a broadcaster, it's exciting because I want to see JaJuan Johnson play, and it will be good to find out how much of a contributor he or someone like E'Twaun Moore can be. I think it begins tonight and it's an interesting situation for Doc tonight. You drop those first two games of the season, and you don't want to start out on a three-game losing streak. You go to New Orleans, and that's a beatable team, so you want to go out and get that win tonight. But in situations like this, when you look at their schedule, you know these are the times when you have to play rookies. So JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore might just find themselves on the court in a close game tonight.
"In March and April, it really gets nasty, which for this ball club ... I don't want to say it could be a problem, Doc is going to have to be proactive in how much rest he gives guys, how much he plays guys. And the toughest part of the schedule is definitely the final 30 percent of it, and that's also where he's going to want to get guys rested before the playoffs."
You almost want to give them a mulligan for the 0-2 start. Losing at New York by 2 points then at Miami. That's two teams that always want to beat this particular group of Celtics, the Heat are the odds-on favorite to win the championship, and the Celtics nearly stole both games without No. 34. It's a pretty encouraging 0-2, isn't it?:
Gorman: "I like the golf analogy there, because playing without Paul Pierce is like playing without your driver. Tommy [Heinsohn] was pointing out last night during the postgame show, there are two major things that Paul Pierce means to this team among a lot of other things. He forces you to spread the floor and he brings the 3-point shot. Last night in Miami, the Celtics took only five 3-point field goals, which was the lowest number they've attempted since Kevin Garnett showed up here. Paul is missed, and I agree that the mulligan is deserved. But there's no mulligan tonight. The Celtics obviously consider themselves and are a better basketball team than New Orleans, and they need to go out and prove it tonight."
It's only two games, but one thing that jumps out here is that there is probably no reason to worry any further about how engaged Rajon Rondo will be after hearing his name in trade rumors. He's been excellent even by his standards.
Gorman: "Yeah, I don't think there's any question that he's engaged through these first two games. You know, Rajon is a special player, and Chris Paul is a special player. I kind of kept my mouth shut, but I marveled at how much was written and said and talked about with the Rondo situation and whether his feelings would be hurt. My two observations were, one, I didn't hear anybody suggest the Celtics were trading Rondo to the Knicks for Toney Douglas, you know? The only name that was ever mentioned was Chris Paul. And Chris Paul and Rondo along with Deron Williams are in any discussion about the best point guards in the league. If I'm Rondo and I'm hearing I might be traded for Chris Paul, I might be feeling pretty good about myself. And then as as Doc said that to Rajon, and as I also said to Rajon, he smiled and said, 'I know,' and I believe that. The time to worry is when nobody is talking about you in trade talks. You want to be in demand. You don't want to be the guy nobody talks about or covets. I think it was much ado about nothing in the offseason, I think that Rajon is headed for an All-Star season. Tommy has said from the very beginning that he's a Hall of Fame player ultimately, and he's certainly playing like one right now."
I don't want to dwell on something that's never going to happen now that Chris Paul is a Clipper, but the resistance to trade Rondo for Paul seemed like a parochial thing. Rondo is so fun to watch and so talented that fans who follow the Celtics but who probably aren't huge NBA fans overall didn't comprehend how good Paul is.
Gorman: "Oh, I think that's a fair assumption, sure. Chris Paul played in New Orleans, he wasn't on TV a lot. Even if you were an NBA junkie and you were watching Turner or ESPN, you still didn't see Chris Paul. He was the guy you saw on 'SportsCenter,' or "SportsNet Central" but that's about it. If you happen to live inside the game, you know that Chris Paul is just a terrific player. But he wasn't necessarily featured, especially as you got deeper into the playoffs, so parochialism definitely played a big part in letting Rondo go."
Apply the two-games caveat again, is there anything that you've seen that has surprised you so far?
Gorman: "I don't want to say he's a big surprise, but a player who is better than we thought is Brandon Bass. Really brings a very solid contribution to the front court. I think this is a guy whose minutes you are going to see increase. He played 32 minutes last night, and for a guy coming off the bench, that's a pretty good night. We're going to see a lot of nights where Brandon Bass is in the 30-plus category in minutes played. He's a good player, takes good shots, defends, he's an offensive rebounder, and that's something we haven't had around here in a long time."
He seems to do a lot of the same things Big Baby did without the melodrama.
Gorman: "You said that, Chad, not me." [Laughs.]
Doc has been pretty good about implying that too. But it does bring up an interesting point -- because it ended badly for Baby here, it's easy to forget a lot of the good things he did when he was, well, engaged, and taking charges, and not taking shots so bad that even World B. Free probably would have passed in those circumstances, you know?
Gorman: "I couldn't agree with you more. Nobody took charges better than Glen Davis did. And charges get you a possession back and force a turnover on the other side, so there are a few things that he did well that Brendan still needs to show us. It's kind of ironic that these two guys went to college together [at LSU] and have been friends forever. I really like the deal and hear a few things out of Orlando that Glen is struggling a little bit in Stan Van Gundy's system ...
I can see that.
Gorman: "... yeah, I can see that, too. So yeah, I think the Celtics made a terrific deal. And the other story I couldn't feel better about is Marquis Daniels. All of us watched him taken off the court [on a stretcher last year with a neck injury] and wondering if the kid was ever going to walk again love having him back and playing well. I would tell you he's one of the nicer guys on this team, a good kid, and it does my heart good to see him back out there, playing pain-free, and doing what he wants to do."
He seems to be one of those players who, if you see him once, you probably don't think twice about him. But if you see him for 10 or 12 games, at some point it dawns on you all of the little things that he does well.
Gorman: "I try to think of a way to say this and it never comes out quite right, but he really has this way of slowing the game down. It's like when the ball gets in his hands, everything comes down a level, the pace and tempo. There are only a handful of players I've seen in the years I've been doing this who are able to do that. When you look, he puts up shots, and you think, 'Why wasn't that blocked?' But he dictates the way the defense plays him and the tempo of the game when the ball is in his hands. He's going to be a good contributor this year in a lot of ways for the Celtics."
So much of their success this season is going to be determined by the big guys. Jermaine O'Neal had a pretty ugly stat line at Miami, but expectations for him are pretty realistic. But what about KG? The Heat made him look slow at times, and he had just five rebounds. Are we going to see more peaks and valleys with him this year than we've seen in the past?
Gorman: "Yeah, I think Kevin is going to have to play more at the center position than he is used to or than he has had to do before. I'm not big on who's in the starting five. What's more important is who's on the floor in the final minutes of a close game, and I think you'll see a lot of Kevin Garnett at the center position with Brandon Bass on the floor as we head down the stretch. I think at some point, I hope the Celtics find a way to get Greg Stiemsma a look. Mostly because of what he does is what we need -- he's a shot-blocker, and he's not looking to shoot the ball. There are enough guys on the team who can shoot the ball. He seems very comfortable in that role. So he, along with the other kids Moore and Johnson, are guys that just have to play. The schedule is going to dictate it. Once you get into that stretch in March and April, these guys have to see minutes."
You've probably seen TNT's "NBA Forever" commercial that aired before yesterday's Celtics-Knicks season tipoff all over the Internets by now. But it's just so mesmerizing, perfectly executed like a DJ backboard pass to Bird, that I must post it here.
Using editing technology beyond my comprehension to meld past NBA legends in photos and footage with contemporary stars, it's ... well, if it's not the greatest commercial in the history of the NBA, I've forgotten anything better.
Sure, the Bird/Magic Converse ad is classic, and this excellent compilation of the 50 greatest NBA commercials is guaranteed to entertain/distract you for the rest of the day. But nothing else quite measures up to "NBA Forever,'' in part because the point in the others isn't as meaningful. They're all selling something, but with this commercial, TNT has done a masterful job of using nostalgia and rich history to remind even a Grinch still angry about the lockout that the NBA's return is a welcome present.
You bet I'm buying.
Here are a few of my favorite highlights after watching it approximately 33 times this morning:
:02: Paul Pierce jogging out of the tunnel with the dynasty Celtics of the last '50s or early '60s. Recognize that handsome fella right in front of Pierce? Hint: "YOU'RE GONNA CALL THAT A HAHD FOUL?? If you knew that was Tommy Heinsohn, you earn a Tommy Point.
:06: Kobe and Magic paired together. Shiver. It's funny to realize how close they did come to becoming teammates -- Magic's ill-fated 32-game comeback in 1995-96 came the year before 18-year-old Kobe joined the Lakers straight out of high school. But that's challenged as the best "Can you imagine if they played together at their peak?" pairing in the whole video ...
:20: ... by the triangle of Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose, and Scottie Pippen. Nice of the editors to allow Bill Cartwright to remain in the clip, though I suspect he accidentally knocked out the fifth Bulls starter (Artis Gilmore? Jerry Sloan?) with an inadvertent elbow.
:39 Bird ducking the shoulder into Dirk. Just ... awesome. You know, Cedric Maxwell took a lot of heat a few years ago for suggesting that Nowitzki was equal to or better than his former Celtics teammate, and at the time, it did seem that Max was partially motivated by his festering frustration that Bird had signed off Red Auerbach's deal that sent him to the Clippers for Bill Walton before the 1985-86 season. But taking our understandable nobody-did-it-better perspective on Bird out of the equation, and considering all that Dirk did this year -- including overcoming his rep for shrinking in big moments -- while leading the Mavs to the title ... it is a fair question and a fun debate, and one that tilts Dirk's way in certain categories. But six seconds on the clock, score tied, and doomed to an eternity of eating nothing but Chicken McNuggets if you lose, Larry's getting the last shot. I mean, have you ever looked at a McNugget?
:41: A trio of inspired pairings: Charles Barkley and Carmelo Anthony (you'd think they'd be yapping at each other but they aren't), Kevin Durant and George Gervin (gotta be the two lankiest, finger-rollingest scoring machines in NBA history), Steve Nash and fellow magician Pistol Pete Maravich ...
:49: ... and then it ends. LeBron dunking over Dr. J? Sorry, the wrong No. 6 is bringing the thunder there.
1:08: Bird kicking to Ray Allen for a three. Beautiful. I'd still rather have Larry take the must-make shot, but if you don't think Allen is in the top five options, take a look at his cumulative numbers and his career percentages overall, from 3, and the free throw line and find me five better shooters in the history of the sport. I triple-dog-dare you.
1:32: The late Croatian legend Drazen Petrovic, who died in a car accident in 1993 at age 28 just when he was starting to show what he could do in the NBA. A nice touch, coming right at the lyrics "... live forever," and a savvy reminder that the NBA has gone world-wide since his death.
1:43: A Jordan-Rose fist bump, and finis. My only gripe? No clip of Greg Kite awkwardly giving a high-five to Greg Steimsma after the Bird-Allen connection. Maybe next Christmas.
While wrapping up my previous post, I mentioned sort of casually how much fun it is to be re-reading "The Breaks of the Game'' again. The reaction to that note was a pleasant surprise, with several readers, tweeters and commenters either noting how much they too loved David Halberstam's classic on the 1979-80 Portland Trail Blazers, sharing their favorite basketball books, or in a couple of cases, asking for recommendations.
The discourse inspired me to pull together this post on my 12 favorite basketball books. While I checked this particular list twice, I should note that there are some highly-praised hoops volumes that might be noticeable in their absence. I started reading Adrian Wojnarowski's "The Miracle of St. Anthony's,'' lost it, and have yet to pick up a new one. Chris Ballard's "The Art of a Beautiful Game" is on this year's wish list. I've read most of Bill Simmons's "The Book of Basketball'' and enjoyed much of it, but I feel like there are few others more deserving of such a confidant title.
Here are my 12 favorites, in some order but with the coach's caveat that the lineup could change on any given day. Please, pass along your favorites in the comments or at @GlobeChadFinn on Twitter.
* * *
THE STARTING FIVE ...
1. The Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam (1981). Two anecdotes out of a million gems:
- On Sonics guard (and future Celtic) Dennis Johnson, who was unhappy about his contract and in full insubordinate mode at one point when his team crossed paths with the Blazers:
"Johnson ... seemed to be playing in a funk. He hoisted up long jump shots, and often when they failed to go in, Portland started a fast break. Midway in the third quarter Portland had a 17-point lead. When [coach Lenny] Wilkens took Dennis Johnson out, he seemed not to see the player. They did not talk and Wilkens's eyes seemed to be searching a distant corner of the Coliseum, as if someone seated there might hold up a sign on which would be written the secret of how to deal with so talented and so troubled a young man. Portland eventually won by five points. Dennis Johnson went 5 of 16.
Later in the locker room, a Seattle sportswriter approached him.
'Dennis, about those jump shots ...' he began.
'What jump shots?' DJ said. 'I didn't see any jump shots.' He turned to John Johnson near him. 'You see any jump shots? Were any out there? Not that I saw.' He seemed to be smiling.
- On the news of forward Kermit Washington's unwanted trade from San Diego to Portland and the reaction of his wife, Pat:
"She had visions of a long rainy winter in Portland with Kermit on the road most of the time, while she lived among people she had never met before. Later that afternoon, some of the neighborhood kids, aged thirteen and fourteen, came by. They played basketball with Kermit on his own home court in the backyard almost every day and had come to regard him as less a distant professional star than a neighborhood playmate. When they knocked on the door, Pat Washington answered it. 'Can Kermit come out and play?' one of the kids asked. 'He can't,' she said. "He's been traded to Portland. He's already gone.' 'But he didn't say goodbye,' one of the kids protested. 'How could he do that?' I don't know how he could do that, she thought, that's the NBA. The boy, she noticed, was near tears. So was she."
* * *
2. Heaven is a Playground, Rick Telander (1976). I haven't read this one in several years; with a refresher, it might rate No. 1 on the list. Telander (who later wrote for Sports Illustrated and is currently a well-known columnist in Chicago) spent the summer of '74 running the courts in the legendary pickup games in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, where Fly Williams was a playground legend with a knack for self-destruction and future NBAer Albert King was a shy 14-year-old prodigy. Telander is unsparing and honest, but his affection for his asphalt companions that summer shines through. Every time I hear "Don't Rock The Boat,'' a summer song perpetually blaring from King's radio, I think of this book and smile.
* * *
3. Loose Balls, Terry Pluto (1991). A raucous and absolutely hilarious oral history of the ABA, recounting the superstars (how I wish I'd seen Dr. J in his Nets days) and characters (menacing John Brisker, doomed Wendell Ladner) that made the maverick league as memorable as its red, white and blue basketball. Reading it is like hopping into the time machine Marvin Barnes refused to board.
* * *
4. When the Game Was Ours, Jackie MacMullan (2010). Larry and Magic are justifiably a well-tread topic, so it's downright remarkable, though probably not surprising, that MacMullan mines so many fresh details of a basketball rivalry that became a genuine friendship. Who knew Larry and Magic were teammates once before they played on the one and only Dream Team ... and that their coach didn't particularly recognize their greatness?
* * *
5. 48 Minutes, Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto (1987). Framing a book around the play-by-play of a seemingly random January 16, 1987 game between the Celtics and Cavaliers proves the perfect device for expounding not only on the state of the two divergent teams, but on the league and sport as a whole.
* * *
6. Life on the Run, Bill Bradley (1977). Ostensibly a journal of the final few weeks of the admirable but aging Knicks' 1973-74 season, the forward and future senator writes thoughtfully and gracefully about the social structure and persistent monotony of a professional athlete's existence.
* * *
7. Unfinished Business, Jack McCallum (1992). I'm a sucker for season-inside diaries -- it's kind of my longstanding dream to write one someday -- and McCallum, the longtime Sports Illustrated basketball ace, has two superb ones to his credit. "Unfinished Business,'' a look at the 1990-91 Celtics (Dee Brown's memorable rookie year, the beginning of the sunset for the Big Three), has more juicy insight than Seven Seconds or Less, his similarly styled account of the run-and-gun 2005-06 Phoenix Suns.
* * *
* * *
9. A Season Inside, John Feinstein (1989). "A Season on the Brink" is his masterpiece, but I enjoyed this follow-up more, probably because I liked Danny Manning, David Robinson and Steve Kerr much more than I do Bobby Knight.
* * *
10. The Short Season, John Powers (1979). There are countless excellent books about the Celtics' many successes -- one that also deserves mention here is Ryan's Celtics Pride, published in 1975. But this is a diary of a season when everything didn't go right for the green -- do the names Curtis Rowe and Sidney Wicks ring a bell? The casual access afforded the author is a relic of the past, but it makes for a true insider's tale.
* * *
11. FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, Bethlehem Shoals and the Free Darko crew (2010). The writing and artwork are as elegant as the game itself.
* * *
12. The Jordan Rules, Sam Smith (1993). Or, when we realized the smiling Nike-produced image was just that and that His Airness was really a mean-spirited, hyper-competitive [pretty much any expletive applies]. Come to think of it, I should probably read Halberstam's accounting of Jordan, "Playing For Keeps.'' Bring it, Santa.
Ten free minutes for me, 10 free throwaway lines for you ...
1. I'm a long-time admirer of Rany Jazayerli's baseball writing. He was one of many terrific full- and part-time hires by Grantland, and his thoughtful Rany on the Royals blog actually makes me interested in, of all things, the Royals.
So it gave me pause yesterday morning when his assessment of Ben Cherington's job performance thus far was lukewarm at best. But upon further consideration, I'm going to have to kindly suggest he swung and missed. I don't think you can praise the Astros' acquisition of Jed Lowrie ("A switch-hitting shortstop with a career .252/.324/.408 line? Yeah, I'll take two.") without acknowledging his significant flaws. Lowrie's range is subpar (minus-17.4 UZR last season). His arm couldn't be trusted, in part because he seemed to be casual with his throws. He'll be 28 in April and has never played more than 88 games in a season because of recurrent injury issues. There's a not a lot of risk on the Astros' part in acquiring him, but there is a chance he never pans out there, either.
And while it's fair to be skeptical about the probability of Daniel Bard succeeding as a starter, citing his awful statistics the last time he was full-time starter (Single A, 2007) needs to come with the caveat that the Red Sox fiddled with his mechanics and his command returned when he was allowed to use the delivery that made him a first-round pick in the first place. It wasn't as simple as sending him to the bullpen and, presto, instant relief ace.
It's understandable to conclude Cherington should have done more so far this offseason -- a proven righthanded-hitting right fielder would be nice -- I like the way he's gradually filling in the roster around the core stars. I hated the Punto signing at first -- yes, hated is the right word -- but upon deeper consideration, he's a utility guy who knows he's a utility guy, and who has consistently excellent defensive metrics at three infield positions. If Bobby Valentine doesn't play him more than he should, he can be a valuable asset. Melancon seems like a worthy addition to a bullpen that is not yet complete, whether he's the closer or replaces Bard as the relief ace. Yeah, I'll take two of him.
It's apparent that Cherington is looking for useful -- and yes, inexpensive -- secondary pieces who fulfill a certain need, the belief being that the core of an excellent team is already in place. I wouldn't call his offseason "distressing." I'd call it a promising work in progress.
2. The seven-year contract extension Adrian Gonzalez signed with the Red Sox last April kicks in this coming season, and for those who wondered last year why the Red Sox gave up three fine prospects to acquire him from the Padres rather than waiting for him to hit free agency (other than the chance to get his bat in the lineup a year earlier), perhaps Albert Pujols's deal with the Angels helps provide some context.
Pujols is two years and four months older than Gonzalez, had a lower OPS last season (.906 to Gonzo's .956), will be under contract for three years longer, and will make $100 million more over the length of the deal.
If Prince Fielder ends up landing a deal in the $200 million range, the Sox's deal with Gonzalez has to be considered a relative bargain, even considering the talent they parted with to bring him here.
3. Not to belabor the point, but the Astros are going to discover what Terry Francona often hinted at but never said outright -- that Lowrie doesn't defend well enough to play shortstop on a regular basis. Brad Mills, who was Francona's bench coach before becoming the Astros manager for the 2010 season, probably has some idea what he is getting. But Lowrie has slipped defensively in the two years since he left.
But if he stays healthy -- yup, that's one Rauch-sized if -- he can be a productive super-utility player for Houston, a .280/15 HR/.775-OPS-type, especially if he realizes he's much better off hitting from the right side, The change of scenery was necessary, and the time is now, but he has the talent to do well, and I hope he does.
4. A victory over the Patriots would have brought the Tim Tebow hype to levels even beyond their current insufferable state. Even in defeat, I doubt the hype will die down -- the theme for this week on "ESPN: First Tebow Featuring Skip Bayless Based On The Novel By Sapphire" will be, "Can Tim Tebow bounce back?"
Yes, the saturation Tebow coverage got to be a little much leading up to the Patriots game, but the justification is in the numbers -- ratings, page views, and all of that stuff that nowadays influences content decisions. After watching him play from the first whistle to the last against the Patriots, I'm convinced the buzz will probably fade out early next season.
He's a fine football player, but does not throw well enough to play quarterback, and I think we'll eventually look back at Sunday and realize it was the end of his entertaining but unsustainable small-sample-size run of football miracles.
5. Mike Aviles can't really be in the picture as a righthanded-hitting option in right field, can he? Um ... I think he can, or at least will, and I'd love to see Jazayerli weigh in on that.
He's hit lefthanded pitching well (.299 average, .814 OPS) over the course of his four-year career, and while he looked shaky during his five games and 19 innings worth of cameos in the outfield last season, he's athletic enough to take to the position.
I'll keep saying it until you agree with me: If they weren't going to get involved on Carlos Beltran, Josh Willingham, or Michael Cuddyer (now an overpriced member of the Rockies), taking a shot at lefty-masher Andruw Jones would have been an appealing solution.FULL ENTRY
Little secret that's probably not all that surprising: Working in the Boston.com and Globe sports departments often feels like a real-life edition of Globe 10.0, except with no clock and more colorful language.
For those who enjoy a good sports argument, it's not Iowa, it's heaven, and between the Red Sox' hiring of Polarizing Bobby Valentine and rumors that Danny Ainge is shopping electric, enigmatic point guard Rajon Rondo, strong opinions are in particular abundance.
One of my favorite colleagues (non-Bob Ryan division) with whom to debate is Gary Dzen, our resident Celtics go-to guy on the .com side of the fence. We've spent a lot of time the past few days going shot-for-shot on what Ainge should, could, and will do regarding Rondo.
It was such fun that it inspired me to try something new here at TATB. Rather than continuing to annoy our colleagues, who have long since moved on to whether the Patriots were trying to run up the score on the Colts, we took our perpetual debate to e-mail. Three days and more words than I care to admit after we started, here’s our verdict on the curious status of Rajon Rondo.
All right, Dzen, let's put the secondary issues and complications of a potential Rajon Rondo trade aside for a moment here and get right down to the fundamental question here:
Do you believe Celtics boss Danny Ainge would trade him straight-up for Chris Paul even with the knowledge that the Hornets star -- hell, the franchise -- has one year left on his deal and has reportedly said that he won't agree to an extension?
You wrote a thoughtful status report on Paul vs. Rondo last week and covered Ainge's press conference Thursday when he said he "didn't anticipate trading Rondo." You have to presume Ainge, who has loved Paul since he was breaking ankles and slugging opponents below the belt at Wake Forest, was playing a game of semantics there to some degree, right?
Oh, of course Danny was playing semantics. In fact, I took his press conference in total as more of an admission than a denial that he'd be willing to deal Rondo.
Separating any feelings I have toward Rondo as Celtics reporter and as someone who's enjoyed watching him, I think Danny moves him. I think he's made that pretty clear by trying to shop him over the last year. Ainge obviously identified his talent before most of us (21st overall pick in 2006), but I think he's also more willing to look at his flaws than the average fan. And I don't think the No. 1 flaw is shooting. It has more to do with personality.
Ainge talked a lot about balancing the future with the present on Thursday. The balance, to me, is pretty clear. He knows he can't win with this team as currently constituted, and Rondo is by far his best trade chip. He's going for broke now, both for this year and for the long term.
You mention personality. That's definitely a huge aspect to this, and one that's also a bit mysterious; we hear how stubborn he is, and that can be both a strength and a flaw. I just wish he'd use that strong will to start hitting 75 percent of his free throws.
But whether you're a fan or a reporter, if you have any natural skepticism whatsoever, the initial reaction when you hear a trade rumor about Rondo -- 25 years old, so insanely athletic that he sometimes makes other talented NBA guards look like spiritual nephews of Greg Kite, a champion who already has a highlight reel of extraordinary playoff moments. He's tough (he played one-freakin'-armed against the Heat), a creative genius as a passer, and so much more -- is that there has to be another element to it that we don't know. What does Danny know that we don't?
Or is it as simple as this: Chris Paul is the better all-around player, and his shooting ability on top of his point guard skills makes him a better fit than Rondo? Danny runs his team like he learned all of his lessons from Red Auerbach. He is a gambler -- remember, the Ray Allen trade was widely panned, and battle lines are still routinely drawn over the Kendrick Perkins deal -- but maybe he doesn't see this as a gamble at all.
Paul is a better overall player than Rondo, but I think it's more a matter of total team makeup. I don't believe Ainge thinks Rondo can take this group of players to a championship again, not with the Heat and Bulls in the same conference and the Lakers (where Paul and/or Howard may ultimately end up, unfortunately) and Mavericks (though they have the same aging problem) lurking. He wants to improve this group, and turning Rondo into something better might be the only way to do it.
This gets right down to the heart of what Rondo is, and what Rondo isn't. What he is, as you've pointed out, is one of the most unique talents in the league. There isn't a player elsewhere with his skill set, and we've all reaped the rewards of watching him get defenders to bite on pump fakes and throwing perfect behind-the-back bounce passes. Part of me thinks that the Celtics would have given the Heat some serious trouble had Rondo not popped his elbow out this spring. Another part of me worries that his shooting -- and this is coming from a huge Rondo supporter -- really does hamper the team in close games down the stretch. It's been six years and the shooting hasn't improved. Danny might be tired of waiting.
On the personality issue, a headstrong young point guard helped the Celtics win it all in 2008. But the Big Three were the Big Three then, and Rondo - who could be the best on-ball defender in the world if his overall play matched his talent -- was left off last year's USA Basketball team that won the world championship. Whether that was due to personality or was purely a basketball decision isn't known, but it seems Rondo reached his ceiling with USA Basketball. Has he reached his ceiling in Boston, too?
Maybe he has reached his ceiling in terms of Danny's expectations for him and belief in what he can do after Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce (likely the last of the three to go) have moved on. It's easy to buy into the conventional wisdom: after Kevin Garnett retires a life spent glowering at beach-goers in Malibu, and Ray Allen becomes a mercenary, designated shooter for some other contender for another five years, and Paul Pierce's No. 34 hangs by Larry's 33 and Reggie's 35 in the rafters, it will be Rondo who is charged with being a one of the building blocks for the next generation.
Except ... that doesn't seem to be Danny's plan, and with Doc here for the long haul as well, you have to figure there is some long-term plan in place -- probably Plans A through Z depending upon all the factors and how certain things shake out..
Could Plan A be so simple as to deal Rondo for Paul no matter whether he intends to stay, his knee is completely healthy, or whatever else, make one more title push with Paul and the Aging Three, then try to make a run at Dwight Howard, and if that doesn't work, blow the whole thing to smithereens and position themselves to get the next great college star? Have you ever noticed how much Austin Rivers looks like young Doc?
That's my usual long and winding way of asking this: Is it possible that they don't consider him a building-block at all, because when they blow it up, they're really going to blow it up?
Before the Danny/team-building stuff, I want to go back to the USA basketball snub and to the choice of Russell Westbrook over Rondo in particular. Rondo's a unique player, but the one player he's most often compared to might be Westbrook in terms of size, skill set, and playing style. Westbrook is two years younger and two inches taller, but he clearly lacked Rondo's big-game experience before that 2010 tournament. Coach K chose him anyway. Maybe it was just because of perimeter/free throw shooting, but that USA team didn't lack scorers. Wouldn't Rondo be the perfect guard to set up the LeBrons and Dwight Howards of the world?
Here are the stat lines of both players last season:
Rondo: 10.6 points, 11.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds, .475 field goals
Westbrook: 21.9 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, .442 field goals
There's a rumor that Ainge tried to trade Rondo for Westbrook after last year's playoffs and that the Thunder didn't have much interest. Fair enough that OKC wouldn't want to part with their rising star. But why are the Celtics trying to part with theirs?
Let's do an exercise: Lay out a plan in which the Celtics build around Rondo over the next three or four years.
The reason -- well, one of the reasons Paul appeals to them, other than that when that pesky meniscus isn't bothering him he's a 26-year-old MVP-caliber, genuine floor general who has helped David West make a lot of money -- is that he can score consistently from multiple areas on the court. He's a superb slasher, he can shoot the three (36 percent career), and he's outstanding from the line (85 percent).
Rondo is the first of those things, and when he's on and engaged or has something to prove, there isn't a player in the league who is more creative and fun en route the hoop. But he's certainly not a shooter, and because of his failings at the free throw line, he's reluctant to go to the hoop in the fourth quarter, often the times when they need a hoop from him the most. It's one of those instances where his pride works against him.
Tom Haberstroh on ESPN Insider had a smart column in which he spelled out why Rondo shouldn't be a rebuilding block, and it basically boiled down to the fact that much of his production depends upon who he's playing with. Ray Allen in particular makes him more efficient, which probably isn't a surprise, but to see the stark numbers spelled out is pretty telling.
That's a long way of saying there probably isn't a plan where they build around him unless Dwight Howard falls for the Danny/Doc sweet talk and two dead-eye perimeter shooters follow, or Danny can't find a suitable deal between now and Christmas -- or now and next Christmas, I suppose.
All right, it's crunch time. Time to break out your crystal ball -- the official NBA Spalding version, of course -- and answer these three questions:
You said earlier you thought Danny will eventually deal Rondo. Does it happen before this season begins?
If he spun the wheel and dealt him for Paul without an extension in place, would CP3 end up staying here after playing for Doc, realizing the fans' passion, and actually appreciating having more than a couple of talented players surrounding him?
Or is he going to insist on going to New York so he can play with Amar'e, Carmelo, and not ever have to hear the word "defense'' again?
The answers to your questions, in order:
1. It happens as soon as Ainge can make it happen, which is before Dec. 25 if he has his choice. If not its before the trade deadline.
3. Which leads us to Doc's ability to bring in star players. Chris Paul can't veto a trade here, and there's no reason he's not going to like it. If Paul wants to play in New York, he will, but the Celtics would have the advantage of being able to offer him more money to stay. New York may be a great place to live, but I can't imagine it being a better place to play basketball, with that collection of players and that coach.
All my answer here assume that getting equal value for Rondo in a trade is realistically possible. It may not be, and that may be why nothing happens at all. But if there's any chance of it working, Ainge is going to try to make it happen. The Celtics simply do not have much leverage to vastly improve their team by any other method.
Agreed, though I'll remain skeptical that Ainge can actually get equal value -- at least by our perception of what that is -- right up until the moment it happens.
So ... matter settled.
Now tell me: How would Vince Carter look in green?
If Brad Daugherty wasn't the only player in NBA history to choose his uniform number as an homage to his favorite NASCAR driver, then he's on a very short list.
After an eight-year career with the Cleveland Cavaliers during which he made five All-Star teams and retired (prematurely because of back problems) as the franchise's top scorer, Daugherty had his No. 43 retired.
Forty-three. It's number permanently associated with his boyhood idol, Richard Petty, a number that stood not only as a symbol of Daugherty's lifelong love for auto racing, but foretold his second career after his days on the hardwood ended.
The transition from basketball to auto racing may seem unusual, but for the gracious Daugherty, it was as natural as can be. He grew up around the sport in North Carolina, has owned teams on various circuits, and can currently be seen in a prominent role as a racing analyst on several ESPN programs, including "NASCAR Countdown'' and "NASCAR Now.''
I had a chance to talk to Daugherty leading up to this weekend's Sprint Cup race in Loudon about his mutual sports passions.
We'll start with the obvious, the question I'm sure you get in every interview: How does a guy with such a decorated basketball background -- star at North Carolina where you played with Michael Jordan, No. 1 overall pick in the '86 draft, multiple All-Star selection -- end up so involved and associated with NASCAR?
Daugherty: "I grew up in a little town in western North Carolina, in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and my dad and grandpa, they were all huge race enthusiasts, tinkered with race cars, built race cars, drag cars, everything. We had a local speedway in the neighbor town of Asheville and we'd always be there at that track watching races. I was just always around it, the pieces, the parts, since I was a little kid. The big item in our little local newspaper was how the local racers had done. We had Jack Ingram, who has a lot of success on the short-track series, and that was a huge deal in our community, so it was all around us. It was all my dad and uncles talked about, and when you're a little kid, you want to do what they do. I learned to work on race cars, it was just normal to me."
Did you stay involved in racing even as your basketball career was taking off, whether that was high school, college, or even into your NBA career?
Daugherty: "Oh, yeah. I played all sports, baseball, basketball, and football, and I was pretty good at all of them. I wanted to go to college and I knew the best opportunity to go to college was through an athleltic scholarship, because people weren't lining up to throw academic grants at me at that point in time. I had this big old body and I like to play sports, period, and worked really hard on my basketball and ended up going to North Carolina and playing for coach [Dean] Smith. But I still was always hanging around race tracks, building late-model stocks, because Robert [Pressley, a childhood friend] was racing all over the country, and I spent every weekend I could at the race track dabbling in something or at a NASCAR race. By my senior year, Robert and I built a late-model stock together, and my rookie in the NBA, I had a couple more quarters to rub together, so we could build a couple nicer race cars, and won a Mid-Atlantic regional championship, which as a pretty darn big deal. Then in '88, I want to say, we build a couple Busch Series cars, got a motor, and won our fourth race. First rookie driver and first rookie owner ever to do so. So that was pretty cool."
You had some success as an owner on the Truck Series, discovering such drivers as Kevin Harvick and Kenny Irwin Jr., but you did step away for racing for a couple of years after the death of your friend Irwin. What brought you back to the sport, and how did the eventual transition to talking about racing on television develop out of that?
Daugherty: "I had a lot of fun, owning a team on the Truck Series and so on, but I did, I got out when Kenny got killed. I lost a little bit of steam there, losing one of my buddies. So I got out for a little while, sat on the NASCAR rules committee, and about four years ago, I was doing some college basketball broadcasting for ESPN. And it was funny, Dr. Jerry Punch, who has been a good friend of mine forever, we'd been partnered up to do some college basketball games. And the producer was always yelling at us because any break we had or at halftime or what have you, we'd sit there and talk NASCAR the whole time. And he'd say to me, 'Man you need to get back into racing, you need to get your race team going.' And I said, 'It doesn't feel the same after Kenny lost his life,' and Doc [Punch] mentioned that ESPN was getting the TV package back the next year and he said I should do some racing analysis, that it would be a blast. I said, 'Doc, I don't know, people have a tough time when they see you do something for so long, it's hard to change in their mind.' The following year, I was sitting on my couch watching a race, and Doc calls, and he said, 'I'm here with the executive producer, Jed Drake, and I told him about your racing background, he knows all about it, and he wants to talk to you for a bit. And he said, 'I want you to come over and join our race broadcasting team.' I told him I was had been talking to some guys about ownership in a Nationwide team, and he said, 'That's absolutely no problem at all. This isn't stick-and-ball where there's direct competition, it's 40-something teams all doing their own thing,' and so I told him I'd give it a shot. It's been about six years now, and I'm having an absolutely great time. Doc was right.''
Your mutual passions for basketball and racing probably were looked at as a bit unusual by your teammates in the NBA. Or were there a couple of guys during your days with the Cavs who shared your interest in NASCAR?
Daugherty: "I always knew I'd be doing something racing-wise at this point in my life. Always knew it. I was so fortunate with the Cavs, because Larry Nance came along about my third year there. He owned a couple of cars, a couple of dragsters, and that was all we did was talk racing. We used to go over to his shop, every day after practice we'd go over there, and we were either working on Larry's race car or another friend's race car, and we'd come to practice with busted-up fingers. Lenny Wilkens was like, 'I don't get it.' But Larry, I could sit and talk to him about racing all day. It was incredible to have a buddy who loved racing as much as I did on the same basketball team. You have a lot of guys, a lot of urban guys, who had no clue. They could care less. They just thought we were a couple of idiots who knew way too much about cars to be playing basketball.''
The sports do have some things in common -- the competition, for starters, and the teamwork required for success. Was there something you got from basketball that you don't from auto racing, or vice versa?
Daugherty: "I love what basketball did for me as an outlet. It put me in the best physical condition of my life. I loved the way the game played because everyone has a job to do, and if everyone does their job on the basketball court, it's a beautiful game. It really is. I loved the strategy part, the competition part of it, and trying to outthink, outplay, out-position, out-strategize your opponent. It was awesome. What happened for me is that I loved both [basketball and auto racing] with a passion, and when one door closed, it enabled me to come home and begin focusing on racing. As long as I was physically capable of playing basketball, I was going to play basketball. I loved to do it. I've been so lucky to have both, to be able to transition from one to the other, because they've both meant so much to me for as long as I can remember.''
If you require another reason why the NBA must settle its labor issues before the lockout affects next season, here you go: Fans would miss out on the chance to discover whether Shaquille O'Neal's sharp sense of humor translates to television.
O'Neal, the 15-time All-Star center who spent the final season of his career with the Celtics, has joined Turner Sports to serve as an analyst across its various NBA platforms. Most notably, he will become a full-time analyst on TNT's popular studio show "Inside The NBA," joining host Ernie Johnson and analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley.
“Shaq knows the game and, on and off the floor, he has always been entertaining; a guy who gets it," Johnson said in a press release. "Obviously, I know I’m going to have to eat before I get to the studio.”
Chris Webber and Kevin McHale appeared on the program as guest analysts last season. McHale has moved on to coach the Houston Rockets. Webber will continue as an analyst on NBA TV, also a Turner Sports property.
O'Neal's role on TNT extends beyond his studio duties -- and even the realm of sports. He will contribute to NBA TV and NBA.com, providing analysis and commentary throughout the regular season, postseason, All-Star festivities, and the draft. His deal also includes a development agreement with Turner's entertainment and animation networks.
But the coup for TNT is bringing him aboard "Inside The NBA." The chemistry on the program between Johnson, Smith, and Barkley has made the five-time Emmy-winning program arguably the best sports studio show on television. O'Neal outsized personality may change the dynamic somewhat, but the interaction between the charismatic O'Neal and the outrageous and hilarious Barkley should make for compelling television, presuming they get along better than they did here:
Five thoughts on the Celtics' postseason departure while wondering if Big Baby will ever grow up . . .
1. Those of you racing to claim the Celtics' defeat validates the harebrained conventional wisdom that the Kendrick Perkins trade doomed this team can save it for your favorite shrieking semi-informed sports radio harpy today. While "The trade ruined their chemistry!" is the perfect sports radio topic, anyone who has been paying attention knows that his absence isn't among the starting five of reasons why they lost this series. Let's go through it one last time, slowly: Danny Ainge made the trade because he recognized a significant flaw on this team, one that would eventually prove fatal despite his early diagnosis. The Celtics did not have enough perimeter quickness, depth, or pure athleticism to stay with the Heat (or Bulls) for 48 minutes. That is why they lost. (And as my colleague Gary Dzen points out, no one would be talking about Perk had Big Baby not spent the entire series whimpering in the third person in his cradle.) Yes, Jeff Green was a disappointment (is he using a pair of hands Mikki Moore left behind?). And Perk's rebounding and personality were missed, albeit not nearly as much as Tony Allen's perimeter defense and speed or the version of Marquis Daniels who was so helpful at times early in the season before his injury sent some roster . But the motivation for the deal was right. If anything, the Celtics needed more perimeter help, something Rajon Rondo said during his candid postgame interview should be the priority in the offseason. It didn't work. But if you recognize why they lost, you know it wouldn't have worked with Perk, either.
2. If there's any postgame solace for Celtics fans, it came during Doc Rivers's press conference when he revealed he's leaning heavily toward coming back next year. Doc's many merits as the ideal coach of this particular team shouldn't require any rehash here, but it was encouraging to hear headstrong Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce speak so highly of him afterward. (Big Baby Davis, who lives in a world devoid of mirrors and clues, was the sullen exception.) They may not always get along, but the respect between Doc and his players is clearly mutual. If you require further explanation as to why that's important, Phil Jackson could probably provide some insight.
3. The temptation to write an epilogue on the era of this Big 3 was understandable last night. Even setting aside the Celtics' late fades in Games 2 and 4, the breathtaking series-closing 16-0 run by a hungry, younger rival last night was the "very definition," as Sean Grande might say, of the changing of the guard. Maybe the final scenes might have played out differently had Rajon Rondo been able to use his left arm as anything more than a prop. But he got hurt, the Celtics were undermanned on the perimeter anyway, and the Heat earned their moment. They're deserving of congratulations even though they are much better at doing so themselves. But I hope this core of Celtics gets one more shot at them next year. Yes, they're aging (KG turns 35 next week; this seems so long ago) and its not hard to envision them limping into the sunset like the original Big 3. But there's one interesting catch, which I first mentioned on 10.0 yesterday: What if there's an abbreviated 2011-12 season because of the lockout? Say the schedule is knocked down to 50 games. Wouldn't that benefit the Celtics more than any other team other than perhaps the Spurs? As Rondo said last night, they need an influx of youth not necessarily to replace anyone, but to take the burden off Pierce, Allen and Garnett in the regular season. A shorter schedule would certainly help keep their legs fresh. And there are sentimental reasons to hope Doc's apparent decision to stay means the top-billed stars in this cast will be back for another sequel. (And in the spirit of full disclosure, with the cap situation and the labor uncertainty, it would be pretty much impossible to blow it all it up now even if Ainge wanted to.) While they've had some tremendous disappointments -- Game 7 last year, losing to Orlando minus KG two years ago, three of the losses in this series -- I couldn't admire this team more than I already do, and once the haze from this loss wears off, Celtics fans will probably agree that anything they accomplished beyond the first title is frosting on the cake. All this talk of getting old is fair. But it doesn't mean it's time to replace them with something new just for change's sake.
4. I imagine there was some genuine emotion in LeBron James's postgame reaction.. But damned if I could recognize it. What I saw, in between when he squeezed out those queued-up tears and made sure he said all the right things about the Celtics, was Alex Rodriguez circa 2004, a superstar athlete raised in front of the cameras who thinks sincerity can be summoned with a practiced facial expression and some hollow plaudits that sounded really deep when they were rattling around in his head. LeBron was sensational in the game's final moments tonight. I've never seen anyone with his combination of strength, skill, and quickness. But I came away from this series realizing that the smartest decision he has ever made is hitching his legacy to Dwyane Wade, a competitor so relentless and talented (his crossover through traffic is straight out of a Barry Sanders highlight reel) that referees can't help but blow their whistles in awe. He may not quite be Jordan to LeBron's Pippen, but he's sure as heck nobody's sidekick. As for you, Bosh. Ever heard of Brad Sellers?
5. I imagine Celtics fans are unanimous in this sentiment: Go get 'em, Thibodeau. And you too, Scal. Chicago is suddenly Boston's kind of town.
Five quick thoughts on Game 4 while trying to convince myself that Game 5 will be more than just a formality . . .
1. As spectacular as Kevin Garnett's 28/18 flashback was in Game 3, that's just how dreadful his crash back to earth was in Game 4. The 1-for-10 shooting is understandable to some degree; he'll be 35 this month, he had one day of rest, and his legs betrayed him. What was disheartening and so out of character were the mental errors, plural. First came the botched play at the end of regulation when his screen to put one of the Celtics' most fundamental, well-worn plays in motion was never properly executed. And he suffered from brain lock again in overtime when, after getting caught defending LeBron James after a switch, he didn't take the opportunity, which was there, to switch back to covering Chris Bosh, thus leaving the Heat's feather-duster of a forward in a position to clinch the game with a tip-in over Ray Allen. Garnett has been a joy to watch during his four seasons as the fulcrum of the Big 3, but he generally skated after getting outrebounded 18-3 by Pau Gasol in Game 7 last year, and unfortunately, he had another poorly-timed hiccup in a crucial game last night. Somewhere, Player X is chortling.
2. I recognize his positive attributes, but I have to admit, Big Baby's game often annoys me even when he's going well. His perimeter shot selection suggests he believes himself to be some amalgam of Ray Allen and KG, and I wonder if the suggestion that he was shooting too much (which he was) is what sent him into this woe-is-Glen tailspin. So you can imagine how I feel about him right now. Baby played 16 minutes last night. I hope Nenad Krstic gets those minutes in Game 5, and Baby moves along to become another team's enigma after the season. I've seen enough of his act. Baby, he's a lost cause.
3. If you're one of those people who chalked up last night's loss to the Kendrick Perkins trade, please stop. His main value was on defense; the Celtics' defense has been exceptional. And on offense? He was rarely on the court in the closing minutes of games because of his limited skills and inability to shoot consistently from the free-throw line. That's pretty common knowledge to anyone who turned in to the Celtics with more than a casual interest the past four years. They don't need Perk. They need another young scorer who can hang with the Heat on the perimeter. If anything, the deal for Jeff Green has been justified by what the Heat have done in this series, even if Green hasn't justified it himself. And beyond that, if you happened to leave the clicker on TNT for the Memphis-Oklahoma City game and noticed Kevin Durant, of all people, having to guard Zach Randolph at times, you'd realize Perk isn't the solution to anything at the moment.
4. Related to the Perk/Green trade, I'm curious where you guys come down on Danny Ainge at the moment. I do and will remain adamant that he's among the finest general managers in the NBA, that he doesn't get enough credit for putting together the KG-Pierce-Allen-Rondo core in what looked like a hopeless situation, that he's drafted well (Rondo, Al Jefferson, Perk, Gomes, Powe, Baby, Delonte, Tony Allen), and that he's not afraid to make a daring move even if there's the probability that it will make him look bad if it doesn't work out. Basically, he's good at everything but hitting a curveball as far as I'm concerned. But I've been hearing from a vocal group of readers who point out his recent moves that haven't gone so well, from Stephon Marbury to Rasheed Wallace to J.R. Giddens. I chalk those up to trying to find the right mix of role players while picking late in the draft and having limited cap space. I mean, how can you blame him for Sasha Pavlovic or Shelden Williams or Mikki Moore or even Troy Murphy, who was also coveted by the Heat? They're roster-filler. So I'm curious if that vocal group is in the minority or majority at the moment. If it's the latter, excuse me while I commence banging my head against my desk until the pain goes away.
5. Of all the lingering what-ifs from Game 3, the one that will stick with me the longest is this: Why didn't Rondo's layup fall? Was it because his injury forced him to lay it up righthanded on the left side of the rim? Did he just put it up too strong? And why didn't the hoops gods or the alleged leprechauns give him the bounce out of respect for playing though an injury that would sideline most of his peers? Ugh. Unless there's a basketball miracle in store -- and while the future looks grim, out of respect I'll never formally give up on this core until the final buzzer sounds -- this one is going to be replaying on the DVR in our minds for a long time.
What Rajon Rondo accomplished Saturday night, in terms of inspiration, contribution, and perception in terms of how he will be regarded for the rest of his NBA career, stands as one of those reminders of why we invest so much time and emotion watching sports.
Rondo's plastic-man athleticism has always stood out even among his supremely talented peers who are a foot taller than the average male and run and jump like Olympic track and field medalists. But when Dwyane Wade leg-whipped him -- considered a cheap tactic in the NFL, let alone the NBA -- to the court in the third quarter and Rondo's left arm bent beneath the weight in a direction that was gruesome in its unfamiliarity, the first name we thought of was not Gumby, dammit, but Theismann. Look at that picture. And just try to look away.
Rondo looked like he was done for the series, which, given the 2-0 deficit, also meant the season. Yet back he came a few moments later, striding back out of the locker room, poker-faced as always, and plunking himself next to Shaq on the bench. The crowd roared in equal parts appreciation and disbelief, as if to ask, "Is he really going to try to play with one good arm?"
Which is precisely what he did. And if he didn't play better than he did before the injury, he certainly played with more focus, finishing with 6 points, 11 assists, and at plus-19 in 35 minutes. In the buzzy aftermath, it was fun trying to put Rondo's performance in context: Was it more admirable than John Havlicek, his shooting shoulder a wreck, gutting it through the '73 Eastern Conference finals against a superb Knicks team? Did it rate higher on the toughness scale than Larry Bird returning after power-dribbling his head off the court to shut up Chuck Person and the Pacers? Nothing in terms of sacrificing personal well-being for the good of the team will top Curt Schilling's bloody sock in 2004, and Pedro's six innings of no-hit ball in Game 5 of the 1999 American League Division Series against the jacked and pumped Cleveland Indians is perhaps the defining moment in the career of the finest pitcher most of us have ever seen.
But Rondo's spot on the short list is assured. How it all played out was so pure, so unscripted and real and, to Celtics fans, rewarding, that even "SportsCenter" couldn't overhype it, and you excitedly rewound it on the DVR for your wife that night and your kids the next morning, even if said adult and children alike would rather be watching "SpongeBob." Should the lousy, exasperating things about sports in 2011 -- a player collecting few hits but a fat paycheck, an entire team quitting on its coach, Derek Jeter having a two-homer game -- ever make you feel bitter, just think about what happened Saturday night.
Of course, big-picture context remains out of reach for the time being because the final chapters of this series are yet to be written. I'm not sure there's anything to the idea of momentum carrying from one game to the next in the NBA, given that it so often shifts multiple times over the course of 48 minutes. As inspirational as Rondo was, the Celtics won because Kevin Garnett put up a vintage 28-point, 18-rebound performance while basically leaving Chris Bosh shivering in the fetal position behind the basket stanchion, and Paul Pierce scored 27 relatively efficient points. Inspiration is wonderful. But when you praise Willis Reed for limping on to the court in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, don't neglect to mention that it was Walt Frazier who scored 36 points.
Is it possible that the tone and tenor of the series shifted on Rondo's injury and his teammates' reaction to it? Well, sure. But the main thing I took away from Game 3 is that respect for this core of players -- Rondo, Ray Allen, the rejuvenated Pierce and ferocious Garnett, even Shaquille O'Neal, hobbling around like a weekend warrior while selflessly burning off the final drops of fuel in his tank -- should never wane.
The Celtics' great hope in this series is proving that the Heat are as mentally soft as they have sometimes been accused. Wade is a championship-level competitor despite (or in part because of) his underhanded tactics, but is fair to wonder whether the Heat beyond him are a collection of skilled front-runners, particularly LeBron and Bosh, the latter of whom has been turned to jello between worrying that KG on the big screen is yelling directly at him and wondering why LeBron and Dwayne don't invite him over for their Dance Party USA nights anymore.
If the Heat possess any collective competitive spirit whatsoever -- and reminding them of the magnitude of the moment is probably on acclaimed motivational speaker Pat Riley at this point rather than Yanni Spoelstra -- then it will be obvious from the Celtics' first possession tonight. Because it should be clear even to Mark Jackson what the Heat must do: Punish Rondo every time he has the basketball in his hand like they're the Lakers and his last name is Barea.
They must dog him full court, perhaps with LeBron, perhaps with Wade, and perhaps even with Mario Chalmers provided he realizes at some point that Rondo is righthanded. They must run him off Joel Anthony pick after Joel Anthony pick. Whack him on that left arm, then "accidentally" whack it again. Remind him that playing point guard in the NBA is difficult enough with two good arms. Make him prove he can hit a one-handed set-shot.
Maybe the momentum, if such a thing exists, is with the Celtics. But with Rondo's wounded wing, the degree of difficulty in winning this series just got larger.
It's going to be tough. But as we were so pleasantly reminded Saturday night, so too will the Celtics.
A fast five on the Celtics and Heat while wondering if Erik Spoelstra ever says anything that doesn't sound like it was hastily cribbed from a Pat Riley motivational book . . .
You know the Celtics' odds of overcoming a 2-0 deficit are as long as Joel Anthony's wingspan, that it's been done just once in franchise history and 14 times in NBA history. You know the Heat's Big 3 has mauled the Celtics' Big 3 like a young lion claiming its territory and eventual throne from a proud, aging rival who happens to be suffering from back, chest, and Achilles' injuries. And as disappointing as it is to admit it, you know the days of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce as true championship contenders could well be entering their final days
But you also know them. When this trio of superstars assembled by Danny Ainge carried the Celtics to that elusive 17th banner three years ago, there was still a bit of a mercenary feel to the whole thing. Not now. Not after the peaks and valleys of the past couple of seasons -- KG's injury, their fierce raging against aging, stunning the Hollingers of the world by ending LeBron James's Cleveland career, even the crushing Game 7 loss in LA -- confirmed time and again that this was not just an impressive assemblage of talent, but a team in ownership of an extraordinary supply of determination. It's that characteristic that has helped them earn the utmost respect from discerning Celtics fans, and it's the one hope worth clinging to as the Celtics return home.
Yeah, it looks bleak. It is bleak. But you can find optimism if you're looking for it. It was 80-80 with roughly 7 minutes left Tuesday night. The Heat, save for Dwyane Wade, are a pack of habitual front-runners. Coming home and playing in front of fans who actually understand the fundamental concepts of basketball might provide a jolt.
Maybe the optimism really is a collection of fading delusions. Maybe the fear that "The Decision" might be vindicated is becoming reality before our eyes. But the least Celtics fans can do is allow all of the scenes to play out before presuming the movie has ended. Never doubt the will of this core of players. Even if the way may be hard to come by.
2. While it's hard to resist further pining for Kendrick Perkins after reading this from old friend Marc Spears, it should also be more evident than ever why Danny Ainge made the trade. As spotty -- to be kind -- as Jeff Green's performance has been, he's one of exactly two Celtics who can keep pace with the Heat's electric perimeter players athletically, a healthy and fully engaged Rajon Rondo of course being the other. Save for those two, the Celtics have to work for everything offensively against the relentless Heat.
Green was modestly effective in Game 2, scoring 11 points and finishing a team-best plus-5, and the effort if not the results are there when he's called upon to defend LeBron James, who has the quickest first step of any Fenway Sports Group partner. Not everyone can be Tony Allen. (Did I really just write that?)
The reality is that they don't miss Perk nearly as much as they miss Shaq. Unfortunately, there's probably about the same chance of seeing either one of them play for the Celtics in this series.
3. It's always a good policy to be skeptical -- even suspicious -- of certain NBA referees and their motivations depending upon that night's venue. And if you're skimming the surface for a reason the Celtics are down 2-0 in this series, the free-throw discrepancy (Miami has shot 68 to Boston's 40) might seem a good place to start.
But while I get as aggravated -- and occasionally enraged -- with the likes of Dick Bavetta and Bennett Salvatore as anyone this side of Tommy Heinsohn, I just can't see it being a reasonable gripe for Celtics fans thus far.
James and Wade, who have shot 39 of those free-throws, have earned their way to the line for the most part with their consistently aggressive forays to the hoop. They're getting fouled because the Celtics' defense often has no other alternative.
Superstars always get the benefit of the doubt with the whistles -- that might as well be the NBA's slogan -- but in this series so far the foul imbalance is about as justified as it can be.
4. There has been a seemingly endless chorus of fans and media taking whacks at Glen Davis this morning for his misguided attempt to mimic Kevin McHale Game 2 as that 80-80 tie turned into a spirit-crushing 94-80 deficit.
So what the heck, I'll sing a few bars, too.
While I appreciate the career Big Baby has carved out for himself as an effective NBA bench player despite being undersized and, coming out of LSU, significantly overweight, there are certain times when I can't stand his game. This is one of those times.
He had as many shot attempts (7) as Ray Allen last night, which under certain circumstances might be acceptable, like, say, if Allen had been abducted by aliens or forced to appear on a NESN cooking show or something. It did seem like Baby was breaking out of his slump and stopping with the Eeyore routine late in the Knicks series, but it's apparent he's either not sure of his role or not happy with it.
Until he figures it out -- or until he realizes that when Doc Rivers says, "We've got to get the ball to the right guys," that he's not talking about him -- he should probably just concentrate on setting decent screens for Allen and Paul Pierce until that eureka moment hits him and he realizes it's what he should have been doing all along.
5. If I had to guess at the NBA player who ripped Kevin Garnett as "a punk and a coward" under the pseudonym "Player X" in a recent ESPN Magazine column, I would probably rattle off the starting five for pretty much every other squad in the Eastern Conference before ever suspecting Chris Bosh.
Not only would that be out-of-character for the mellow alleged third member of Miami's Big 3, but there have been countless indications in recent seasons that he's so intimidated by Garnett that he'd tuck cotton balls in his ears if he could get away with it, just to dull the hurtful name-calling and cussing.
So from a green-and-white standpoint, one of the bigger disappointments of the series so far is that Bosh has slightly outplayed Garnett, averaging 12 points and 11.5 rebounds per game to KG's pedestrian 11 and 7.
Of all of the benefits of coming back to the Garden, the extra boost the crowd could give the ultra-emotional Garnett might be at the top of the list.
A brief starting five on tonight's Celtics-Knicks showdown while wondering if Spike Lee and Ray Allen ever talked about a sequel . . .
1. I'm probably a little bit irrational when it comes to Rajon Rondo's capabilities. I'm convinced he can use that Plastic Man athleticism and uncanny smarts to get to the hoop pretty much at will, even out of the half-court sets or when his man is sagging off him. I don't understand why he's so passive sometimes, and I don't think Doc does, either. Is it stubbornness? Boredom? Whatever the reason, it's imperative that he plays with the same intensity that he showed in Game 2, when his mission seemed to be to humiliate Toney Douglas to the point that even the Knicks guard's dearest loved ones mocked his defensive incompetence. Rondo needs to show up with that killer instinct tonight, and we should know early just how engaged -- and mean -- he is feeling.
2. One other duty for Rondo: make a concerted effort to get Jeff Green involved when they're on the court together. The transition from the freewheeling Thunder to the Celtics hasn't been easy for Green, and rather than progressing he's been . . . well, abysmal probably isn't too cruel of a word choice, to be honest. He's shooting just 33 percent from the field in this series in 14.5 minutes per game, and his defense has been so ineffective that you'd think he played for Mike D'Antoni. But Green has had instant chemistry on the fast break with Rondo since virtually upon arrival, and perhaps getting a couple of quick and easy baskets in transition will be what gets him going. Yes, he's played terribly. But he's far from a terrible player, and it's up to the point guard to help him show what he can do.
3. From a basketball junkie's standpoint, it was a joy to watch Carmelo Anthony's 42-point performance in Game 2. (From a Celtics fan's standpoint, it was much easier to laud him after the Knicks came up three points short.) When he splashed that fading, in-your-face 3-pointer over Pierce, it was the clearest reminder yet of why the Knicks essentially gutted their roster -- rumor is that Rory Sparrow is starting at the point tonight if Chauncey Billups can't go -- to unite him with Amar'e Stoudemire: Despite Anthony's casual indifference to defense, the man is a ridiculously skilled scorer and legitimately one of the league's true superstars. It was cool to hear him compared to the scoring machine pictured in the basketball card over there, who is probably in my starting five among all-time favorite non-Celtics. The comparison isn't quite perfect -- King got most of his points from both posts with his quick and deadly array of full-extension jumpers, while Melo is bigger and a more versatile scorer. (King made just 23 threes in his NBA career, shooting 17.2 percent; Melo has made 25 over his last seven games.) But there's no doubt the two belong on a very elite roster of pure scorers in the history of the sport.
4. I don't know what's bothering Big Baby, though I suspect more than one of his coaches/teammates told him he really shouldn't be taking more jump shots in a game than Ray Allen, or even KG for that matter. There was one sequence in Game 2 where he was wide-open at the left elbow, and Rondo spotted him, appeared to say something, then delivered the pass. Baby hesitated, looked at the rim . . . and didn't shoot. I don't know if he's pouting or if he just isn't sure what's considered a good shot at the moment, but he needs to get past it and/or figure out what Doc wants from him sooner rather than later. The playoffs are no time to worry about your touches.
5. Some series-appropriate vintage NBA, just to set the mood:
Bernard duels Isiah (the best little man in NBA history in my '80s-centric opinion) . . .
. . . and Larry one-ups 'Nique.
Bernard drops 60 on the Nets (featuring a rare public appearance by Mike Gminski's beard) . . .
. . . and Larry drops 60 on the Hawks (you probably know to watch the reaction of the end of Atlanta's bench. Priceless).
What's that? Why, yes, it always does come back to Larry now that you mention it.
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Today's media column on former NESN and current MSG reporter Tina Cervasio is here. There's also some stuff on the WEEI/98.5 ratings battle, but I trust you've heard enough about that.
His No. 31 hangs in the Garden rafters, but Max actually wore No. 30 early in his career. That number, however belongs to Mike and Tommy now, as noted in today's media column right here.
It's always a pleasure to talk to Mike Gorman, who, as I am reminded painfully each time I transcribe an interview with him, has an uncanny knack for turning a rambling question into a thoughtful answer. I suspect a similar ability also comes into play with the various cast of analysts he's worked with this year. Tommy, of course, but also Max, Donny Marshall on occasion, and trippy Bill Walton on those West Coast trips.
‘‘It’s different personalities, it’s different preparation on my part," Gorman acknowledges. "The preparation I do for games I work with Tommy really is small compared to say if I’m working with Donny, working with Bill, working with Cedric. When I work with those guys, I always try to have a list of subjects to bring up of things to talk to them about if the conversation lags or if I feel that they don’t have the energy we want them to have, I have different talking points I can go to to bring them back. I don’t do that with Tommy, first of all because his energy level is never low, but I know exactly where he’s going to be."
And what he wants to talk about.
‘‘I know he doesn’t really want to comment on the state of the NBA, he doesn’t really want to comment on the NCAA tournament, he just wants to comment on the Celtics," Gorman said. "He wants to comment on how the Celtics can win tonight how, they beat the guys on the other side, and how we do it despite this team of officials working against us over there. So we kind of have the same approach every game.
"Does it feel like 30 years? It just doesn’t. I can’t think of any other way to put it. It just doesn’t. But that really has been the style for the last 30 years, I sit down, get to the press room. I usually beat Tommy there, he shows up around 5:30, sits down, gets himself a meal. Says ‘What do you think, who’s playing, who’s doing this, who’s doing that?’ all about hte game at hand. Goes out, finishes his meal, sits on the sideline with some of the assistant coaches, watches players go through warmups and everything else, talks to players, and he’s ready to go."
It's an approach that's worked wonderfully for 30 years, and the vast majority of Celtics fans would agree: Here's to many more.
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Rescued a couple of deleted scenes from the column. Do with them what you will . . .
• The Fab Five, a look at the wildly popular University of Michigan basketball team from the early ’90s produced by ESPN Films, earned a 2.1 rating to become the network’s highest rated documentary according to the Nielsen Company. Wonder if Grant Hill was among those turning in. The former Duke star took umbrage with Jalen Rose’s comment in the film (which Rose executive produced) that he believed while he was at Michigan that black players who went to Duke were ‘‘Uncle Toms.’’ Hill, now with the Phoenix Suns, wrote a graceful but pointed rebuttal to Rose’s comments that was published as an Op/Ed piece by the New York Times, concluding the piece with this slam-dunk of a paragraph: ‘‘I am proud of my family. I am proud of my Duke championships and all my Duke teammates. And, I am proud I never lost a game against the Fab Five.’’
• WEEI has made a couple of noteworthy tweaks to its lineup of weekly baseball insiders for the new season. Former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar, now with the MLB Network, will join Mike Mutnansky and Millar’s former teammate Lou Merloni during the midday program on Mondays. Red Sox manager Terry Francona will appear on the ‘‘Big Show’’ with Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley each Wednesday at 2:30. Also on Wednesdays, Jerry Remy will chat with Dennis and Callahan at 9 a.m. while Peter Gammons will join ‘‘Mut and Merloni’’ at noon.
Nearly a week removed now from the Celtics' shocking trade of Kendrick Perkins, we're finally ready to put away our Jumping To Conclusions mat and offer what passes for a relatively well-considered opinion:
It's working out for Perk.
It's working out pretty well for the Celtics, too.
All right, not the deepest of thoughts there -- nuanced insight like that almost qualifies me to yap about the NBA on ESPN. But given the online caterwauling (Twitterwauling?) that accompanied the news of Danny Ainge's deal that sent Perk and Nate Robinson to the Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Kristic and a draft pick, I think that passes as reasoned analysis.
Plus, it's the truth.
In case you're boycotting the Celtics for making your No. 43 jersey obsolete and haven't stayed up to date on the ledger, here's how it looks at this moment, pending any breaking news about another interesting buyout acquisition.
Departures: Perkins, Nate Robinson, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody.
Arrivals: Jeff Green, Troy Murphy, Nenad Kristic, a lottery-protected No. 1 pick from the Clippers, and the Cavaliers' second-rounder next year.
After checking the math, it looks like it all adds up to a win for Ainge and the Celtics, especially after beating out the Heat for Murphy, the sharp-shooting big man with a knack for collecting defensive rebounds. And for all of his disappointment about being dealt by the Celtics, Perk himself has to feel like he won, too, after agreeing to terms on a four-year extension yesterday in the neighborhood of $34 million. Just imagine what the Thunder might think he's worth once he actually plays for them.
Facetiousness aside, if there's a player you're glad to see get paid, it's Perk. Around here, we remember him arriving eight years ago (has it really been that long?) as a raw 18-year-old with the body of a weekend warrior. We watched him literally reshape himself into an integral part of a championship team -- some might say a beast. He's earned everything that has come to him, including his new contract.
Perk, whose perpetual scowl on the court belied his gentle nature off it, was an essential grunt who accepted his role amid a quartet of stars. And he was our essential grunt. Watching an admirable player get sent away so suddenly -- with the crushing kicker that he cried upon hearing the news -- was a cold reminder of the ruthlessness of professional sports.
There was a lot we didn't get when the news dropped. Why mess with a good thing and trade a starter from arguably the favorite from Eastern Conference to get to the Finals? In 2007, Perk was the closest thing our generation knew to the 1976 version of Paul Silas, and an 18th banner may very well be hanging at the Garden had his knee not given out in Game 6 of the Finals last year. Why take away proven kryptonite to Dwight Howard, not to mention someone who surely would have delivered a message with a well-timed elbow in Pau Gasol's ribs or throat or beard during his 18-rebound Game 7?
I admire and enjoy this team as much as any Celtic team since the late '80s. Yes, 2007-08 had the confetti ending, but there was still a slight mercenary vibe to that team. With all that has happened since -- the memories that come from hard-fought wins, the highlights and records, the injuries that must be overcome, the relentless determination to avenge last year's crushing final scene -- there is a rich history here now for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett; they are our guys now. And with this wonderful team's core, save for Rondo, on the wrong side of 30, they know their chances for a second title are dwindling. There is a collective determination about this crew that borders on desperation. I want that to be rewarded. I want to see this team win a championship more than any other current team in Boston.
So to see one of the more estimable among them go was a lousy, confusing feeling, and that probably explained better than anything else the instant backlash against Ainge for staggering us with this deal. But the ferocity of the reaction, and the consensus that Ainge got hosed by savvy Thunder general manager Sam Presti . . . well, that caught me off-guard perhaps even more than than the actual trade.
Part of that, admittedly, is because I'm an unabashed Ainge admirer; I trust his personnel moves on the same level that I do those of Theo Epstein and Bill Belichick. I don't hold the early LaFrentzes and Telfairs from early in his regime against him -- when you take over a team that considers Mark Blount a core player, the situation is just north of hopeless. It's worth taking a shot at unfulfilled promise. Ainge did, it didn't work, but he eventually got the formula right. In the NBA, with the salary cap, that's no easy task unless you're lucky in the lottery. And he wasn't even that.
He deserves praise for orchestrating the Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett deals (assist, McHale), for hiring Doc Rivers (the Terry Francona of the NBA) as his head coach and sticking with him, for spotting something special in Rondo that others missed (he was picked nineteen spots after Adam Morrison, 17 spots after Shelden Williams, and 13 spots after Patrick O'Bryant, for heaven's sake), and for continually recognizing helpful talent after the lottery is complete, from Al Jefferson to Delonte West to Tony Allen to Perk to Big Baby to Ryan Gomes to Leon Powe to Bill Walker to Semih Erden. You get the drift; he gets the draft.
Ainge's record the last five years or so suggests that giving him the benefit of the doubt is an effective way to look like you know what you're talking about. In retrospect, the question shouldn't have been, "What the bleepity-bleep is Ainge doing trading Perk?" It should have been, "What does Ainge know that we don't that convinced him to do this?"
In retrospect, some evidence didn't require much unearthing. With his knee issues (not to mention the past shoulder problems gruesome enough to make Martin Riggs wince), Perkins might be the oldest 26-year-old in the NBA. For all of his hard work, it's reasonable to presume he's plateaued as a player, and he has undeniably regressed offensively. Having turned down the Celtics' four-year, $22 million offer, that it was very unlikely that he was going to re-sign here next year. Ainge saw an opportunity to send him out West to a team that coveted him while getting back a young, potential core player in Green who could help immediately and five years down the road as well as a capable big man in Kristic. While we all cringe at the thought of relying on the aging, aching pair of O'Neals to remain healthy, you simply must give Ainge credit for having the Spauldings to make such a deal.
Perk's basketball home is in Oklahoma City now, and we can feel good about rooting for him on a likable Thunder team that plays in the other conference. He'll be missed, but the team he leaves behind is deeper and more versatile than it was when he was here. Advanced metrics suggest Green is overrated, that he was the least-efficient member of the Thunder; his pedigree, offensive versatility and your eyes suggest he can help, particularly once he gets used to playing with Rondo. Kristic, a useful big man for someone treated as an afterthought in the deal, can knock down a jumper and has shown an early inclination here to hit the offensive boards.
And yesterday's newcomer, Murphy? Maybe he can steal a meaningful game along the way with his shooting. He's not P.J. Brown when it comes to toughness, but he's a vastly superior alternative to past stonehanded backup bigs Mikki Moore and Shelden Williams. Keeping him from becoming a backup singer for LeBron and D-Wade in Miami is just an added bonus.
So as the at last story advances, one question remains: what's left on Ainge's agenda? The player I'd want above all other newcomers and possibilities -- including perhaps Green -- is Corey Brewer, whom Gary Washburn says is the Celtics' next target. He's hasn't lived up to his billing as the seventh pick of the 2007 draft -- he's just a 40.6 percent shooter in his career -- but he's 6-foot-9, still only 24 years old, and would instantly become the Celtics' best perimeter defender. There's hope for him yet. Getting him at this stage of his career might someday be looked back upon as a coup.
If there's a place for him, I'd be thrilled to see Leon Powe back, too. I don't know if he can play anymore -- he struggled to get on the court in Cleveland, and you have to wonder if the chronic knee problems will prevent him from handling the rigors of the NBA much longer. But for sentimentality's sake I hope he's back in green when all of the dealing is done. Powe is very easy to root for . . .
. . . yes, just like Perk. And root for Perk we will, right up until the moment -- and this daydream could become reality, you know -- that he jumps center against Shaq or KG to tip off Game 1 of the Finals.
Then, the Celtics who were so saddened to see him go can pay him an ironic bit of homage:
Beat him to win the championship. Then award him the Celtics championship ring the man will have earned long before it's won.
Just a quick link here to a fun (well, for me; I suppose it could be excruciating for you) thing me and my Boston.com colleagues pulled together in acknowledgment of a promotion the Celtics are running asking fans to tell them about their favorite game.
In our little three-pointer about our favorite games, Steve Silva chose the legendary and wild Game 5 of the 1976 Finals between the Celtics and Suns. Resident Celtics guru Gary Dzen went with, let's see, I believe it's formally called Ray Allen Makes Sasha Vujacic Cry. And I went with Bird's steal and feed to DJ for the winning bucket in Game 5 of the '87 Eastern Conference Finals against the loathsome Pistons.
Three games, three eras in Celtics history -- if only we'd had Bob Ryan throw some Bill Russell wisdom our way, we'd be complete. As much as admire the current Celtics -- and I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say I might trade the rights to a fourth Lombardi Trophy for the Pats and a Red Sox World Series title to be named later for the chance to see KG, Pierce, Allen, Rondo, Perk, and Shaq slay the Lakers this year -- I consider myself blessed as a sports fan to have been able to watch the '80s Celtics a couple of nights a week on SportsChannel throughout my youth.
Larry requires no further explanation -- he was a legend and a god, and that's presuming there are other legends and gods who could throw blind over-the-shoulder passes to a cutting big man. I dreamed of (and worked hopelessly toward) having McHale's post moves, which is funny, because all these years later, all I have left is the Chief's shuffle-the-feet baseline jumper. I admired the range of Ainge, Max's close-range radar, and later, Bill Walton's joyous mastery of the game's geometry, from always boxing out to his unparalleled post passing to throwing those quick and accurate outlet passes.
But my favorite Celtic of that era was D.J., Dennis Johnson, and that includes Larry. As Bob Ryan has testified in print on D.J.'s behalf many times, particularly when he was shamefully shortchanged by the Hall of Fame for a couple of years, there has never been a player who resembled him, and we're not just talking about that weird freckles-and-red-hair combo.
With his deceptive athleticism (he didn't look the part in his Celtics years, but he was an outstanding shot blocker for a guard), defensive toughness and intelligence (Doc Rivers still insists he knew the dead spots on the Garden floor and used them to his advantage for late-game steals), and his knack for nailing the big shot, he was the perfect complement not only to Bird, but to Ainge in the backcourt.
Like Rajon Rondo, he could be a royal-pain-in-the-enigma -- sometimes he just wasn't interested in going all-out in that late February game in Sacramento, and the rest of the Celtics knew to account for that. But to watch him on a consistent basis was to admire his game and his guts unabashedly. And I did. Much to my mom's chagrin, one of those caricature t-shirts that were popular in the late '80s worked its way into my regular school-clothes rotation when I was a sophomore in high school in '86. Kinda wish I still had it, though I suspect it would look like a sausage casing on me now.
Anyway, I'm getting carried away for what's supposed to be a two-line link here. It's just that it's always nice to reminisce about those Celtics, particularly the late, great D.J., who passed away before he got his due in Springfield. I'm glad I got to do so here, as well as on our Best Games project today.
You woke up this morning and surely groaned at the disappointing recollection, remembering the numbers 83 and 79 even before all of your synapses had warmed up their engines. And that's presuming you slept much at all. The Celtics could have been World Champions. Instead, the spoils go to the Lakers, not to mention Ron Artest's psychiatrist.
The feeling of disappointment, of missed shots and missed opportunities, will linger into the offseason. Why did Artest suddenly own a picturesque dead-eye jumper when it mattered the most? Why have Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett swapped on court personas from two years ago, with The Spaniard, as Kobe Bryant sort-of-affectionately called him, outrebounding his former tormentor, 18-3? Why did Derek Fisher have to add his big shot-in-the-big-moment legacy? Why did the season-long flaws -- weak rebounding, the inability to close out games late -- have to be their ultimate downfall?
The loss -- especially to that team -- stinks. But this isn't Grady '03 or Tyree '07. Yes, Artest may now have a curse word for a middle name in these parts, and creative descriptions of Sasha Vujacic were popular long before the most sniveling Laker drilled two clutch free throws in the final seconds. But there is some small measure of solace in that the Celtics left it all the court last night, almost literally given the rugby-like scrum for so many loose balls in the first three let-'em-play-boys quarters. No, they didn't deliver in the end, failing to enhance their New Big 3 legacy with a second title. But it was not from a lack of effort. They lost to a team with the two best players in the series, Bryant and Gasol. Unfortunately, the other side was just a little better.
You know we'll remember them well. But it's a sure bet that Danny Ainge won't be so nostalgic. He was here for the decline of the Original Big 3, when sentiment prevented trading Kevin McHale or Robert Parish when they were beginning to decline. (Larry? Well, that was justifiably unthinkable, especially the rumor he might have been dealt to the Pacers for Chuck Person and other parts.) Ainge was the first of that iconic starting five from the mid-'80s to go, exiled to Sacramento for 14 feet of affable mediocrity in Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine. Sentimentality isn't his game, and he won't be shy about sending any of these guys to their proverbial Sacramento if he thinks it makes his team better.
Trades or no trades, it's going to be different around here next year. Ray Allen may not be back, and maybe that's just as well. His defensive effort on Kobe was noble. But his beautiful, deadly jump shot, the main reason he will be feted in Springfield someday, suddenly had the look and effect of Tony Allen's last night. If just two more had dropped . . .
Paul Pierce can opt out of his deal, and with the uncertain labor situation, it might be the prudent thing to do, at least in his agent's mind. Rasheed Wallace, who played his best when it mattered the most, just as he told his would in the midst of his 82-game paid holiday, might retire, and I sincerely hope he does not, something I could not have imagined writing six weeks ago. The man knows how to play intelligent, efficient basketball. And when he chooses to, he is a marvel to watch, with his high-arcing bank shots and sack of sneaky defensive tricks, including the old Rick Mahorn deception of pulling away when an offensive player tries to lean on him, sometimes leading to an embarrassing fall to the floor, a turnover, and a good laugh.
And there's the coach, Doc Rivers. I've written this before, but it bears repeating given that last night's postgame press conference, during which he spoke of his team emotionally and in the past tense, certainly felt like an exit interview. He is the perfect coach for this proud bunch, shrewd enough with the Xs and Os, always on point when delivering a message ("keep being aggressive" and "trust each other, don't be a hero" were two of his spot-on go-to pleas last night), and an absolutely gifted and genuine people person. Yes, his use of the bench through the years brought him criticism in certain circles, but would you have had the daring to stick with Big Baby, Nate Robinson, and the second unit in the pivotal moments of Game 4? Doc is his own man, the Terry Francona of basketball, and if he never won you over, that's an issue with yourself, not one with him. I'm 99 percent sure he's gone. That other 1 percent? That represents the desperate hope that he finds it as hard to move on from this team as we are right now.
Maybe I'm alone in this, but my fondness for this team comes pretty close to, if not slightly exceeds, my fondness of the champs from two years ago. Yes, Banner 17 was wonderful, and how I would have loved to see Leon Powe, James Posey, and especially the 2007-08 version of P.J. Brown last night. But there was just a bit of a mercenary vibe with that team, a small one, yes, but we really embraced them as entirely ours only after they were champions. Garnett and Allen had just arrived, and we weren't fully aware of their quirks and traits and strengths and flaws like we are now, after three seasons, through the peaks and valleys and victories and disappointments. KG and Ray, they're our guys now. We've watched them through the battles. We know who they are. We remember the hard, winding journey to get here, a journey that was supposed to end in Orlando, if not Cleveland before.
Which is why it was hard to watch them lose when victory was at their fingertips, only to deflect away to the Lakers like so many rebounds. And why it will be harder to watch them go, disappointment their parting memory of a three-year ride that all in all has been a hell of a lot of fun, save for the famous final scene.
1. Paul Pierce's hero complex was in full bloom at the end of the first half in Game 5. His self-confidence in big situations might be his greatest strength, but it's also something of a flaw when it manifests itself in petulance when he doesn't get the ball. Tonight, I have no doubt it's going prove to be a good thing for the Celtics. You look back on his career, back to The Truth and 'Toine years, and he's delivered in many more crucial moments and games than for which he is typically credited.
2. Rajon Rondo showed off a gear beyond his usual "turbo" in Game 5, and it wasn't a good thing. After his little scrap with Ron Artest, he was often ahead of the play and slightly out of control, and while Pierce's behavior at the end of the first half was inexcusable, his frustration was understandable. Rondo has to be more poised tonight, and it doesn't hurt to feed the hot hand.
3. Ray Allen hit eight 3-pointers in Game 2 -- which accounts for his entire total of makes in this series in 29 attempts from beyond the stripe. That has got to change tonight, right?
4. It will be fascinating to see if Pau Gasol tries to get physical against Kevin Garnett tonight, because Game 5 was a flashback to the days when KG owned the former Memphis forward, who in those days had a deserved rep as a softie.
5. If Nate Robinson at his cocky, never-seen-a-shot-he-couldn't-make best doesn't give you flashbacks to Vinny "The Microwave" Johnson, you must be younger than me.
6. Perk's done a fine job of resisting one of his favorite pastimes -- cussing at the zebras. Hopefully, his poise with the whistle blowers carries over to next season.
7. Gotta give Mike Adams credit. Pau Gasol looks exactly like a llama.
8. Whenever Ron Artest has the ball, his man should immediately double on Kobe Bryant. Shoot, Ron! Shoot! You're open! Don't listen to Phil! Queensbridge!
9. Rasheed Wallace has become one of my favorite Celtics to watch, and I do say that with a little bit of shame given that he made roughly $5.8 million this season to coast 3-point line to 3-point line, at least during the regular season. Now, when he tees up one of those 3's, how can you resist yelling, "Sheeeeed"?
10. I sincerely hope Doc Rivers isn't down to his final two games -- perhaps even final game -- of his Celtics coaching career. He's the Terry Francona of the NBA -- good strategist, brilliant people-person -- and he deserves his due for what's he's accomplished here, particularly this season.
11. I love how Doc is always on point when ESPN shows him talking to the team during timeouts. It's quite a contrast from Phil Jackson, whose Zen wisdom during the final moments of Game 5 did not involve advice or strategy, but snide remarks about the Celtics.
12. Tom Thibodeau is pretty damn good at his job, too. Here's hoping Bulls fans feel the same way next year.
13. Lamar Odom seems like a swell guy, but there can't be many players in the league who are more exasperating to coach. For a 6-foot-10-inch southpaw with a variety of offensive skills, he sure does know how to make himself invisible.
14. I'm not saying I think the Celtics will be playing 5 on 8 for a good part of the game tonight, but rumor has it the refs are Bennett Salvatore, Dyann Cannon, and Joe West.
15. Phil Jackson should use Shannon Brown more. He's given the Celtics problems in a similar way to how Tony Allen has pestered the Lakers. Of course, Phil is too busy thinking up his next passive-aggressive way to patronize Doris Burke.
16. Kobe Bryant's post-loss press conferences have become mesmerizing television. He's alternately snide, disinterested, insightful, and patronizing, and he does it all the while still utilizing his starter kit of Michael Jordan Facial Tics And Mannerisms his dad Jellybean got him as a kid.
17. I'd really love to see another of those press conferences tonight. Que pasa, Kobe?
18. As for tonight's Completely Random Basketball card:
Between the photo at the top and Mr. Russell here, I'd say we have our appropriate harbingers in place for tonight's requirements.
Seven immediate overreactions in the wake of the Celtics' 91-84 Game 3 loss -- or one for each game I believe this series is going . . .
1. That was just . . . aggravating. If you've got a better word for what transpired at the Garden tonight, let me know. The Celtics came out of the gates looking like the night would be theirs, Kevin Garnett immediately quieted his growing chorus of doubters will the first six points, and it looked like the home team might pull away. Then, before you knew it, the offense had gone frigid and lost any semblance of flow, the Lakers sizzled, and the deficit was double figures. I suppose they deserve some credit for chipping what was once a 17-point LA lead down to six after three quarters and just one early in the fourth, but even that was frustrating. On the multiple occasions when they had the chance to tie or take the lead, inevitably, something would go wrong, be it a physical mistake, a mental error, a missed shot, an offensive foul, a bad bounce, a Ray Allen clank. It would be easy to write it off as one of those nights, but those nights are tough to afford in the Finals, particularly in the always pivotal Game 3.
2. Positives for the Celtics, if you're interested in such things: KG, who submitted pretty close to a vintage Big Ticket performance with 25 points on 11 of 16 shooting. He was aggressive from the get-go, and his matchup with Pau Gasol (13 points, one flop so egregious that even Manu Ginobili thought it was a little much) is back to being a relatively even one. Big Baby came up with some big hoops, finishing with 12 points, Sheed nobly battled Gasol despite a back issue that's clearly killing him, and Tony Allen was Good Tony tonight, scoring seven points, resisting the temptation to dribble and letting Rondo bring the game to him, and defending Kobe doggedly and with discipline until he had to leave to get eight stitches after Kobe probably accidentally kicked him in the face.
3. From Jordan '92 vs. the Blazers to DJ '78 vs. the Bullets in the matter of one game. I'd be amazed at the ridiculous peaks and valleys of Ray Allen over these past two games if I weren't so aggravated and, well, puzzled. He had good looks, the same looks he had during his historic first half in Game 2. He got the ball in his favorite spots. Yet he missed. And missed. And missed. And missed, 13 in a row all told, and it was only appropriate that he even missed a bunny on an offense foul call on Garnett in the final minutes. Maybe his legs were tired -- as Doc Rivers pointed out in the postgame, the majority of his misses were short and flat, a telltale sign. Maybe the charley horse on the Ron Artest cheap shot (I should probably be more specific) in the early minutes affected him. Maybe it just wasn't his night. Or maybe you just shouldn't bother trying to explain the inexplicable. Looking at the stat sheet, though, it stands out that he played 42:09, second only to Rondo (42:28). I understand the idea of letting him shoot his way out of it -- that's almost always a good policy with Allen. But perhaps tonight -- and yes, this is wholly with the benefit of hindsight -- maybe a little more rest along the way would have served him well.
4. Derek Fisher seems like a swell guy. He's a four-time champion, as Mike Breen likes to remind us every time the Lakers' point guard touches the basketball. He's probably as classy as Breen tells us after every time he's interviewed. He's smart, experienced in these moments, savvy, rarely unnerved. He's going to make a hell of a coach someday if that's what he desires. But . . . but . . . BUT. . . there is absolutely no way the Celtics should allow a short, 34-year-old who chronically plays to his strong hand to drop 16 points on them, let alone 10 in the decisive quarter. I know Fisher has done this before, and it's why he'll be remembered long after the final buzzer sounds on his career. But he should not be able to do it now, against this team, under these circumstances, with so much at stake.
5. I really thought Paul Pierce was going to get it going, that he'd be the one to hit the big shot to put the Celtics over the hump. He's done it so many times before to salvage dismal (by his standards) performances that it seemed reasonable to expect it again, particularly after he drilled the 3 to cut the Lakers lead to 78-76 with 4:10 left. But it never happened -- he scored just two more baskets, both within the final 40 seconds. I've seen enough from Pierce through the years to believe he's going to deliver some huge shots in victory before this series is through -- his hero complex is both among his greatest assets and greatest flaws. It might help if he could turn Ron Artest's aggression against him and start getting to the line more often -- he shot just three free throws tonight.
6. I hate to give Phil Jackson any credit because . . . because I hate to give Phil Jackson any credit and I shouldn't have to explain that around here. He's the only person I've ever seen who can patronize me through the television screen. (Don't condescend me, man . . . ) But his trademark smug, snarky, oh-so-casual griping about the officials after Game 2 paid off tonight -- the Lakers were called for 20 fouls to the Celtics' 27. And Jackson also deserves -- sigh of resignation -- more praise for dusting off Luke Walton, who defended Pierce better than you'd expect and finished a plus-13 in 13 minutes of playing time.
7. Watching Comcast SportsNet New England's postgame show as I write this. Gary Tanguay is talking about the "maturation" of Kobe Bryant. Uh, not what I saw. Kobe shot 10 for 29, bickered with Lamar Odom in a late huddle, and fired up some absolutely Antoinesque heaves down the stretch. There are many better games than this one to praise Kobe. The Celtics had better hope Game 4 isn't one of them, or Pierce's unfortunate gum-flapping proclamation that this series isn't going back to LA may prove truer than he ever imagined.
(OK, that was too ominous. It's going seven. And I'm going to keep telling myself that, thank you.)
Ten free minutes for me, 10 free throwaway lines for you . . .
1. OK, suckers, answer me this: Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Florida for Hanley Ramirez -- who blinks, Marlins or Red Sox?
(Yes, this is a test. If you're pondering the question seriously, I'm going to assume you're probably on hold with Ordway.)
We all heard the stories about Hanley's maturity issues when he was in the Sox system, but you'd think, at age 26, he'd be past the point where teammates want to beat him up every other day.
Yet there he was, dogging it so blatantly last night that even Manny Ramirez is probably insulted by his lack of respect for the game, then showing an utter lack of accountability and class afterward in undermining his manager and enraging his teammates.
At least there was usually a goofy charm to Manny when he was driving us crazy with his antics. Hanley's petulant insubordination seems a little more foreboding, and it's going to be fascinating to see how this plays out, because humility and contrition clearly aren't among his many tools.
2. To those of you who have wondered why I've always been steadily but vaguely skeptical of the alleged leadership virtues of Mike Lowell, today's passive/aggressive statement in which he says he might consider asking for his release -- coming a day after an absolutely devastating loss in which the club really doesn't need petty distractions -- goes on the board as a point in my favor.
3. I've always thought signing Lowell was the only truly sentimental move the Sox have made in Theo's reign. Fans desperately wanted him back, he'd just been named the World Series MVP. . . ah, hell, Jed, why not, we'll give him the three years.
I suspect today isn't the first day they've had some level of buyer's remorse, even with his decent production when healthy.
To Lowell's credit -- and this must be acknowledged -- he did turn down four years and $50 million from the Phillies to remain with the Sox. That home-team discount isn't ending well for either side.
4. NESN has been showing so many Taylor Hall highlights lately that you'd think the Bruins have the first pick rather than the second. Yet from what I've read outside of this market, it's very far from a sure thing that Edmonton will pick Tyler Seguin just because they need centers.
In a related note, this is the first time in my life I've been more interested in the NHL Draft than the NBA Draft, including the year the Bruins snapped up Joe Thornton first overall. You might recall that just four days after Jumbo Joe was drafted, Tim Duncan went to the Spurs, and Rick Pitino assured us that Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer were the future.
5. Ideal offseason for the Bruins: re-sign Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk, convince Methuselah Recchi to stick around one more year, swap Tim Thomas for a forward with a nose for the net, let Shaun Thornton depart, bring in a cheaper character fourth-liner or two, send maddening softy Blake Wheeler on his way to become someone else's enigma, tell Milan Lucic he was right to be frustrated that they went into the equivalent of a prevent defense in Game 7, send subliminal messages to Oilers GM Steve Tambellini to take Seguin, and hope David Krejci hands haven't lost any magic because of his devastating injury.
Voila . . . 2010-11 Eastern Conference champions, no?
(Don't you love how I'm suddenly Mr. Puckhead after covering two playoff games? OK, smart guys and girls, you tell me what the Bruins should do.)FULL ENTRY
Is it wrong to be just a little bit annoyed at these rampaging Boston Celtics for their casual cruise through the final two-thirds of the regular season?
I mean, after devastating the favored Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semis before taking Game 1 from Orlando Sunday, you, me, LeBron, LeBron's mom and future stepdad Delonte, and the entire Van Gundy clan now possess enough evidence to make a case that they were capable of considerably greater things than 50 victories and the fourth seed.
(Re-reads previous paragraphs, slaps extra-thick forehead.)
Ah, who am I kidding? While it's insulting to a basketball fan's senses that Rasheed Wallace glided hazily through the regular season while making enough coin to purchase Flyers hats for everyone he's ever met, he and his teammates brought their Sunday best versus the Magic, continuing their postseason trend of playing at their peak when the stakes are highest.
It goes without saying that it has been an absolute treat to watch. But we like to say it anyway.
These Celtics told us they'd turn it on when they had to, and damned if they haven't done just that. Maybe you wish they'd stepped a bit harder on the accelerator during some of the miles along the way during this "Drive to 18," if only to save you 2 1/2-hours of aggravation during one of those nights when they're barely engaged and allow the likes of the New Jersey Nets to believe they're an actual NBA team.
But there's no way around it -- the way the Celtics are playing right now entirely justifies the means, and while we're not counting their Eastern Conference titles before they've hatched, their destination and destiny could very well be another showdown with the Lakers in the NBA Finals. No one around here is going to complain should another chapter in that rivalry soon be written.
Besides -- and I suppose this point is so relevant to their current supreme state that I should have acknowledged it sooner -- who's to say that they'd be in this position had they exerted maximum effort and resources to win Games 1-82 (or 28-82, we should say, given their stellar 23-5 start).
Doc Rivers, whose numerous attributes as a coach include an uncommon knack for ignoring the temptation of short-term fixes during tumultuous times and maintaining focus on the big picture, wisely parsed the minutes of his crucial veterans even if it cost them a W or two along the way. It's hard to imagine Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett would be playing so well -- and playing so much younger than their years -- had Doc not been so relatively prudent with their court time.
Of course, the fun isn't only in the results. It's in watching the players who have made them happen. So before we go, here, in no particular order, are
some quick some longer than expected comments on a few of the crucial figures in this resurgence.
'Sheed: It's not the greatest reflection of his character that he could be so apathetic during the regular season, heaving 3s from downtown 'Toineville and undoubtedly driving Tom Thibodeau to the fringe of felonious assault with this lethargic what-you-expect-me-to-move? defensive rotations. As my man Chris Gasper pointed out, at least he was honest. He came here for the playoffs, he's showed up for the playoffs . . . and on Sunday, he was extremely fun to watch, whether he was launching a picturesque rainbow 3-ball from the corner or messing with Dwight Howard when Kendrick Perkins caught a breather.
Kevin Garnett: You realize what's happening with him right now is pretty much a basketball miracle, right? A soon-to-be-34-year-old veteran of 15 NBA seasons -- a player who has logged nearly 45,000 minutes in his career -- struggles through the season a year after suffering an unusual and complicated knee injury. His leaping ability and lateral quickness seem gone for good. Oh, he's still a quality player, but his days of changing games on both ends of the floor seem to be past. And then, all of a sudden, he's KG again. The knee feels better -- he actually got better while playing during the season, and think about that for a moment -- and he uncommon quickness for such a tall man somehow returns. I still don't know how this happened, especially since reports of a sore foot and ankle against Cleveland struck my cynical self as code for "his knee is acting up again." But I'm not going wonder why or how, and instead enjoy the now, because this much I know: I was pretty sure we'd never see this version of Kevin Garnett again.
Kendrick Perkins: He does the dirty work while the Big Four (yeah, it's official) gets the glory, and, unusually for a player so young, he actually seems to prefer it that way. Watching him irritate, frustrate, and expose Dwight Howard in Game 1, I can't help but admire him the way my old man did Paul Silas.
Paul Pierce: I suspect once the season comes to an end we're going to hear about a Web MD's worth of injuries that Pierce fought through this season. So it was encouraging to see him look like his usual self, playing his signature shrewd offensive game of balance, fakes, and angles, during Game 1 against Orlando. And he should be somewhat rejuvenated in this series now that he doesn't have to deal with the LeBron Experience. Beware, Vince Carter.
Ray Allen: No, as the song goes, he's not as good as he once was, and there's a long history of shooting guards in Allen's losing their skills rapidly when they were in Sugar Ray's current age bracket. (Mitch Richmond famously went from averaging roughly 16 points per game to the side of a milk carton in the matter of a year.) While Allen may not be a Reggie Miller-type exception to this rule, there are logical reasons to think he can continue to play at his current high level for a few more years. He's in tremendous shape. He's methodical-to-the-point-of-obsession about preparation and routine. He's still one of the most efficient scorers in NBA history if you look at his 3-point and free-throw percentages, and two of his three best shooting percentages have come the past two seasons. And in a totally in-the-moment sense, is there anyone else in Celtics history -- save for No. 33 -- who you'd want on the line with the outcome in the balance, as it was in the final seconds Sunday? It's probably too early for such chatter, but I hope they re-sign him.
Rajon Rondo: We heard about chemistry issues from time to time with this team this season, and it seemed the general consensus was that they were related to Sheed and his antics. But my suspicion -- one which Garnett came close to confirming the other day -- is that some of the issues stemmed from the fact that Rondo emerged as the team's best (or at least most indispensable) player this season, and some of the veterans weren't quite prepared for that transition, particularly since Rondo has hardly been the deferential or humble sort when it comes to expressing faith in his own skills. Fortunately, the egos were sorted out and checked at the postseason's door, with everyone sharing the common goal. And it certainly does not hurt that Rondo has as much substance as flash -- not only does he make the spectacular plays, but much more often than not, he makes the right plays. He is a true point guard, a floor general in full, and those who might have resented his cockiness are wise enough to realize that their team's fortunes couldn't be in better hands.
Tony Allen: He's become what Marquis Daniels was supposed to be, and yes, that is a lot. He's their best perimeter defender (especially now that he's learned to resist upfakes that have too often resulted in three free throws for a smirking opponent). He's developed a rapport with Rondo on the break. He's proving that the athletic force who was blossoming offensively in 2006-07 before a foolish knee injury is not gone for good and was not the product of a wretched team. He's playing within himself and resisting the temptation to overdribble, yet generating more breathtaking feats than any player other than Rondo. I did not believe he had this in him. Then again, I'd have said the same about his team just a couple of weeks ago.
A rough transcription of my phone interview with Celtics legend and TNT's Kevin McHale for this week's media column (which you can find right here):
Me: "Um, hi, Kevin. I'm . . . Chad Finn . . . and I write about sports media for The Boston Globe . . . I also write a periodically updated blog about baseball, sports, my cat, and Pam Beesley. . . it's an honor to talk to one of the great post players in NBA history . . . "
[Smacking myself] "GOD! That sounds stupid! God, I'm an idiot! I never know how to start these things!"
McHale: "You're doing great, Chad."
Me: [Hopefully] "Really? No, I'm not."
[Hyperventilating] "Anyway.. I guess . . . I didn't have, have to say, who you were, because . . . man, I mean . . . everyone knows who you are. Mmm . . . you're Kevin McHale. No. 32 . . . Max called you Munster . . . long arms."
McHale: "Yes. Do you want to talk about the NBA and my job on TNT and NBA TV and coming back to Boston?"
Me: [uncomfortable ] "Um . . . yes. You . . . you . . . you remember when you were on the 1985-86 Celtics?"
McHale: "Yeah, sure."
Me: "That was awesome!"
McHale: "Yeah, it was."
Me: "O-kay.. Oh! You.. you remember when you were on "Cheers . . . and, uh, you became obsessed counting the bolts in the Garden floor . . . and . . . and you stopped caring about the Celtics . . . And it made all the papers, and everything?"
McHale: "Well, to be honest, Chad, I'd kind of like to forget all of that."
Me: [smacking myself again] "Idiot! That's so stupid! What a dumb question!"
OK, so maybe it didn't quite go like that. (Or this.) But you know me. It could have.
And if you want to move on from this to an entertaining blog post now, here's one by Ken Levine -- who co-wrote the Garden/bolts "Cheers" episode, which, as you may recall, also had a cameo from none other than Glenn Ordway -- on how much of a natural McHale was as a comedic actor.
* * *
Hat tip here for the partial transcript.
If you missed it or couldn't find it, this week's media column can be found right here.
As you might have suspected had you read the piece in the paper or know me at all, I had intended to write about Tommy Heinsohn and Mike Gorman's take on the Celtics entering Tuesday's opener . . . and then The New York Post found out about Steve Phillips's fledgling Alex Forrest wannabe, and you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
(Um . . . I'm talking about my plans there, not Phillips's. Just to be clear.)
Anyway, as you might expect, Heinsohn and Gorman were terrific to talk to, opinionated and funny and candid about the team for which they'll be calling games for the 29th straight year on television.
I didn't want it to go to waste -- and didn't want to completely end up wasting their time -- so I figured I'd dish out some of the stuff that didn't fit or have a place in the media column right here.
ON RASHEED WALLACE:
Heinsohn: "The word before they got him, and we never really got to know him personally as an opposing player, is that he was temperamental and could be moody. But from what we've seen here, he's a terrific team player, he already has great chemistry with his teammates, which is hard to do in the preseason, and you know what, he's actually a pretty quiet guy. He sits away from the card game [on the team plane] and just watches movies and sort of keeps to himself."
Gorman: "I tell you, Rasheed has been a pleasant surprise. You always heard the horror stories when he was in other places when he was a younger player, but he's been a delightful surprise to us. He's quiet, but if you ask him about his kids, he's such a proud dad, and he'll talk with you about them forever. He's a much different guy off the court than his reputation would indicate. And you heard so much about his behavior on the court -- which isn't that new to us, we're used to the Antoines of the world -- but you wondered how that would go over here. But one thing I was pretty sure of: This is KG's team, and Rasheed would fall in line with that. They are old friends, KG is the dominant personality here, and Rasheed won't be a locker room problem with Kevin around."
ON KEVIN GARNETT'S HEALTH:
Gorman: "Coming in to camp, you hoped to see that old explosiveness back. But it takes some time after a prolonged injury. You have to get rid of that hesitance to really get back to 100 percent, and Kevin is certainly showing signs that he's getting back to everything he was in 2007 and last year before the injury."
ON THE REPLACEMENT REFEREES:
Heinsohn: "Well, obviously, they're not going to be as accomplished as the regular referees. You just have to hope they don't call 100 fouls a game. They can't call everything like a college game, because guys will start fouling out in about five minutes. Hey, it's a tough job to officiate in the pros. I do know that, believe it or not. [Laughs.] But the new guys . . . they're not going to see the little tricks, the little bumps and sneaky moves that veteran guys will use to bait them."
On whether he has sympathy for them:
"Well, I wouldn't quite put it that way." [Laughs]
ON THEIR APPROACH TO CALLING A GAME:
Gorman: "Tommy and I both have experience calling games at a national level, and in that situation, when you're working for a network, you find yourselves introducing the players over and over again, talking about the stars and probably being a little more basic or general than you would calling a game in a specific market. You have to treat both teams as if its the home team, and because of the audience, you're constantly introducing both teams and emphasizing storylines. We realized a long time ago, even back to when the games were on Prism [one of Comcast Sports New England's predecessors as the television home of the Celtics], that our audience was actually seeking us out to watch the Celtics, and from that, you realize the viewers and fans already know all they want and need to know about [Paul] Pierce and [Kevin] Garnett. At the national level, there are hours of prep work before a game, talking about players and storylines, and you almost had to justify the production meeting during the broadcast by using the information. But with this [calling the Celtics], we realize know one stumbles on to watching us, they're informed the moment they tune in. So there's a minimum amount of homework. If a story or angle seems applicable at the moment, we talk about it, but because our viewers are plugged in to the team when they tune in and because we're so comfortable with each other, in a way, we just sit down and see where the game takes us."
ON RAJON RONDO:
(The precocious point guard recently found himself in the midst of mini-controversy after some pointed but hardly harsh comments from coach Doc Rivers were misinterpreted by ESPN basketball writer Chad Ford, who tweeted: ‘‘Doc Rivers does ANOTHER hit job on Rajon Rondo. What the heck is going on in Boston?”)
Heinsohn: "[The perception that Rivers has an issue with Rondo is] ridiculous. Doc’s not knocking the kid, he’s an ex-point guard trying to get the best out of him. Rondo has terrific confidence, he’s 23 years old, he has Hall of Fame potential. So what if he doesn't have a 3-point shot. He has a terrific basketball mind. He's the best athlete on the team. Making a big deal [out of Rivers’s comments] is just talk-show stuff, something to flap about. Rondo’s the closest thing the Celtics have had since [Bob] Cousy. He’s a master of the offense, he's aggressive, he controls the pace. Without him, this team goes nowhere, all right?
"You write this: ‘Tommy says leave the kid alone!' "
Catching up on the headlines I missed while lumbering around sunny Acadia . . .
If Orlando Cabrera had pulled a Lugo upon coming over to the Sox in the shocking three-way deal that sent Nomar to the Cubs at the 2004 trading deadline, Boston fans may be considerably more bitter -- and less forgiving -- than they are nowadays, after a pair of championships.
But Cabrera proved a perfect fit on the 2004 champs, a dependable shortstop with the knack for a clutch hit, and so Nomar's bitter transgressions during that season are more easily forgotten.
That's not to suggest he didn't deserve the "Welcome Back, Nomahhhh!" moment last night. While the five-year gap between his acrimonious departure -- and by the way, it seems to me neither side has yet been completely honest about what went wrong here -- probably helped restore some of the misty watercolors to our memories, the truth is rather simple: If you watched Nomar during his heyday with the Sox, you can't help but have warm memories about his time here.
During the late 1990s -- particularly '99, when the Red Sox reached the ALCS with a roster made up of Pedro, Nomar, and 23 role players and Dan Duquette reclamation projects -- he might have been the most versatile and dangerous hitter in the game. As rookie in '97, he hit 30 home runs, and his hustling style and quirky mannerisms spawned a generation of mimicking Little Leaguers. In 1998, he batted .323 with 35 homers. His entire '99 campaign -- when he batted .357 to win the first of his back-to-back batting titles -- felt like Dustin Pedroia's torrid streak last summer. It seemed as if Nomar concluded every single trip to the plate with a line drive. In 2000, he batted .372, and for a time we thought he might make a run at .400 -- he was batting .403 after the first game of a doubleheader on July 20 -- which only seemed appropriate given that Ted Williams was counted among his admirers.
There's no need to rehash the infamous SI cover, the wrist injury, or how it all went wrong -- plenty of ink and bandwidth has been spent on that the past five years. Nomar Garciaparra was a deserving New England icon for the better part of a decade. Last night, it was nice to see the player and the city acknowledge their mutual appreciation of the good times.FULL ENTRY
Just a quickie, semi-coherent post on today's trade rumor du jour regarding Rajon Rondo.
I want Rondo and Ray Allen and the core of the NBA champions once-removed back next season to try to make it two Larry O'Brien trophies out of three, preferably at the Lakers' expense . . .
. . . and yet I am completely intrigued by the possibility of dealing the Celtics' starting backcourt to the Detroit Pistons for guards Rip Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey and forward Tayshaun Prince.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski's report on Yahoo! Sports today, the Pistons shot down the proposal without any discussion between front-office bosses Danny Ainge and Joe Dumars. And I suppose that's good. Because after spending a good part of the afternoon pondering the pros and cons of this, I can't make up my mind if I would want this to happen. Know what I mean?
There are very few Celtics players in my 30 years or so as a fan who I've enjoyed watching more than Rondo, at least when he's going well. You know his many attributes: Electric athlete, a true point guard's playmaking skills, a clever finisher, unusually adept rebounder for a guard.
He is one of those charismatic performers who pulls off some jaw-dropping play about every game that gets you, Mike, and Tommy fired up to watch the replay. I'd be bummed if some other franchise's fans got to watch Rondo grow into the prime of his career.
I don't mean to make the admirable Ray Allen the afterthought here. But with his contract coming off the books next season, it's not a surprise that the Celtics would at least throw the a into the water and see what's out there for a classy, clutch 34-year-old shooting guard. But upon first glance, it is a complete surprise that they might be willing to deal Rondo, whose immediate future here would seem to be as secure as anyone's on the roster.
That's not to suggest that Rondo is a flawless or finished product. His jump shot is a menace to rims everywhere, and Doc Rivers isn't the first coach to be frustrated by his attitude, which sometimes tilts toward pigheaded rather than precocious. So with further consideration, you bet I believe there is something to this, despite Ainge's non-denial denials today. I don't necessarily think Ainge is trying to deal Rondo -- but if the right, reasonable deal came along, he would have no qualms about sending the 23-year-old point guard elsewhere, even to an Eastern Conference rival such as Detroit.
It is easy to see how Ainge might have considered the Detroit proposal "the right deal" from a basketball sense. Nobody in the league is better at coming off screens and burying mid-range jumpers than Hamilton, and he gives it his best effort on the defensive end as well. It's debatable whether Stuckey is a true point guard, but his talent is indisputable -- he averaged more than 15 points and 5 assists per game in his second NBA season, and at worst he'd be an extremely capable combo guard. The lanky, versatile Prince would give the Celtics the true sixth man they lacked a year ago. Bringing in those three high-quality players in exchange for Rondo and Allen would be daring, but it also could well prove to be a stroke of genius on Ainge's part come next June.
Then again, keeping the starting five in place that won last June may be the shrewdest mode of operation. I'd love to know what Ainge's ideal outcome -- within reason -- would be in terms of transactions this offseason.
Guess we'll just have to keep wondering if and until one of these rumors comes to life.
Took a night off from sports last night. (Well, to be precise, the "night off" began after Tim Wakefield's game-altering pitch to Mike Napoli, but before it cleared the wall in center field for a game-changing three-run homer. Totally saw that one coming.)
Finally watched "Gone Baby Gone" instead. A masterpiece for Ben Affleck (did I just write that?), wholly superior to the "The Departed" . . . and absolutely crushing if you are a parent or Morgan Freeman. Pretty sure I'll never watch it again. And I especially wished I'd stuck with the Sox after realizing I'd missed Daniel Bard's debut.
Oh, well. I'm not missing a sporting thing tonight, what with yet another Bruins/Celtics simultaneous postseason doubleheader. As a matter of fact, I've already drawn up a short list of things I'm hoping to see. Such as . . .
. . . J.J. Redick continuing to shoot like he's still at Duke and a Final Four berth is on the line.
. . . Dwight Howard getting his wish and getting the ball in the clutch. I'm all for a 57 percent free-throw shooter with no offensive game to speak of outside of six feet demanding the rock.
. . . Perk, doing his usual dirty work. Gotta write a full column about him one of those days. He's beast, you know.
. . . Dick Bavetta forgetting which team is playing at home.
. . . Stan Van Gundy's shrill, cliche-ridden, completely uninspired instructions during a timeout.
. . . The "We just have to listen to this guy for two more games, tops" looks on the faces of the Magic players.
. . . More of that dipstick Skip To My Lou. Less of Courtney Lee, who could be the Rodney Stuckey of this series if Van Hedgehog would let him.
. . . Rajon Rondo shaking off his strange recent lethargy and making the Magic pay for daring him to shoot.
. . . The Truth and Shuttlesworth on fire in the same game for once.
. . . Big Baby driving up his price even more with a 20/10 performance. You can bet the Magic fans on the sidelines will be aware of his whereabouts at all times tonight.FULL ENTRY
What. An. Epic. There were enough plot twists and peaks and valleys, Brad Miller chest-thumps and Rajon Rondo Hinrich-slaps, Ray Allen "Did he really just do that?" swishes and Tony Allen "Did he really just do that?" mishaps in 63 minutes last night to fill the highlight (or lowlight) reel of an entire seven-game series.
Naturally, in a 128-127 triple-overtime marathon/heavyweight bout, there were more than a few memorable individual performances. Let's flash back to a few . . .
Ray Allen: He might be the only player ever to score 51 points while sometimes becoming an afterthought in his team's offense along the way. My biggest frustration from last night's game -- other than every time Tony Allen arrived at the scorer's table -- was that the Celtics didn't make every effort to get Sugar Ray a touch on every single possession. I don't care if three Bulls were draped on him. You know why? He was so hot, so in the zone, that it wouldn't have mattered which Bulls -- or how many -- were guarding him. Yet I don't think he took a shot in the final two minutes of regulation, and it seemed like every time the Celtics got a lead of more than a point or two, they forgot about him. From the fourth quarter on, it felt like every shot he took came in a moment of desperation -- with the Celtics down two, or three, with the game hanging in the balance -- and more often than not, he'd drill it with something straight out of Larry Bird's big-game repertoire. It was the defining performance of Allen's Hall of Fame career, it should forever silence the nitwits who think he still has something to prove here, and yet we're left with one lingering lament: If only his coach and teammates had given him a shot to do just a little bit more.
Joakim Noah: He's a preening, annoying, look-at-me goofball. He shoots like he's playing tetherball with Napoleon Dynamite. High def does him no favors. And man, don't I wish the Celtics had someone just like him. He never stops hustling, never stops clawing for rebounds and bounding into passing lanes, and his world-class athletic genes were on display when he outran Paul Pierce for three quarters of the court for his game-changing dunk. Yes, he's a pest. Yes, he makes a convenient villain. Yes, I'm pretty sure they're flat-out lying when they tell us him mom was a Swedish model. So where can we get one just like him?
Paul Pierce: He just looks tired. Exhausted, actually. The combination of trying chase the spry young Bulls around on defense while having to carry his usual heavy offensive burden on the other end seems to be weighing on No. 34, and it was never more noticeable than a second or two before he made the fatal turnover and foul in the third overtime. Pierce had the ball at the foul line extended, near the 3-point line. To his left, the lane was wide-open. You saw it. He saw it. The situation called for one of his trademark slashing drives, probably with some contact at the end, maybe a layup plus one. He began to make his move . . . and nothing. It was like his legs refused to cooperate. The defense closed in and cutoff the lane, he had no Plan B, and the next thing you know he was making Noah into a temporary folk hero in Chicago. It was a terrible turnover, but it was not an inexcusable one. Even warriors get worn out sometimes.
John Salmons: What more can you say? He out-Pierced Pierce, slashing to the hoop pretty much at will, even with a full hour's worth of playing time. Who knew when it happened that the Bulls' trade of space-shot Drew Gooden and Andres Nocioni to the Kings for Salmons and Brad Miller in February -- which was essentially a Chicago salary dump -- could conceivably play a major role in ending the Celtics' championship reign? (By the way, in that link above, it's noted that the T-Wolves tried to convince the Bulls into trading Kirk Hinrich in another salary dump. How much do you wish that had happened right now?)FULL ENTRY
Putting aside any rooting interest for a moment -- I know, not the easiest thing to do in the hours before the fifth game of an unexpectedly grueling playoff series -- let me just reiterate what is plainly obvious to any genuine hoops junkies who have been paying attention to this Bulls-Celtics playoff showdown:
Man, this has been one wildly enjoyable series.
In fact, purely from the perspective of someone who savors watching two evenly matched but entirely dissimilar basketball teams punch and counter-punch each other possession after possession, I wouldn't be devastated if this series goes seven games. And I say that knowing full well that the Celtics need all the rest they can get in their noble (and most likely ill-fated) attempt to defend their title. I'm enjoying this, and I'm not sure I want it to end before it has to.
Consider what we've seen so far, through just four games: rookie Derrick Rose's arrival as a star in Game 1, the Ray Allen-Ben Gordon epic shootout in Game 2 . . . Rajon Rondo's emergence as the Celtics' most indispensable player while averaging a triple-double in the series . . . a lengthy series of what-ifs (Pierce's missed free throw in Game 1, Rondo's rock of a jumper at the end of the first overtime in Game 4) that make you mentally replay the game long after the final buzzer . . . and of course, the highlight reel's worth of plot twists and crucial plays in the double-overtime grind of Game 4. (That game belongs on an endless loop on ESPN Classic. You know, if it showed something other than bowling and poker reruns.)
As for tonight's pivotal Game 5 (you can't mention a Game 5 without "pivotal" preceding it -- unwritten rule), I'm going to stay away from my usual overly hopeful proclamations. You know, these sorts of things:
Paul Pierce is gonna drop 40 tonight. Maybe 45. Why? Because he is The Truth, that's why!
Rajon Rondo? Automatic quintuple-double. Put it in the books now!
Mark my words: Tonight's the night Mikki Moore is on the court for more than 30 seconds without completing the silly foul/failure to box out/unforced turnover trifecta!
No, for once we'll wisely hold off on the hyperbole here. (Especially on that last one.) Instead, I'm focusing on the smaller things, sweating the details, pondering the logical ways the defending champion Celtics can prevail in this basketball game tonight.
Mostly, it's stuff that's as fundamental as Red on Roundball. They need to play consistent, unyielding, inspired defense, not only against the dead-eye Gordon on the perimeter (assuming he plays, and I am, despite his claim that he needs a "miracle"), but on the interior as well, where Kevin Garnett's absence is lamented with every late rotation by the Celtics' big men and every easy put-back by the likes of Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. If they play as well defensively as they are capable of -- even sans KG -- they will return to Chicago up a game. It's that simple.FULL ENTRY
Poor Leon Powe. The number of lucky breaks the Celtics' tough and tireless backup forward has had through the years is right there on his jersey -- 0.
All he seems to get are cruel twists. The latest: a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee, suffered in the second quarter of the Celtics' 118-115 victory over the Chicago Bulls Monday night. He's out for the rest of the playoffs, and perhaps beyond.
We'll second the sentiments of coach Doc Rivers here: It's not fair that this happened to someone who's done "everything right." It's just not.
You know his story. Powe faced so much hardship and tragedy early in his life -- including a fire that destroyed his family's home and a subsequent, extended stretch of homelessness -- that it sounds like the script for one tear-jerker of a movie.
Such misfortune could have easily destroyed his spirit, yet instead Powe grew up to be a likable, easygoing man with a relentless work ethic. The Celtics have their share of admirable people on their roster, but none more so than Powe. In this story, you root for the happy ending.
No, Doc, stuff like this isn't supposed to happen to guys like Powe -- and yet this is the third time he's been felled by a severe injury to his left knee. After his junior season in high school, as he was establishing himself as one of the elite prep players in the country, he blew out the knee, requiring reconstructive surgery.
Most of the major hoops programs backed off, and he landed at the University of California, where he promptly led the Pac-10 in rebounding and was named the conference's Freshman of the Year. But the knee still wasn't quite right, and further surgery -- including a bone graft -- cost him his entire sophomore season.
No problem -- he bounced back with a sensational redshirt sophomore season, averaging 20.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, the first player to lead the conference in both categories in the same season. Still, after declaring early for the 2006 NBA Draft, he lasted until the 49th pick in large part because of lingering concerns about his knee.
And now, after establishing himself as a solid, dependable pro, he's dealt this. Another severe knee injury, and another poorly timed one, for Powe is set to become a free agent after the season's end. Some guys have all the rotten luck.FULL ENTRY
Firing up a few quick (and most likely erratic) shots about the Celtics before the shot clock expires . . .
1. Maybe I'm delusional. Maybe I'm in denial. Maybe I didn't do the proper digging. But I simply do not believe we have seen the last of Kevin Garnett this season. Oh, he'll miss the Bulls' series for sure -- I buy that. But say the Celtics end up going to a seventh game in the second round against Orlando. There is absolutely no way, short of amputation, that they will be able to keep him out of uniform on that night. I suppose there's a chance the injury is much worse than the Celtics have let on and that they've known this fate for some time now, but I don't believe that to be the case -- I believe the injury is more of a chronic, wear-and-tear-induced nuisance than anything severe. If the Celtics can hang around long enough, we will see No. 5 again before the Larry O'Brien Trophy has a home.
2. One reason I'm skeptical (or whatever you want to call it) regarding Garnett's status: The Celtics have been ridiculously scattershot with their injury reports and player status updates this season, and that doesn't merely apply to Garnett, who has seemingly been day to day since March. Remember when Tony Allen was done for the season? I'm pretty sure he's back -- I saw him dribble the ball off his forehead just the other night. (Trademark move.) Remember when Leon Powe was done for the regular season? Pretty sure I saw him dropping 18 points on a statue of Darius Songaila last night. It's not intentional, I'm sure, but the Celtics' injury report is so unbelievable, I'm beginning to wonder if Bill Belichick is a consultant.
3. I think part of the problem is that it is Doc Rivers's nature to be candid and agreeable, even when he can't actually offer any definitive news. He always hedges his bets. At various points in the past few days he has said Garnett looked great, would already be playing if the playoffs were underway, won't play in the Bulls' series, and is done for the year. It's pretty tough to know what to believe at this point, especially when those making the State of the Team addresses have a story that is perpetually changing.
4. Bossman Wyc suggested the club will ask Garnett to sit on the bench during games, and I suppose there is some value to having him doing so, though having him offering advice to Moore is akin to Ted Williams telling Larry Biittner to go up there and rip one in the gap. But if he's as intense a bystander during games as he's said to be, I can't wait to see what he might have in store for the Joey Crawfords, Bennett Salvatores, and Steve Javies. Someone might want to get a taser just in case. Hey, but at least the Celtics might finally start getting some calls.
5. The key to the show going forward: Rajon Rondo. If he consistently plays his best at both ends while reminding Derrick Rose that he's a playoff novice, as far as I'm concerned, the Celtics will still have one version of a Big Three.
6. Another aspect of the Celtics that those who will race to write them off are underestimating: Ray Allen's toughness. That book is too often judged by it's cover -- with his trademark grace and never-let-'em-see-you-sweat game, it's easy to perceive him as soft, or at least all finesse. But he shows up in the biggest moments, takes no you-know-what from anyone, and in his own way is as competitive as anyone on the team. I expect him to have a monster postseason.
7. And he gets bonus points if he gets in a shot on the relentlessly annoying Joakim Noah similar to the one that turned Anderson Varajao into a falsetto.
8. Of course it stinks that Garnett is hurt, but it must be noted that the Celts went 17-7 in his absence, and his replacements acquitted themselves very well, at least at the offensive end. Leon Powe, Glen Davis, Moore (who's good for a few rebounds and six fouls at the least), and Perk is not a bad rotation at the 4-5 positions, and Doc always has done a pretty good job in finding favorable matchups for each them, particularly Powe and Big Baby.
9. Paul Pierce will tell us that he's crushed for his teammate and his team that Garnett is out, and The Truth will be telling the truth. If anyone appreciates how fleeting a chance at a championship can be, it's the Celtic who was here for all the bad times.FULL ENTRY
As promised and guaranteed, Nos. 11-34 of the greatest moments from this championship era in Boston sports. For items 1-10, click right here:
11. Paul Pierce returning to the court moments after suffering what looked like a serious knee injury, Game 1 of the NBA Finals, June 5, 2008: Pierce is an LA kid -- he grew up in Inglewood -- and his Willis Reed-like return showed he has at least a little bit of Hollywood in him. An added bonus: His rapid return to health infuriated Laker fans.
12. A-Rod slapping the ball from Bronson Arroyo, Game 6 of the ALCS, Oct. 19, 2004 : When the umpires overturned their original safe call, it was one more sign that the Sox' luck had finally changed. As for A-Rod's transparent Who me? act, it was our first clear indication that he was one of sports' preeminent weasels.
13. Papi’s 14th-inning single to win Game 5 of the ALCS, Oct. 17, 2004: Of all the improbable things that happened that postseason, rallying against Rivera in consecutive games must be at the top of the list.
14. Ray Allen juking the Lakers' annoying Sasha Vujacic out of his Vujajock, Game 4 of the NBA Finals, June 12, 2008: Again with the symbolism. Allen's driving layup through the lackadaisical Lakers' defense was the definitive sequence as the Celtics completed a rally from a 24-point hole to take a 3-1 lead in the series. After that, the Lakers were broken, and banner No. 17 was a mere formality.
15. Vinatieri’s 23-yard field goal to win the Snow Bowl, Jan. 7, 2001: Think it was chip shot? You try kicking a field goal in a snow globe.
16. Walt Coleman invokes the Tuck Rule, Jan. 19, 2002: Because without his correct interpretation of a silly and contrived rule, all that came afterward wouldn't have been possible, and Al Davis might still be sane.
17. Papi’s homer in first inning of Game 7 of the ALCS, Oct. 20, 2004: Coming immediately after Johnny Damon was cut down at the plate, it staked the Sox to a 2-0 lead and delivered this message: Not only would they not go quietly, but this time, the Sox had no intention of going at all.
18. Troy Brown’s 55-yard punt return for a touchdown versus the Steelers, AFC Championship game, Jan. 27, 2002: As ol' No. 80 ran the final few steps to toward the end zone, a group of desperate Steelers defenders fell like dominoes behind him. Just a great visual.
19. Papi’s 10th-inning walkoff homer to complete an ALDS sweep of the Angels, Oct. 8, 2004: Still one of my favorite Globe sports headlines of all time: David, Goliath.
20. J.D. Drew's first-inning grand slam off Cleveland co-ace Fausto Carmona, Game 6 of the ALCS, Oct. 20, 2007: Drew may carry himself like baseball is a job rather than a passion, but say this for the man: He has a flair for the dramatic in the postseason.
21. Manny Ramirez's walkoff homer off K-Rod, Game 2 of the ALDS, Oct. 5, 2007: Do me a favor: Let me know when it lands, will you?
22. Manny’s three-run homer off of Oakland ace Barry Zito, Game 5 of the ALDS, Oct. 6, 2003: Funny how those who claim Manny never hit clutch home runs always conveniently forget this moment, when Zito was at the peak of his powers.
23. Brown recovering a blocked field goal and lateraling to Antwan Harris, who took it 45 yards for a touchdown, AFC Championship Game, Jan. 27, 2002: A typically heady play by one of the smartest players to ever wear the Patriots jersey. You and I had no idea the obscure Harris could run like that. Good thing Brown did.
24. Pokey Reese fields Ruben Sierra's grounder and throws to first to record the final out of Game 7 of the ALCS, Oct. 20, 2004: Because it had finally happened -- in the most delicious way possible -- and now we would get the reward: Watching the Red Sox celebrate on the Yankees' turf.
25. Mark Bellhorn’s three-run homer in Game 6 of the ALCS, Oct. 19, 2004: According to our accounting, this is the first time in history a controversial call at Yankees Stadium went the Red Sox' way . . . but it wasn't the only one in this game.
26. Bellhorn’s game-winning homer in Game 1 of the World Series, Oct. 23, 200:Shhh. If you listen closely, you can still hear it rattling off Pesky’s Pole.
27. Vinatieri’s 46-yard winning field goal against the Titans, AFC Divisional playoff, Jan. 10, 2004: When the temperature was almost as cold as the ice water in Vinatieri's veins.
28. Dustin Pedroia’s tone-setting homer off Rockies lefty Jeff Francis in Game 1 of the World Series, Oct. 24, 2007: A few days later, when a security guard didn't recognize Pedroia as he was trying to enter the ballpark, the Sox' rookie second baseman replied in his usual comically brash fashion: "Ask Jeff Francis who I am."
29. Derek Lowe’s crotch chop, Game 5 of the ALDS, Oct. 6, 2003: After whiffing Adam Melhuse and Terrence Long with a pair of the nastiest sinkers he ever threw, after stranding three runners to save the game and the Red Sox' season, only Miguel Tejada could blame the flighty Lowe celebrated a little too, um, graphically. Hey, you'd be excited too if your team had just overcome an 0-2 deficit.
30. Jed Lowrie’s ninth-inning RBI single to win Game 4 and defeat the Angels in the ALDS, Oct. 6, 2008: Wait -- a playoff-series-winning hit is 30th on the list? You betcha. Again: That’s how good we’ve had it, son.
31. Tom Brady hits Troy Brown for to set up winning kick in Super Bowl XXXVI, Feb. 3, 2002: Brady threw for just 145 yards in the game, but twenty-three of them came on perfectly executed crossing route to his favorite target, the biggest gainer of the nine-play, 53-yard drive that set up Vinatieri's winning 3-pointer.
32. Papi’s winning two-run double in Game 4 of the ALDS, Oct. 5, 2003: Coincidentally, Papi’s first huge postseason moment -- which came with two outs in the eighth -- came off future Sox postseason super hero Keith Foulke, then of the A’s.
33. Coco Crisp’s epic 10-pitch at-bat in Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS, Oct. 16, 2008: The Sox were down 7-0 with two outs in the seventh inning. With two outs in the eighth, Crisp had his defining moment with the Sox, singling in the tying run to tie it at 7-7. Couldn't have been happier for him, either.
34. Kevin Garnett’s declaration that ‘‘Anything is possibbuuuulllllll!!!, June 17, 2008: Because, as we’ve learned time and again this decade, it is the absolute truth.
I nearly fell out of my La-Z-Boy laughing after the following exchange between Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn during the Celtics' game the other night. (In fact, I even Twittered this. Still not sure what that means.)
Gorman, after an Eddie House 3-ball: "Who is the Celtics all-time leader in 3-point percentage?"
Heinsohn, droll as can be: "Not Antoine."
- Tommy still has his fastball after all these years, bless his sarcastic soul.
- Man, Antoine really did dent a lot of rims in his time here. I liked him, but I will never miss him.
- And, most notably for today's purposes: Our favorite New England sports teams all have outstanding broadcasting crews, both on television and radio.
It's true. Gorman and Heinsohn. Gil and Gino. RemDawg and Orsillo. They're all good. After giving this a little more consideration -- and checking in with some Bruins-savvy cohorts -- I even ranked them, best to worst, with the caveat that I enjoy the duo rated last nearly as much as the one in the top spot. Hey, we're lucky that way. There are no more Glenn Geffners here.
As always, I expect you will tell me where I was right or wrong in the comments section . . .
1. Heinsohn and Gorman, Celtics television: As good as it gets, locally, nationally, anywhere. Gorman and Heinsohn have been calling Celtics games together since 1981 (remember "SportsChannel New England"?), and their comfort with each other is obvious. Gorman isn't a relentless self-promoter like so many others in his line of work, so he doesn't always get his due in terms of media appreciation. But thinking Celtics fans sure as heck respect and appreciate him. He calls a game smoothly, has a short list of enjoyable but not overused catchphrases ("Allen for 3 . . . Got it!"), sets up Tommy like a savvy point guard . . . oh, and he also handles the crucial task of preventing Heinsohn from mauling Kenny Mauer or the Enemy Zebra of the Game. As for Tommy, while his constant harping on the refs can be a distraction, his knowledge of the game is unsurpassed and he doesn't even consider tempering his opinions. He's a local treasure, and you know what? So is Gorman. (Note: We also like Donny Marshall, who handles the road games in place of Heinsohn. But no one really replaces Tommy.)
2. Joe Castiglione and Dave O'Brien, Red Sox radio: Joe Castig, a member of the Red Sox radio team since 1983 (the Ralph Houk era), has become the voice of summer in New England, particularly to the generation of fans too young to remember Ken Coleman or Ned Martin. While he lacks the classic radio pipes -- dogs in particular are not big fans of his work -- he has a kind, jovial manner and clearly loves the Sox, to the point that his annoyance is barely disguised in his voice when things are not going well on the field. After all these years, he's as comfortable as your favorite faded Sox cap. And O'Brien's the ultimate pro. He has a polished voice -- a nice contrast to Castiglione's --a good feel for the pace of the game, doesn't start jumbling his words incoherently in the biggest moments (WAY BACK!!), and unlike his most recent predecessor, the horrific Geffner, has apparently gone through puberty. He's the partner we wished Castig had all those years.
3. Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy, Red Sox television: There's been some backlash against the ubiquitous RemDawg in recent years, but I thought he toned down the hucksterism last year and got back to doing what he does as well as analyst -- telling you why something will happen, not just why something already happened. He's still about as good as it gets. As for Orsillo, he's pleasant, and yes, I realize that's a lukewarm compliment. He's come a long way since he replaced sound-alike Sean McDonough in voice only before the 2001 season, but the first time he says something remotely critical about the Sox management or a player will be the first. (Whenever Tim Wakefield gives up, say, seven runs in 2 1/3 hideous innings, Orsillo never fails to call it a "tough outing." Drives me nuts.) That said, spend an hour or so jumping around to various teams' broadcasts on the the MLB.com package, and I guarantee you'll appreciate what we have in Remy and Orsillo pretty fast.FULL ENTRY
Chasing the headlines, and all the usual minutiae as well . . .
From a basketball standpoint, I've talked myself into at least being intrigued by it, primarily because this is the kind of low-risk, high-reward acquisition that Red Auerbach wouldn't hesitate to pull off. Marbury -- assuming his skills haven't eroded too much after more than a year since his last NBA game -- could be a terrific fit as a combo guard coming off the bench for 15-20 minutes per night. His presence will take the ball out of Eddie House's hands and allow him to play his natural position at two-guard. And Marbury's shoot-first tendencies might not be such a bad thing when he's on the court with a second unit that sometimes has a hard time generating offense.
His presence should be no threat to Rajon Rondo's psyche, either -- this is his team now, he knows it, and should he need a reminder, Doc Rivers is perceptive enough to remind his young point guard of as much before Marbury rolls into town.
But what nags at me is this: Even though Marbury could make a difference in whether or not the Celtics repeat as champions, I can't shake the feeling that he does not deserve to be part of such a selfless, admirable team. He's been a first-team All-Malcontent selection annually, and I'm skeptical that he has a clue how fortunate he is to have this opportunity.
Ultimately, the Celtics do have to take a shot here, because if Marbury plays up to his ability and behaves like somewhat of an adult, sure, he could be a tremendous asset. If he doesn't realize what's at stake and plays his Starbury-First game, they can simply send him back to whatever planet he came from. But should he even consider pulling his chaotic act here, I hope Kevin Garnett slaps that tattoo right off his head.
* * *
While poking around baseball-reference.com the other day (okay, every day), it dawned on me that there was a chance Red Sox manager Terry Francona had actually batted against John Smoltz during his playing days.
After all, Francona's final big-league season was 1990, while Smoltz arrived for good with the Braves in '88. Much to this nerdling's disappointment, however, their paths never crossed -- Francona wrapped up his big league career with Milwaukee and Cleveland in the AL, so he never had a chance to take some hacks against Smoltz in the days before interleague play.
But . . . there are two active major league pitchers who faced Tito.
So tell me who they are already, will ya?
* * *
Garret Anderson, the longtime Angel who signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves earlier this week, is your classic example of an athlete who was called underrated for so long that he became overrated -- vastly so, in Anderson's case.
Yes, he did have a pretty decent stretch of productive seasons, culminating with a 131 adjusted OPS in 2003. But he's never been anything more than an adequate left fielder, his career high in walks is 38 (in what is regarded as his best season, his 35-homer, 117-RBI campaign in 2000, he had a puny .307 on-base percentage), and his lifetime OPS+ is 105, slightly above average.
Just for the sport of it, here are a few other adjusted OPS numbers by some of his peers:
Troy O'Leary: 97
Trot Nixon: 112
Raul Ibanez: 113
Kevin Millar: 112
Jacque Jones: 98
Ruben Sierra: 105
Carl Everett: 107
* * *
Since it's encouraged in some circles to speculate that slugger-in-purgatory Manny Ramirez used steroids -- even though there is nothing about his remarkably consistent track record and not a single sinister rumor or dubious association indicating that he has -- I figure I might as well dig up a piece of evidence, anecdotal though it may be, that suggests clean living on Manny's part. This is from a story written by Gordon Edes in the March 20, 2005 editions of the Globe:
Orlando Cabrera laughed at the notion that Manny Ramirez ever experimented with steroids. "My brother [Jolbert] played with Manny in Cleveland," he said. "And Manny hated needles. Every spring, when they took their physicals, Manny would take off, and four, five guys would chase him down. He just hated needles. There's no way he would have ever juiced himself. He just worked hard. When we go on the road, Manny would be out of his room at 8 o'clock, going to the gym. And he practiced hard. He went out to Fenway Park many times to learn how to play the Wall, and he never -- never -- skipped going to the cage."
Does that mean Manny's always been clean? Well, hell, of course not -- we simply do not know about anyone for sure. (Though Jason Tyner would be a surprise.) But it's closer to proof that he lived righteously than any argument I've heard from the other side.
* * *
Obviously, the move was motivated by sentiment and desperation to appease the public more than baseball matters. Still, I understand why fans are thrilled Ken Griffey Jr. is back with the Mariners. It just seems right, you know?
As someone who is Griffey's age -- he's a day younger than me -- I've always found the arc of his career compelling. He arrived in 1989 as a ridiculously gifted 19-year-old with an electric smile and a habit of hitting picturesque home runs, making highlight-reel catches, and busting his old man's chops.
He grew up to become perhaps the elite player of his generation -- and certainly the most popular, at least at his peak -- but as injuries and time robbed him of some of his talent, he became more introverted, and the smile didn't come so often.
Or maybe it was just that he matured. As Jeff Pearlman wrote in this smart tribute a few days ago, Griffey could be remarkably thoughtful, particularly for a professional athlete of his accomplishments. (News flash: Superstars don't always have the best perspective on the rest of mankind.)
Griffey aged like a normal person, suffering through the usual aches in his 30s while so many of his peers found some mysterious fountain of youth. And with that came an interesting irony: Griffey's legacy might actually be greater than it would have been had he remained healthy and broken all the records that now belong the someone else, for the perception (and hopefully the reality) is that he was one of the few idols from his era who played the game without chemical assistance.
Griffey's no longer "The Kid" anymore -- he's 39 now and has been a big leaguer for more than half his life -- but it sure is good to still have him around. Besides, as long as he's a Mariner, back where it all began, then I can't be that ancient.FULL ENTRY
If you missed it while enjoying your holiday festivities, this week's OT column is right here. As a bonus, I'm posting here a few of my Boston sports predictions for 2009 that didn't make the cut.
(Yep. I wrote too long. Again. But by only 500 words this time. That's what you call a craftsman's discipline, baby.)
Anyway, I'll be back with an original column Monday -- at last, one in which the names "Teixeira" and "Boras" will not be mentioned. Until then, here are few deleted scenes that left out of the OT original . . .
Feb. 10: With “Justice” written on one fist and “For Cam” on the other, the Bruins’ Milan Lucic pummels 43-year-old Sharks forward Claude Lemieux so brutally that the longtime villain attempts to announce his re-retirement while cowering on the ice. Neely proudly nods his approval from management’s box, while NESN’s Mike Milbury chucks a shoe in Lemieux’s direction for old time’s sake.
May 23: Assuming it’s no different than taking a mid-game leak inside the Green Monster, Manny Ramirez urinates on the sacred monuments beyond the left field wall at Yankee Stadium during the seventh inning of a 21-3 loss to the Phillies. The entire city of New York is aghast. The ghost of Babe Ruth, however, finds it hilarious.
June 10: The Celtics deliver the ultimate indignity to the Lakers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals when Eddie House’s grade-school-aged son, Jalen, blows past Sasha Vujacic for a reverse layup and a foul with 1:22 remaining, giving the Celtics a 133-82 lead. Vujacic retreats to the LA bench, slaps a folding chair, shakes his hand in agony, and immediately bursts into tears. Little House chest bumps his proud pop, then says: “Dad, you told me there was no crying in basketball.”FULL ENTRY
. . . while desperately hoping the power has been restored by the time I get home. I would have made a lousy pilgrim . . .
I understand why Danny Ainge might have cursory interest in Stephon Marbury -- he's mimicking the Red Auerbach philosophy that if you bring add a talented malcontent to a winning team with a strong and established group of leaders, he will have no choice but to get in line and behave or get lost. And it always was fun when Red would bring in perceived headcases and troublemakers -- Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson among them -- and they would often become vital contributors for the Celtics. But I think Marbury is a different case -- he's the ultimate me-first player, always has been, and always will be, and I don't think anything is going to change him at this point, including a chance to salvage his career with an outstanding team. Hell, I doubt he even believes his career needs salvaging. He's incurable. I would, however, be curious to find out what the "brain doctor" Ainge consults would make of Marbury. I suspect he would report there was no activity whatsoever.
* * *
While cursing Buffalo's "Dumb and Dumber" duo of Dick Jauron and J.P. Losman Sunday, I realized that we don't have a Patriots Enemies List here at TATB like the one we periodically update during baseball season for the Sox. So, with Jauron and Losman as members of our inaugural class of nitwits and villains, here are a couple of other names off the top of my head that should join them:
Ryan Clark: The hit on Welker might not have been illegal, but it was damn sure dirty.
Brett Favre: Consider it a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Channing Crowder: He's like Joey Porter's mouthier, less talented brother, which, in the case of the former, is saying something.
Eric Mangini: King rat.
ESPN: Every last one of 'em but Jaws.
Ty Law: For taking the Jets' dirty money.
Plaxico Burress For not shooting himself in the leg before the Super Bowl.
Bernard Pollard: Imagine how we'd loathe him if Matt Cassel hadn't played so well.
I know there's some obvious enemies I'm missing, so feel free to chime in with your own.
* * *
Sure, he's so brittle that it's been suggested he change his last name to Pavano -- okay, you got me, I just made that up -- but I still think there's a very good chance that former Brewer Ben Sheets could end up being the steal of this year's free agent pitching class. He has the stuff of a legitimate ace -- when he's right, his breaking ball is absolutely untouchable -- and he's apparently a hellacious competitor, which is something not often said about the pitcher most similar to Sheets statistically, according to baseball-reference.com: the ridiculously overpaid A.J. Burnett. I hope the Red Sox have done their due diligence with the 30-year-old righthander, because if the price is reasonable, I have no doubt that he's a risk worth taking. (In a related note, check out Burnett's top three similarity scores: Juan Guzman, Sheets, Ben McDonald. Yikes. Somewhere, Brian Cashman just sucker-punched himself, then slapped himself in the face to emphasize the point. Oh, yes, the meltdown is going to be fun.)
* * *
While it was a typically disingenuous move by the Red Sox' marketing wizards -- I'm pretty sure Mike Dee would go on camera to tell us the fans just love them even as an angry mob wearing classic Sox caps pillaged Fenway in the background -- I've got no problem with the uniform tweaks. Then again, I grew up in an era when they wore this, so anything would look classy by comparison.FULL ENTRY
The temperature is rising on the baseball hot stove, but the Red Sox aren't the only Boston sports team that could -- or should -- be making a significant addition or two soon. Here's a quick look at various players whose names we might be seeing in the transactions in the coming weeks:
Antonio McDyess: The likable veteran forward, who played extremely well at times against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals last spring -- he scored 21 points in Game 4 -- is apparently in the process of negotiating a buyout with the Nuggets after he was included in the Iverson/Billups swap for salary reasons. The 34-year-old would be a perfect fit off the bench for these Celtics, a more athletic and versatile version of P.J. Brown, and he does have a history with Celtics boss Danny Ainge, who was his coach with the Suns in 1997-98 and is still an unabashed admirer. That said, McDyess in green is probably wishful thinking. There's quite a bit of informed speculation coming from the Detroit papers that he'll end up back with the Pistons 30 days from now after the Gary Payton Rule is no longer in effect. Here's hoping Ainge is looking at that as his window to make a relentless sales pitch.
Javier Vazquez: It would be cool to have him here, if only as a living monument to Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, but even with his obvious ability, he's probably not an ideal match for the Red Sox seeing how he basically got called gutless by his manager, then went out and proved him right. I suppose there are worse booby prizes the Red Sox could get in return for Julio Lugo, though. (See: Willis, Dontrelle.)
Mark Teixeira: Yeah, I know, you haven't heard his name enough lately. But here's the thing: My biggest worry at the moment regarding the 2009 Red Sox -- wait, make that my second biggest worry, after the nightmare scenario of Scott Boras brainwashing Theo Epstein into giving the ghost of Jason Varitek a multi-year contract -- is that Big Papi struggles again with injuries and ineffectiveness, and Mike Lowell can't return to form after hip surgery, thus leaving the Red Sox with a very suspect middle of the order. I think the Red Sox have to fill some suitcases full of cash and make a serious and sincere run at Teixeira, and I think they will. The problem, as Tony Mazz wrote today, is that the 28-year-old switch-hitter is so coveted and has timed his free agency so fortuitously that it's almost the perfect storm to make him the next $200 million player. And I don't see the Red Sox paying him anything approaching that figure (heretofore known as Steinbrenner Money), no matter how much they covet him.
Nick Swisher: I wouldn't be surprised if he's one of the Red Sox' fallback plans if they lose the Teixeira sweepstakes. He's in his prime (28), he fits the organizational philosophy of driving up pitch counts (he's averaged 93 walks over the past three seasons), and it's a decent buy-low opportunity. Of course, there's a reason he's available -- he batted just .219 last season, a point lower than the Varitek, and he's just a .244 hitter in his four-year career. Ultimately, it's a matter of Chicago's asking price and whether Theo Epstein believes his potential is greater than the risk. I do think the Sox would take him for Lugo and some minor-league spare parts in a heartbeat, though.FULL ENTRY
I'm pretty sure this constitutes an action shot for the Kitester.
Anyway, the point today is not to belittle yet another oversized white stiff -- you know, being one myself and all -- but just to make a quick and almost sincere apology for the shortage of posts this week. I've been working on something longer, so I really haven't had much time to crank out much else, other than this "OT" column and the underwhelming Celtics post from a few days ago. But as always, thanks for checking in and commenting, and we'll aim to step up the production next week.
-- TATB Management
. . . half-formed thoughts on your defending NBA champion Celtics. We're going to assume you understand the significance of the number:
1. He's played a full season plus a game as a member of the green, he's won a championship here, set the tone of intensity for the franchise, and become a beloved and admired present-day icon of Boston sports, just a step on the pedestal below David Ortiz and Tom Brady . . . and yet I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Kevin Garnett is a member of the Boston Celtics. Which reminds me: Did Kevin McHale show up to pick up his ring and raise the banner last night?
2. When words like "vindication" and "redemption" are tossed around regarding the events of last season, the topic is usually Paul Pierce, and deservedly so -- he not only has tenure, but his dues were paid in full long ago. (Remind yourself of this: Until last year, the best player he ever called a teammate was Antoine Walker.) But I also think it's been somewhat overlooked how huge Ray Allen was in the Finals -- remember, he drained 7 of 9 three-pointers in the clincher -- and how much he overcame and how mentally tough he proved to be given his earlier struggles in the playoffs. Don't forget to praise him, too.
3. Glad I got to see the Moment of Truth, so to speak, as the tears and the genuine emotion flowed from Pierce when he received the championship ring that was such a long time coming. Also glad I missed his ode-to-me acceptance speech, during which Pierce apparently sounded like he considers basketball an individual sport.
4. It'll be interesting to see if the Celtics play with the same defensive intensity night in and night out as they did a season ago, especially since they'll be wearing an bull's-eye from Game 1 to Game 82. Garnett, of course, will be the same lunatic as ever on the defensive end, and Rondo is officially a lock-down defender at the point. But the commitment to defense from Ray Allen and Pierce -- two veteran stars not exactly considered Michael Cooper disciples in the past -- was remarkable a season ago, and it is fair to wonder if they will keep it up again this year on that end of the court. I suppose that's why they pay Tom Thibodeau the big bucks.
5. I realize Tony Allen will be the recipient-by-default of many of James Posey's minutes and responsibilities, but it's foolish to think he can provide the Celtics with anything resembling the contributions of the last season's sixth-man extraordinaire. Let's put it this way: When Posey had the ball late in a game, you expected he'd do the right thing, and he rarely let you down. When Allen has the ball, you expect a wild drive to the basket, a dribble off his foot, or a chest pass to the leprechaun.
6. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that by season's end -- and probably sooner -- ferocious Bill Walker will be called upon to do more Posey Things than will Allen, who ideally would settle into sort of an instant-offense, just-play-don't-think role off the bench.
7. Have I mentioned that I miss Posey? I have? Yeah, I guess you're right. If I keep this up, the courts won't allow me within 200 yards of him. (But I can still send him letters, right? Anyone have his e-mail address? Is he on Facebook, maybe?)
8. How encouraging is it that Rajon Rondo looks like he spent the offseason gnawing on barbells? If he put up Jason Kidd-in-his-early-prime numbers this season, would anyone be completely shocked?
9. Too bad Rondo didn't haul Big Baby with him to the gym a couple of times a per week. He looks like he spent the summer interning at Little Debbie, though he does look slimmer than he did at the start of camp.FULL ENTRY
Ten free minutes for me, 10 free throwaway lines for you . . .
1. While the Pink Hatters' relentless shrieks when he steps to the plate can get a little annoying in an eardrum-shredding sort of way, it's been nothing but a pleasure to watch Jacoby Ellsbury in his rookie season with the Red Sox. Even with his recent struggles, there's no doubt he's going to be a star here for years to come. But anyone who thinks he, and not Tampa Bay phenom Evan Longoria, is the frontrunner for the AL Rookie of the Year award needs to start watching "Baseball Tonight" once in a while, or at least something other than NESN propaganda. While Ellsbury's batting average is a point higher (.272 to .271) and he obviously blows him away in steals, Longoria has a huge edge in homers (15 to 5), OPS (.874 to .739) and OPS+ (134 to 94), among other categories. Frankly, as much as we admire Ellsbury, the competition and comparison isn't even close. Longoria, coming off a torrid June in which he had a 1.066 OPS, is the superior rookie. I just hope he doesn't show as much in the next few days.
2. The win total (216) is low, and the ERA (3.46) is probably too high, but in the end, yes, I think Curt Schilling will get into the Hall of Fame. He was a crucial-to-heroic contributor on three World Champions, won 11 of 13 postseason decisions, and will be remembered as one of the greatest big game pitchers in the annals of the sport. Thanks to the bloody sock, he may be one of those players whose legend and legacy continue to grow. And while Schilling plays it humble and says he doesn't belong in Cooperstown, I betcha he has a rough draft of his speech already written.
3. So Carlton Fisk is now doing radio spots for "Just For Men" hair color. Funny, after seeing him at RemDawgPalooza the other night, I was pretty sure his dye of choice is Valvoline. We should all look so good at 60, though. (Wait . . . Pudge is 60? Good heavens, where did the time go?)
4. I've long thought Lance Berkman was baseball's most underrated great hitter - his most similar player according to baseballreference.com is David Ortiz - and he only enhanced my opinion of him while tormenting Sox pitching this weekend. But he does have one stat this season that caught even a longtime fan by surprise, and it's not the .363 batting average. Berkman is third on the Astros, behind burner Michael Bourn and Kaz Matsui, with 12 stolen bases. He must be a hell of a savvy baserunner, because he doesn't look like he could take a one-legged Sean Casey in a footrace.FULL ENTRY
Ranking your favorite championships is like ranking your children. You have your favorites. You just don't tell your wife.
No, no, wait, dear, I was just kidding . . . Of course I love all of our babies equally . . . Even what's-his-name, the little pirate-looking fella with the wooden leg . . .
You see, we're here today to rank our teams' six championships this decade - that's right, SIX championships - and you can bet your Loserville pennant that we're going to enjoy it.
(Editor's note: For today's purposes, we're going to pretend Super Bowl XLII never happened. Because it didn't. Thank you, TATB Management.)
So Yankees fans, you can skip out on us today and surf on over to your other favorite destination . . . what is it again, BronxChixWithMustachesTomSelleckWouldEnvy.com? Sounds right.
Lakers fans, you can stop pretending you care and again focus on your real favorite pastime: bleaching your hair, your teeth, your nostrils, your Vujacic, and whatever else happens to be the Tinseltown trend of the moment. Freaks.
And Philly fans . . . well, I don't even know where to begin with you. Moses Malone isn't walking through that door. And if he did, he'd probably drop 25 and 20 on Samuel Dalembert.
But seriously, enough about you. This is about us. So fire up the duck boats, let the confetti rain, and let's get rankin' . . .
You're damn right it's okay to call them the Big Three now.
It seems appropriate to distribute the first portion of praise to the player who has been here the longest and endured the most, the captain, Pierce. It was often said by those pushing a Laker agenda before this series that the team with the best player inevitably prevails in the Finals. Well, wouldn't you know it, that proved to be the truth . . . or should I say, The Truth. With the exception of a clunker in Game 3, Pierce thoroughly outplayed the regular season MVP, Kobe (You're No Jordan) Bryant, on both ends of the court, collecting a Finals MVP award of his own to accompany the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Celtics fans knew Pierce was complete player and a legitimate superstar long ago; now the rest of the nation does as well.
Allen took longer to win us over, but when he did it, he sure did it with flair. Tonight he hit seven of nine 3-point attempts en route to 26 points, brilliantly concluding series in which he reminded us why he is one of the most effective, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing shooters in the history of the league. Postseason success did not come easy for Allen - he agonized through a 9-for-51 slump in the early rounds that left some wondering if the 32-year-old's gas tank was on empty. To his credit, he stuck to his legendary pregame routine, literally shot his way out of the slump, and was so consistently excellent against the Lakers (a Finals-record 21 3-pointers) that he would have been a worthy MVP had the honor not gone to Pierce. Allen proved himself to be the epitome of a professional, and it has been a privilege to watch him these past two weeks.
As for Mr. Garnett, the word we used earlier today keeps returning to mind: Redemption. Never again should his fortitude in the big moments be questioned, never again should those who criticized his game be heard. It turns out Bill Russell doesn't have to give him a ring after all. Tonight, he went out and claimed his own, scoring 26 points, collecting 14 rebounds, and earning his place on the pedestal alongside the great Celtic big men of other eras. Watching him embrace Russell in the aftermath . . . well, if that doesn't make a Boston sports fan a little verklempt, then your cynical soul is beyond hopeless, my friend.
If there was any doubt about this trio's Hall of Fame credentials - and really, there shouldn't have been - it was permanently erased last night, when they combined for 69 points, 21 rebounds, and 16 assists. Appropriately, Pierce, Allen, and Garnett exited together with 4:01 left to play, spending the final moments of the season beaming through a continuous photo op and rejoicing in the ultimate team feat, something none of them could accomplish solo in their decorated careers.
And make no mistake - despite those sensational contributions of the, yes, Big Three, this was a complete team effort. So many members of the unsung supporting cast - think anyone still believes the Lakers have a superior bench? - deserve a standing ovation today.
We must start with James Posey, for he is to these Celtics what Troy Brown was to the '01 Patriots. When something absolutely, positively needed to be done during this postseason - say, drilling a 3-pointer from the corner, taking a charge on Kobe, poking away a steal in the back court, anything - he inevitably did it. He is the ultimate role player, just what every championship team needs, and there are few recent Boston athletes I've admired more.
So many others deserve a salute: Eddie House, who kept his shooting hand locked and loaded even when minutes were scarce . . . Kendrick Perkins, whose toughness and brute-force defense gave the old timers some welcome Paul Silas flashbacks . . . Rajon Rondo, the maddening but bright and gifted kid point guard who saved his best for last (21 points, 8 assists, 6 steals, 1 turnover) . . . Leon Powe, who made sure Phil Jackson learned his name . . . youthful and exuberant Big Baby Davis . . . ancient and wise P.J. Brown . . . and hell, yes, even Cassell.
Let's not overlook the two men most responsible for bringing this wonderful team together. There's Doc Rivers, the maligned coach, who demonstrated such an uncommon (and unexpected) knack for making the right choices as the stakes grew larger that one almost had to wonder if someone was whispering in his ear. Rivers, relentlessly positive and unifying, always had his players' respect, even when the seas were roughest, which tells you all you need to know about his competence.
Finally, there's Danny Ainge, the direct link from that beloved champion 22 years ago to this one, the tireless-shooting-guard-turned-tireless-GM whose savvy trades and free agent signings sparked the greatest one-season turnaround in league history. I still don't know whether the sequence of events that led to the Garnett deal was more by luck or design, but at this moment, it matters not one bit. He revived the franchise, and he cannot receive enough credit for that.
To think about where the the Celtics were 12 months ago - reeling after yet another lottery letdown, leaving its downtrodden fans muttering and desperately trying to talk themselves into believing in a pipe dream such as the raw promise of Gerald Green - well, it might just be the most improbable story of all in this remarkable (six champions!) decade of Boston sports success.
Read the words: The Boston Celtics, World Champions. At last and again.
Let the praise and the champagne flow.
Ten free minutes for me, 10 free throwaway lines for you . . .
1. It's not possible to exaggerate it: tonight is set up to be the defining moment of Kevin Garnett's career. A strong individual performance in a Celtics victory would secure his legacy as a champion, as the player whose arrival revived Celtics Pride, and as one of the sport's 25 to 35 all-time greatest players . . . or, should he play as poorly as he did in Game 5, it would only enhance thearguments of those who say he swallows his tongue in the biggest moments, that he'll never be a true superstar because he habitually shrivels in the spotlight. I think I've made clear over the course of this wonderful season how much Garnett his admired around here, and while I'll agree that he does make curious decisions on occasion, I believe wholeheartedly that he will deliver one of his classic 24-point, 15-rebound performances in front of the home crowd tonight. Other than watching Paul Pierce celebrate as a champion, I can't think of another angle I'll enjoy more than the KG redemption.
2. I have to admit, I didn't think the Celtics would miss Kendrick Perkins as much as they did in Game 5, and it's reassuring that he's going to try to give it a go tonight. In his absence, and with KG in foul trouble, Pau Gasol actually asserted himself, which he hasn't done since his mother tried to talk him out of wearing his sister's leotard to school in fourth grade.
3. I guess this means the advertising was effective, because I'm actually curious to see how those NBA split-screen, talking-head commercials end once the Finals are over. Gotta figure it will be Garnett's mug alone, rhapsodizing about winning a championship, followed by Pierce and Ray Allen, right? Oh, and Scal, obviously. Just as long as Larry in a tank top doesn't make another appearance, we should be cool with whatever they come up with.
4. In case you ever catch me offering fantasy baseball advice in this space again, please, remind me that I recommended and coveted these three players at the start of this season: Justin Verlander, Troy Tulowitzki, and Aaron Hill. Yikes - even Bill Bavasi wasn't that inept. I'm just grateful I didn't get any of them, and stumbled into Brandon Webb after Verlander went a few picks earlier.FULL ENTRY
So here we are, Game 107 of the most redemptive of seasons, and as we nervously anticipate the arrival of victory No. 82 and the 22 seasons' worth of euphoria that will accompany it, for once I will cut to the chase:
I think the Celtics will win this thing tonight, and I think they will win it going away.
After the enduring Game 4's epic collapse, I just can't see any of the Lakers other than Kobe and perhaps Derek Fisher showing up for this one. Certainly a fast start by the Celtics will render the EuroSofties useless for the remainder of the night, and a fast start by the Lakers can be overcome. We saw proof of as much on ESPN Classic just last night.
To put it another way: When your season is hanging in the balance, do you really want to be relying on the marshmallow-tough likes of Pau Gasol, Sasha (Ole!) Vujacic, and Vladimir Radmanovic? No, you don't, and I don't think Phil Jackson does, either.
And while we'd all love to see a Boston team clinch a championship at home one of these seasons - wow, how greedy did that just sound? - there would be an appropriate symmetry to clinching tonight in LA.
I like the idea of Paul Pierce enjoying his career-defining, Hall of Fame-clinching moment in the city in which he was raised. And it would warm even the most cynical hearts to see Doc Rivers, who lost his dad unexpectedly earlier this season, have a moment of joy this Father's Day.
Even without the sidelined Kendrick Perkins, who apparently doesn't have Martin Riggs's ability to pop his shoulders into place and will be replaced by Leon Powe in the starting lineup tonight, the Celtics are the tougher team. They are also the superior one.
I said it in the tease, and I'll say it again. Tonight is where No. 17 happens.
12:00 - Celts win the tip. This one's in the bag.
11:44 - Celts turnover. Damn, those Lakers are resilient!
11:03 - Kobe hits a step-back three, and the Lakers are off to a 5-0 start. It'll be interesting to see if his teammates are permitted to shoot before he touches the ball on a particular possession. Part of the problem down the stretch for the Lakers Thursday is that Bryant didn't trust his teammates on a night when he wasn't shooting well, while conversely, his teammates were way too deferential to him.
10:45 - Dick Bavetta and Kenny Mauer. I guess Joey Crawford couldn't get off his shift at Jiffy Lube. It's a wonder Pierce hasn't fouled out yet.
9:04 - Fisher drills a three, and it's already 8-2, LA. He's one Laker you have to respect, and probably the only one on the roster who could tell Kobe to shut the hell up without having to deal with the petty repercussions.
7:49 - Rondo passes up an open layup to kick it to Pierce for a three, which he misses. I hate it when Rondo does that - it happens at least once a game.
7:01 - Gasol gets position on Powe, collects the offensive rebound, and converts a conventional 3-point play. That probably wouldn't have happened with Perkins out there, and I thought it was interesting in the pregame when Jeff Van Gundy said the Celtics will miss him more than people realize because of his defensive prowess. Of course, that's coming from someone whose ideal score is 68-66.
6:38 - Bryant for three, and it's 18-5. Good timeout by Doc. This run by the Lakers isn't surprising - they should have the adrenaline out of the gate - but the Celtics need to do all they can to keep it under control.
5:33 - Kobe drills another three, and he is not going to go quietly.
5:16 - Thirty seconds after checking in, Eddie House knocks down a three. If I'm a Lakers fan, I loathe that guy in the same way Celtics fans loathe Vujacic.
4:53 - Kobe, 3. Right now it's Bryant 14, Celtics 10.
3:07 - Strong lefty slash by Fisher, and it's apparent the Lakers' old champions have come to play tonight. No surprise there. It's the rest of the cast that will be their downfall.
2:08 - Lamar Odom steps off the side of the milk carton to lead a 4-on-2 break that culminates with his lefty layup, and it's 31-15. Says Mike Breen: "Celtics have them right where they want them." I think he was being sarcastic, but he's also right.
1:08 - Garnett picks up his second foul, a bummer since he's off to a great start with eight points, including - gasp! - a nice drop-step for two on the last possession.
:47 - Pierce has Luke Walton guarding him right now. Bill Walton has quicker feet. The Celtics need to take advantage of this.
:39.1 - Pierce draws a foul on Walton and hits two from the line. Great minds, baby . . .
:29.2 - Jordan Farmar buries a jumper, and Breen practically jumps out of his seat yelling "FARMAR!" Of course, the "I HEART JORDAN FARMAR" t-shirt he's wearing should have told us where his allegiances are tonight.
:00 - The Lakers own a 39-22 advantage after one, thanks to 65 percent shooting from the field. I'm assuming they're familiar with the law of averages after the other night. No worries yet, my friends. This will be a game yet.
Candace Parker, I agree: You couldn't pay me to watch women's basketball, either.
12:00 - Celtics great Chris Mihm makes an appearance! Frankly, I'm impressed he remembered to put his game shorts on.
Two TATB live blogs in the Finals, two Celtics victories. If it's all right with you, I'd just as soon continue the trend.
• Rajon Rondo's health is the question of the night, and judging by the pregame reports, the Celtics' point guard is good to go. He's got the recuperative powers of youth on his side and I'm pretty sure he's made out of rubber anyway, so I'm not particularly worried about his condition, at least until Sam Cassell heads to the scorer's table. Here's hoping Eddie House gets the brunt of the minutes if Rondo is slowed at all.
• Jon Barry picked the Celtics to win. James Worthy picked Pau Gasol to domininate Kevin Garnett. For once, Barry wasn't the biggest numbskull on the ABC set. Big night for him.
• I understand people wanting Kevin Garnett to play closer to the basket - those 21-footers really should be 18-footers - but anyone who expects him to suddenly break out his former general manager's post moves simply has not been paying attention. That's not who he is. He's a great midrange shooter who's not hitting his shots right now, in part because of Kobe Bryant's double team. He'll be better tonight, and he'll anchor the defense and rebound no matter what.
• Lamar Odom did make it to the game. Of course, I'm pretty sure Chris Mihm's sole duty at this point is to make sure Odom gets to the Staples Center.
All right, game time. Here's to victory No. 81 . . .
10:43 - Odom and Ray Allen trade quick baskets, then Paul Pierce clanks a three and misses badly on a floater/pass/something. He's already trying to be the hero. Not a good sign.
10:13 - Perkins is called for a loose ball foul after Kobe gives the Lakers a 5-2 lead at the line. Ticky-tack, unnecessary foul. Somewhere, Tim Donaghy nods knowingly at his new cellmate and life partner, Bubba.
9:30 - Doc Rivers gets called for a technical. I'm with him on this one. The Lakers are getting all the whistles early, not that they need much help.
9:12 - Odom dunks to cap a 7-0 Laker run, and it's 9-2. The Lakers look smooth, the Celtics look semi-conscious, and the officials' stripes might as well be purple and gold.
7:21 - Another hoop for Odom, followed a few moments later by a Vladimir Radmanovic 3-pointer. All of the Lakers' softies have come to play thus far tonight.
6:22 - My boy, 22 months, has an infection in one ear right now. The doctor today said his equilibrium would be off and he'd be wobbly for a few days. I'm beginning to wonder if Paul Pierce has an ear infection. He can't even dribble without stumbling so far, and Garnett is no better. For such a great passer, he has no clue how to solve the double team when Kobe runs at him. Hell, Kobe just pulled the ball out of his hands a few minutes ago. It's 16-6, LA, and they'd better find some solutions soon.
6:05 - Odom with offensive rebound, resulting in Garnett's second foul. Honestly, I don't know what to say this point.
5:34 - Radmanovic hits another 3, right in Pierce's mug, and LA takes a 20-6 lead. The next time he touches the ball, I hope he gets Rambised into the third row. He'd be useless and quivering the rest of the night.
5:00 - Eddie House in for Rondo. Van Gundy approves, and so do I. Something or someone needs to provide an offensive spark, which reminds me: Do they ever run a set play for Ray Allen? He shot the lights out of the place Tuesday, and now he gets his shots only after Pierce decides he doesn't have enough room to heave up a three.
3:38 - Odom buries his fifth straight shot, and I'm beginning to regret every snide thing I ever said about him.
3:26 - House misses his second straight attempt. You don't think Sam Cassell is contagious, do you?
3:03 - Current score: Odom 12, Celtics 7.
2:10 - Pierce scores on a drive, then feeds Allen for a 3. Mike Breen, who I'm almost sure is wearing a game-worn Gail Goodrich jersey tonight, informs us that it's the first time the Celtics have scored on consecutive positions. That pretty much tells you all you need to know.
1:58 - James Posey in. This is overdue. He'll stick an elbow in someone's sternum. Hopefully, Odom's.
:51.1 - House bricks a wide-open three. If he's not hitting that, he's as useless as Cassell. Well, okay, no one's that useless.
:51 - The Lakers are killing the Celtics on the boards - I think Breen just said it's 12-6. Inexcusable. The Lakers are not a tough or physical team, but the Celtics are making them look like one. How does this happen?
:33 - Trevor Ariza hits a 3, and it's 34-12. Read that again: Trevor Ariza hits a 3. I'm beyond confusion now. I'm pissed.
:4.7 - The Lakers have more free throw attempts (16) than the Celtics have points (14), but you know what? It's not all the refs' fault. The Celtics have been just that passive, just that awful. They deserve this.
:00 - The Lakers end the quarter with a football blowout of a lead - 35-14 - and Breen gleefully reports it's the largest lead after one quarter in Finals history. I'm trying to talk myself into believing they can come back from this, but I haven't seen a single reason why I should.
9:50 - The Staples Center crowd is giving Ariza (6 points, 5 rebounds in 5 minutes) a standing ovation, which tells you all you need to know. I'm pretty sure they didn't know him from Ira Newble 20 minutes ago.
9:02 - Two straight hoops for Garnett - well, that's something - and it's 37-19.
8:13 - Breen: "Former draft pick of the New York Knicks, Trevor Ariza, getting it done for the Lakers." Ah, now his true identity is revealed . . . Funny how Knicks fans conveniently morph into Lakers fans when it comes to the Celtics. We're looking at you, Spike.
8:05 - I think Michelle Tafoya just jumped Will Smith. Probably the smoothest move of the night by anyone not wearing gold.
7:53 - Odom. Again. Seven shots, seven makes. I think he might read this blog. I'm sorry, Lamar. You've made your point. You can go back to sleep now.
7:31 - Garnett bricks a turnaround, followed by a turnover on the next possession, and the Celtics have absolutely no flow on offense. None. Bricked threes and misses on contested shots. This is just gross. I feel like I'm watching the Knicks.
4:46 - Kobe just bricked a jumper, and I'm not sure he even has a field goal yet, which tells you all you need to know about how his supporting cast is playing.
4:13 - Allen for 3, and it's 45-26. If Doc has a brain in his head, he'll run every play for No. 20 and see if he can shoot the C's back into this thing. Of course, that's assuming the Celtics have plays for Allen. (Great timeout here by Phil Jackson, who typically does a fantastic job of managing the game's momentum.)
3:48 - Posey for 3, and the Celtics have it down to 14 . . .
2:51 - . . . Pierce for two more, and it's a 12-0 run. And this is all happening as Breen (now adorned in Chuck Nevitt's practice-worn tube socks) are all but talking about this game in the past tense. The Celtics may not come all the way back in this thing, but veteran NBA announcers should know better than to write a game off in the first half.
2:36 - A conventional 3-point play by Derek Fisher wakes up the Staples Center crowd (I think they were all "powdering their noses" at the same time), Gasol follows with an easy two, and suddenly it's back up to 17. The Celtics simply cannot afford to stall out now. They need to be within a dozen at the half.
1:14 - Posey drills another 3. He has 10 points in the quarter. If he's lucky, Trevor Ariza will grow up to be James Posey some day.
:52.2 - I'm not sure if Pierce's knee is the reason, but he looks a step slower than usual tonight. That said, he just bounded to the hoop and drew the third foul on Kobe. Could be meaningful later if the Celts keep chipping away.
:5.2 - Rondo is getting schooled by Fisher off the dribble. Might be due to the sore ankle, might be due to inexperience, might be due to the fact that the Celtics completely stink tonight. You figure it out. In the meantime, give me more House, please.
:00 - Jordan Farmar throws in a running 3 at the buzzer to end the half, and it's 58-40 as the Lakers skip off to the locker room to get their halftime massages from Dyan Cannon and that creepy guy in the hat who sits next to Nicholson. The only way it could have been a more appropriate end to a %*$*$ half of basketball is if Ariza or Odom hit the shot.
Also, I should note this: Doc took Garnett out to prevent him from getting his third foul with about a minute left in the quarter at the LA lead down to 13. Right now, that is looking Isiah-level stupid - the Celtics lost their anchor on defense and all momentum on offense.
Halftime analysis: Enough with this Ubuntu, happy-happy, joy-joy b.s. I hope Doc lights into them, then punctuates his rant by breaking his clipboard over Pierce's head. Neither the clipboard nor Pierce have been of much use tonight so far anyway.
(Postgame note: Okay, enough of that negativity. For the good parts, click below.)FULL ENTRY
Postgame overreaction while spotting Eddie Murphy in the stands and realizing that the last time he was funny, the Celtics and Lakers were in the Finals . . .
2. Kobe was excellent as expected, dropping in an efficient 36 points on 20 field-goal attempts, though had he not been uncharacteristically scattershot from the free-throw line (he missed 7 of 18), the Lakers might have been able to avoid some of that fourth-quarter drama. Bryant was also a demon on the defensive end, seemingly covering Pierce and Rondo at once while apparently intent on showing Jeff Van Gundy that his stellar reputation as a defender is justified. Yes, it was an outstanding all-around performance by the MVP - but hell, that's what he's supposed to do, right? In that regard, the key to the victory wasn't Bryant, but Sasha Vujacic, the floppy-haired pest who proved a capable second option on a night the Lakers were desperate for one, scoring 20 points in 28 minutes, including a back-breaking 3-pointer to give the Lakers an 81-76 lead inside the final two minutes. Vujacic, who is apparently determined to prove that all of the Lakers' Europeans aren't as soft as Bartolo Colon's underbelly, has serious villain potential should the Lakers ultimately make a series of this thing.FULL ENTRY
Yup, I'm here, and just flipped on the Samsung to catch a snippet of the Bill Russell/Kevin Garnett conversation ESPN has been milking throughout the playoffs. If I heard right - and I may not have, because as I was watching, my wife and in-house analyst exclaimed, "That's Bill Russell? I thought he was white" - it sounded like Russell promised to give Garnett one of his championship rings if the Celtics don't win it this year. Pretty cool gesture, and one you, me, and especially KG desperately hope he doesn't have to fulfill.
The health of Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins: Like I said, obviously. By all accounts, Pierce feels and looks relatively healthy, and for that we can probably thank the nutty schedulemaker who booked two off days in the same city between Games 1 and 2. (If there's a logical reason for this, I must have missed it.) While much of the Celtics' fate in this series depends on the state of Pierce's messed-up meniscus, we also can't underestimate the importance of Perk, who has a chance to be a huge factor against a Lakers team that was shockingly soft in Game 1. (Has Gasol opened his eyes after Garnett's follow-up jam yet?) Perkins could be just the guy to rattle some brittle Laker bones, but if his ankle isn't close to healthy, then he's not going to be of much use.
Two other points while waiting for the 46th commerical break of the pregame to end: 1) That Kobe-walking-around-Boston thing was stupid and contrived. It figures that Stuart Scott liked it. 2) Doc Rivers just quoted Tony Dungy in his pregame speech, and I believe the reference had to do with how the Colts finally overcame the Patriots. At this point in Boston sports history, I don't particularly believe in bad omens, but I do have to wonder if Doc knows what city he is in right now. I mean . . . Dungy? He couldn't just read a passage from Derek Jeter's biography?
11:51 - Perkins waits exactly nine seconds to pick up his first foul. In a related note, Mike Breen informed us a few minutes ago that Perk had a cortisone shot before the game. We may be seeing a lot of P.J. Brown and Leon Powe tonight, and maybe even Big Baby.
10:06 - In the first 1:54, Pierce has hit a 3 and drawn two fouls on Vladimir Radmanovic, forcing Phil Jackson to dust off Trevor Ariza, who has played so little since coming back from injury that he smells like mothballs. So far, so good for Pierce.
9:13 - Perk hits a baseline fadeaway. Obviously, he's really hurting. He'd never make that shot if he was his usual self.
8:18 - Pierce blows by Ariza, makes a lefty layup, and draws a foul on Lamar Odom. That's either his fourth or fifth shot attempt, and yes, I'd say he's probably feeling quite all right. Wonder if he's ever heard of Bill Plaschke. If not, he's lucky.
7:04 - It's 10-8, Lakers, after Garnett misses a midrange jumper. The Celtics don't seem to be shooting particularly well right now, and as I'm writing that, the Celts commit their fourth turnover of the quarter on a ticky-tack offensive foul call. Not exactly the ideal start here.
5:50 - Odom gets a tip-in, prompting Mark Jackson to say something like: "You can tell by Odom and Gasol's body language that they have come to play." Meaning they don't look A) stoned or B) ready to burst into tears. That's their fourth quarter "body language."
4:28 - KG has hit two jumpers in a row, and it's 15-14, Lakers. Good to see, because that bearded turtle Gasol has outplayed him slightly so far.
3:51 - Ray Allen for 3, and the net barely fluttered. When he's feeling it, there isn't a prettier shot in the game, but you probably knew that. For the record, my all-time favorite jump shooter, non-Legend division, is Dale Ellis, who had no wasted motion in his shot whatsoever - it was basically a flick of the wrist. Poetry in motion, it was.
1:59 - Kobe picks up his second foul and sits with the Lakers leading, 19-18. I think it's fair to say that one doesn't get called at the Staples Center.
Commercial: Can Alonzo Mourning even drink Gatorade? That stuff can't possibly be good for the kidneys.
1:00 - Nice decision by Rondo, feeding Garnett for an open J just before the shot clock expired. I like what I've seen of him so far.
:44.3 - Van Gundy reiterates that Kobe Bryant shouldn't be on the All-Defensive Team, says he's a "lawyer" on the court, and then suggests players should get seven fouls rather than six. Have I mentioned yet tonight that he's the best basketball analyst I've heard in . . . well, I can't think of anyone who really compares in terms of humor and insight.
:07 - Jordan Farmar, who has apparently borrowed Jorge Posada's ears for the evening, hits a 3, Allen has a near-miss on the other end, and the Lakers lead after one, 22-20. I'll take it.
12:00 - Cassell in. Note to self: Prepare to heave the remote at the TV.
So please join me as we watch World B. Cassell hoist 32 shots in 8 minutes of playing time, which should work out to a point-per-minute pace . . .
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.
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 . . .
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?
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.
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?
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?
You know, just in case you're interested in reading about Perk's 34-point, 23-rebound performance in real time . . .
The date was June 8, 1986, and as a certain sequin-adorned singer popular at another Boston sporting venue likes to caterwaul, the good times never seemed so good.
(Bill Greene/Globe File Photo)
Larry Bird, 29 years old and in all of his wispy-mustached, party-in-the-back glory, was at the peak of his powers, averaging 24-10-10 in the Finals and winning the series and regular season MVP awards (his third straight). Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, Bill Walton, and Danny Ainge provided perhaps the most talented and cohesive supporting cast since Dr. Naismith first tacked up his peach basket.
The Celtics went 67-15 in the regular season, 15-3 in the postseason, and 50-1 at home overall. It was basketball as it was meant to be: selfless, breathtaking, freestyled, and aesthetically gorgeous. For fans who arrived in the post-Russell generation, it was as good as the game could possible get.
June 8, 1986. Man, it was lifetimes ago. Len Bias was nine days from having all of his dreams come true . . . and 11 days from snorting it all away. Reggie Lewis, a shy, skinny Northeastern senior-to-be with a sweet jumper and an ominous scar on his heart, was emerging as a talent to be reckoned with on the Huntington Ave. hardwood.
June 8, 1986. So much of the franchise's gloomy history had yet to be made. Charismatic Rick Pitino was finding success was a reality, if not quite a choice, just down I-95 in Providence. Tim Duncan was a 10-year-old in St. Croix harboring Olympic aspirations . . . in swimming.
June 8, 1986. The franchise's next triumphant trio was still in its formative years. Kevin Garnett probably spent afternoon recess terrifying the other Mauldin, S.C., third-graders with his wild-eyed intensity at hopscotch. Walter Ray Allen, a few weeks from turning 11, surely must have been the smoothest-shooting military brat in his class. And 8-year-old Paul Pierce was chubby, Laker-loving daydreamer in Inglewood (always up to no good), spending his childhood in the large shadow of his half-brother Steve, the family's first star athlete.
June 8, 1986. It's the official timestamp on the Celtics' last NBA championship. Four victories from another, it seems appropriate to retrace the steps of the journey.
* * *
In most ways, the Celtics' descent from the delirious high of 1986 didn't occur overnight. In 1986-'87, they won 59 games in the regular season and dumped Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals before losing the championship to Kareem, Magic and the finest Lakers club of the era in six games. No, it was more of a gradual decline, the kind that inevitably happens to franchises that cling to their aging heroes for sentimental reasons rather than trading them off and building anew.
In 1987-'88, the Celtics shuffled another step backward, winning 57 games and falling to the brash, ascending Pistons in the Eastern finals. The next season, Bird suffered a heel injury and played just six games, foreshadowing the premature end of his career after just three more seasons due to injuries.
While the Celtics remained one of the league's better teams until Bird's retirement after the 1991-92 season - they won at least 51 games each season he was healthy - they were no longer among the elite. The obvious became the reality: You just cannot replace Larry Bird.
* * *
Nine days after wrapping up the '86 title, the Celtics, due to a typical bit of shrewd dealing and foresight by Red Auerbach, had the incredible fortune of owning the second pick in the NBA draft. With the selection, they chose a chiseled, can't-miss 6-foot-8-inch specimen from the University of Maryland who just happened to grow up dreaming of playing for the Celtics.
It all seemed too good to be true; terribly, it was.
Less than 48 hours later, Leonard Kevin Bias, 22 years old and bursting with potential, was dead of a cocaine overdose. In one night of reckless stupidity in a college dormitory, the Celtics' future, a player so gifted and determined that he drew some favorable comparisons to a skywalking kid named Jordan by their Atlantic Coast Conference contemporaries, had become a cautionary tale for a generation.
Bias was supposed to be Larry Bird's heir; instead, he was gone before he even arrived. His ghost haunted the franchise through the lost '90s and beyond.
* * *
Bird wasn't the first of the '86 gang to bid farewell. Walton hobbled off into retirement after playing just 10 games in the '86-'87 season. Ainge was dispatched to Sacramento midway though the following season in exchange for 14 feet of mediocrity, and his backcourt partner DJ was nudged into a reluctant retirement after the '89-'90 campaign.
McHale, his aching feet by the end a chronic affliction, put his unmatched array of post moves in permanent storage after the '92-'93 season, at age 35. (He would, however, play a significant role in his old team's return to prominence a decade-and-a-half later.)
Remarkably, the Celtic who lasted the longest was the one who always seemed the most indifferent - or perhaps it was amused - when it came to the relative importance of the sport.
Robert Parish, bless his stoic mug, played 21 years in the NBA, finally retiring after earning his fourth championship ring as a member of the '96-'97 Chicago Bulls.
You fooled 'em. You fooled 'em all, Chief.
* * *
Dee Brown, the No. 1 pick in 1991, proved an inconsistent flash whose legacy was turning the dunk contest into a sneaker commercial. Brian Shaw, a lanky, bright, multi-talented guard, never seemed pleased to be here and found himself in an unbecoming contract controversy after his rookie season. And the most talented among the kids was felled by another unthinkable tragedy.
On July 27, 1993, Reggie Lewis, just 27 years old, dropped dead from a heart attack after a light workout at the Celtics' practice facility.
Earlier that spring, Lewis had collapsed on the court in a playoff game against Charlotte, and in the hazy aftermath he made the curious and fatal mistake of listening to the lone doctor who told him what he wanted to hear - that his flawed heart wouldn't prevent him from playing basketball again.
All these years later, the heroes and villains in that sordid mess remain difficult to distinguish, but this much we do know: for the second time in seven years, the Celtics lost a wonderful young basketball player - Lewis, an All-Star, a captain, a quiet, admired leader, had been the one to take the reigns from Bird, as Bias was supposed to do.
And once again, so cruelly, Celtic Pride was overwhelmed by tears.
* * *
Following Lewis's passing, the franchise fell into spiral of irrelevance and disrepair; hell, how could it not?
The Celtics became an insignificant afterthought as the NBA became someone else's party (Michael Jordan's, usually) and those who still tuned in to Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn did so for love ofthe game rather than any particular attachment to the unappealing collection of players.
The Celtics' ill-conceived mid-'90s rosters dotted with the likes of Dominique Wilkins, who morphed into an inefficient gunner once his legs were no longer full of lightning, permanently vacationing Pervis Ellison, and Todd Day, perhaps the most unconscionable chucker ever to wear the green and white. (Think Sam Cassell without a single redeeming quality.) First-round picks included Eric Montross (a slow stiff) and Acie Earl (slower, stiffer). Even the venue changed for the worse, the decrepit but forever beloved Garden falling victim to a wrecking ball in '95, replaced by the antiseptic FleetCenter.
The Celtics officially scraped the bottom in 1996-'97, winning 15 games and losing 67 while giving the likes of Brett Szabo and Nate Driggers the opportunity to someday tell their grandchildren they played in the NBA without fibbing.
It was left unsaid by those executing the task, but the motivation for running out a helpless lineup night after night was apparent to anyone who had seen a Wake Forest game that season: this particular savior stood nearly 7-feet tall, possessed the footwork of Gino, featured a deadly old-school bank shot, and was calmly shredding the ACC.
He was the player to resuscitate the franchise for sure. If only a collection of ping-pong balls would cooperate.
* * *
It may not be the most sporting thing to do, of course, but tanking the season to get a shot at Wake Forest's Tim Duncan - the once-in-a-decade franchise big man who was a lock to be the top pick in the '97 draft - was far from a foolish strategy, as coach M.L. Carr just happened to be a natural at losing basketball games.
So perhaps it was karma, or the old adage about best-laid plans, but despite owning two lottery picks - the second coming from Dallas in a deal that involved the Montross albatross - and a 36-percent shot of winning the top pick, the Celtics did not get Duncan.
The moment the draft order was determined, and the cruel realization hit you that those damn fickle ping-pong balls had decided that the San Antonio Spurs, not the Celtics, would be getting Duncan, you undoubtedly howled like Charlton Heston upon realizing Soylent Green was made out of peeeeeeople.
It felt like a kick in the gut from a size-20 Nike, the ultimate test of your faith as a fan, and the consolation prizes - No. 3 pick Chauncey Billups, a guard from Colorado, and No. 6 selection Ron Mercer, a Kentucky swingman - consoled no one. Neither was capable of being the savior Duncan would have been.
Worse, a slick, self-styled savior newly arrived on the sidelines would only prolong the dark ages.
* * *
But Pitino, whose ego and wallet were both swollen from his enormous success at Kentucky, demanded instant gratification, and when it didn't come beyond a stirring opening-night victory over the World Champion Bulls, he proved to have the patience of a petulant toddler.
Pitino the personnel boss perpetually undermined Pitino the coach. (See: Knight, Travis, $22 million; Potapenko, Vitaly, $33 million; Mills, Chris, $33 million . . . must we continue?) Billups was dealt after just 51 games for overdribbling underachiever Kenny Anderson. Pitino, with typical disingenuousness, suggested he made the swap because Bob Cousy told him Billups would never be a point guard. (Cooz, of course, never likes any young playmaker at first.) Mercer, graceful but lethargic, was gone two years later.
Pitino's one shrewd personnel move - plucking Kansas's Paul Pierce with the 10th pick in the '98 draft - was a gift courtesy of nine other teams' incompetent scouting more than anything, as the future franchise cornerstone slid on draft night for reasons that have never adequately been explained.
(A year later, Pierce was stabbed 11 times outside a nightclub, and it must be noted that he avoided being a Bias/Lewis-level tragedy in large part due to the heroic efforts of teammate Tony Battie, who raced his profusely bleeding friend to the hospital.)
Even Pierce, a star from him first spin move on the parquet, couldn't help Pitino. His inability to win with the players he was providing proved his downfall, and after 3 1/2 seasons, 102 victories, 146 losses and one all-timer of a meltdown, he packed up his Armani suits, his unsold motivational books, and his snake oil, and walked out that door after a January 6, 2001 loss in Miami.
He returned to the lucrative security of the college game, where he's yet to make a bad trade and, to the best of the public's knowledge, there is no salary cap.
* * *
Once Pitino cut his losses, so to speak, the players' attitudes and their place in the standings instantly improved, curiously enough. Under longtime and anonymous Pitino assistant Jim O'Brien, a stickler for defense who in turn gave Pierce and Antoine Walker (a cornerstone who arrived in Carr's final season and possessed an odd array of skills and mostly good intentions) free rein on offense in exchange for their commitment on the other end of the floor, the Celtics went 24-24 the rest of the way in 2000-'01 after a 12-22 start.
O'Brien was promoted from interim coach the following season, which brought the Celtics their greatest recent success until now. Led by Pierce, Walker, and a hardnosed supporting cast (where have you gone, Erick Strickland?), the Celtics emerged as one of the league's pleasant surprises, winning 49 games, ending a six-year absence from the playoffs, and advancing to the Eastern finals, where they pulled off the greatest postseason comeback in NBA history in Game 3, rallying to win in the fourth quarter from a 21-point hole.
But they fell to the Nets in six games, and the unexpected success came a steep price: in an attempt to bolster their roster near midseason, they swapped first-round pick Joe Johnson, whom you may remember from his star turn in the recent Hawks series, to Phoenix for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers, despite the Suns' willingness to accept eventual washout Kedrick Brown instead. Johnson became an All-Star; Delk and Rogers, while valuable contributors that postseason, soon became ex-Celtics.
A year later, the Nets bounced the Celtics a round earlier, and their revival in the weak Eastern Conference proved to be little more than a temporary tease.
* * *
Give Danny Ainge credit - he recognized as much before anyone else did.
It's funny now, but when he was hired as GM and executive director of basketball operations by fledgling owner Wyc Grousbeck in the midst of the 2002-'03 postseason, it was looked at as something of a curious move, a desperate, ill-timed grab for some reflected glory from the '80s.
Ainge did little to silence the skeptics when he traded the maddening but popular Walker to Dallas for passive big man Raef LaFrentz, his public justification being that he believed the team had peaked with that particular core of players.
A season later, O'Brien quit during the season because of a personality conflict with Ainge, and despite occasional success the next few seasons - the Celtics, under new coach Doc Rivers, a friendly rival from Ainge's playing days, won 45 games and slipped into the playoffs in 2004-'05 - serious contention seemed to be seasons away.
But while the results on the floor were mixed, Ainge was proving to be a deadeye when it came to spotting young talent, rarely wasting a pick while finding the likes of Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Ryan Gomes, Rajon Rondo, and Leon Powe in the draft.
Little did we know his finest personnel masterstroke was yet to come.
* * *
The irony, of course, is that it took yet another piece of lousy lottery luck to restore the franchise to greatness.
The 2006-'07 Celtics season was their darkest in recent history, worse even than the Tanking For Tim year, which at least had a wink-wink, optimistic vibe to it thanks to the affable Carr. The pall was cast in late October, when the patriarch, Red Auerbach, passed away at 89. Pierce, increasingly frustrated by the relentless losing, injured his elbow and foot and missed 35 games, and the growth of some of the young players, particularly the clueless Gerald Green, proved stunted.
The Celtics lost a franchise-record 18 games in a row en route to a 24-58 record. Again, as they had a decade earlier, the Celtics hoped for some long-overdue luck of the Irish. Again, the ping-pong balls refused to cooperate.
Despite having the second-best odds at landing the top pick (19.6 percent,) and the right to choose between Ohio State redwood Greg Oden or polished University of Texas scorer Kevin Durant, the two perceived franchise players of the draft, the Celtics were stuck with the No. 5 selection.
The lottery deja vu was crushing. And so Danny Ainge went to work to guarantee that he'd never have to depend on the whims of silly plastic balls ever again.
* * *
That No. 5 pick, which became Georgetown forward Jeff Green, went to Seattle along with Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak's carcass in exchange for Ray Allen, a 32-year-old sharpshooter with ties to New England and a flawless reputation, and a No. 2 pick that turned out to be Glen Davis.
Allen's arrival not only assuaged Pierce, who openly and justifiably pined for capable veteran help, but it convinced disgruntled Timberwolves icon Kevin Garnett that Boston, which had been coveting him even before the draft, might not be an unappealing destination after all.
On July 31, with Garnett's blessing, Ainge and his old teammate, Minnesota GM Kevin McHale, consummated the deal that would - at last - restore the green and white to its greatest glory since they were still in uniform. Seven players, with Jefferson as the centerpiece, were sent to Minnesota in exchange for Garnett, a 10-time All-Star who played with uncommon intensity and selflessness.
Remember how you felt as you took in that introductory press conference, broadcast live on CSN, watching Pierce, Allen, and Garnett grinning and interacting like it was a reunion of lifelong friends? Remember how you had to keep saying it out loud to convince yourself, to wrap your head around the whole concept - "Holy bleep, Kevin Garnett is a Celtic"?
For the first time in a couple of decades, something that seemed too good to be true wasn't.
Sixty-six regular season wins (the greatest one-season turnaround in league history) and 12 more (and counting) in the postseason later, and it's funny: All those sins of the last 22 years? They are so much easier to forgive.
With four more victories, maybe we'll also forget.
Postgame overreaction while chanting "Beat L-A, beat L-A" for the first time in, oh, 21 years . . .
2. Rajon Rondo's baseline jumper with a little more than 2 minutes remaining was the first time I was truly convinced the Celtics would win. But in my immediate recollection, the game's biggest play was James Posey's backcourt strip of Tayshaun Prince with 1:39 remaining and the Celtics up by 4. Posey's pickpocket brought any momentum the Pistons had screeching to halt, and appropriately, it was the just the type of smart, hustling play he's made all season as the absolutely ideal sixth man for this team. I'll say it once more: Landing Posey as a free agent might have been Danny Ainge's savviest move of all.FULL ENTRY
Postgame overreaction while basking in the Jesus Shuttlesworth revival . . .
(Getty Images Photo)
2. Allen, of course, wasn't the only Celtic starter to enjoy a night of redemption. Kendrick Perkins, with 18 points and 16 (16!) rebounds, was an absolute beast pretty much from the opening tip, and those of us who were calling for Leon Powe to receive some of his minutes are glad to be proven wrong today. I'm fairly certain Bob Ryan would tell you Perk's performance was a page torn right out of the Paul Silas Guide To Proper Power Forward Play. Now let's see if Perkins can take the next step and play that well in Detroit.
3. He's got a long way to go to become the most despicable Piston of all time - Little Lord Fauntleroy still gets my vote, as genuinely great as he was - but after watching weaselly Rip Hamilton apparently blow out his elbow while putting the kung-fu grip on Ray Allen's throat, I'm ready to say he's in the starting five. I couldn't help but wonder, as he was duping Kenny (Look! At My Hair! I'm A Mini-Pat Riley! ) Mauer and the officials with his clutching-grabbing-flopping antics, that Johnny Most would have come up with an appropriate nickname for him back in the day. Probably "The Masked $*%*%**#*#" or something of that sort.
4. While poking around various basketball websites looking for answers as to why supertalented Rodney Stuckey lasted until the 15th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft (ridiculous answers I found: played at a small school, not dazzling athletically, possibly too short to play shooting guard, looks too much like 50 Cent), I noticed he was born April 21, 1986, which happens to be the day after Michael Jordan dropped 63 on the Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. I'm not sure what the point is here, other than that Stuckey is young, I'm old, and it's been a long time since the Celtics won a championship.
5. As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:
We're going with the late, great DJ today for two reasons: It seems appropriate to remember him after what can only be called the second-most stirring Game 5 playoff victory over the Pistons in Celtics' history, for he was the co-hero in the first. (Seriously, check out the degree of difficulty on this layup again, consider the circumstances, and tell me that's not one of the biggest pressure shots in NBA history.) As for our second reason, reader Mark H. sent along this Where Are They Now? flashback regarding the '86 Celtics from Steve Rushin's blog (Steve Rushin has a blog?), and it was both heartwarming and a little sad to be reminded again of the tremendous respect Larry Bird had for his longtime teammate.
Running a little short on time today - Mrs. TATB and the mini-Finns are on vacation, which means I'm not - so we're going to tweak the Starting Five format for this edition. Today's feeble attempt at basketball insight comes to you in the form of five burning questions regarding your Boston Celtics, followed immediately by our best attempt to answer them. As always, your wisdom is welcome in the comments . . .
1. I suppose Doc Rivers deserves some praise for being a little more disciplined with his bench usage in this series - he finally seems to be grasping the concept of a rotation - but wouldn't Leon Powe's strength and aggressiveness have been a decent counter to Antonio Mickety-Mickety-Mac McDyess last night? I honestly don't get why Powe, who played a Duerod-like 1 minute 17 seconds last night, is buried down there in Scalabrine Land. Even if there's some validity to the insinuations that he hasn't quite mastered the playbook, there's no denying that Powe has been one of the Celtics' most efficient players all season, he plays a physical style that might be the perfect antidote to McDyess's dominance on the offensive boards, and he has a knack for garbage points on a night when the frigid Celtics could have used a few. I'd have given him Big Baby's minutes, and maybe handful of Kendrick Perkins's as well.
2. Have we reached the point where Doc has to consider severely curtailing Ray Allen's playing time? There's no denying it anymore, even for Shuttleworth Apologists such as Donny Marshall and, well, me: Allen has become a legitimate problem, and it's time to start searching for solutions. After his 25-point performance in Game 2, he's been brutal two games in a row, and at this point you have to wonder if his lousy play is now the norm rather than the aberration. Last night, he was 2 of 8 from the field, missed all of his 3-point attempts, and even clanked a pair of free throws when the Celtics were trying to steal the game in the fourth quarter. Right now, Ray Allen can't shoot, and for one of the great perimeter players in the history of the league, that's as bizarre as it is alarming. It's apparent that something needs to change, though I'm honestly not sure what the solution is (and I doubt Doc knows, either). No one wants to see hyperactive Tony Allen on the court in meaningful situations, and I'd just as soon never see Chuckin' Sam Cassell check into a game again. Maybe the best idea is to give Eddie House a little bit more run at two-guard, and see if he can get on one of his hot streaks. Otherwise, sticking it out with Allen might be the best option, as worrisome as that may be.FULL ENTRY
Getty Images Photo (top); AP Photo (above)
1. I always thought the six-game road winless streak to start this postseason was, more than anything, a matter of fluke and circumstance; a talented, veteran team that won over three-quarters of its games away from home during the regular season simply doesn't forget how to win as the visitor. It's about time we finally had some proof to affirm such an opinion, and the Celtics could not have picked a better time to get that gorilla, as Paul Pierce called it in tonight's aftermath, off their backs. Save for a few tense moments here and there - the Celtics' casualness with a double-digit second-half lead nearly allowed a listless Detroit team to get back into the game - they were basically in control from the end of the first period (when they closed with a bench-fueled 10-0 run) to the final buzzer. Perhaps most encouragingly, it was a total team victory; of the three so-called stars, only Kevin Garnett (22 points, 13 boards) played consistently well (and truth be told, Ray Allen was brutal). Yet the defensive intensity rarely waned, six players reached double figures, and even Sam Cassell shook off the rust and made a couple of important contributions. All of that considered, even the most optimistic Celtics fan would have had a hard time imagining this one would go as well as it did.
2. It must be noted that the Celtics wouldn't be up 2-1 in this series without the (playoff) game of his life from Kendrick Perkins, who hit 6 of 7 shots, scored 12 points, collected 10 rebounds, and even knocked down a medium-range jumper. (Maybe he can offer Allen some shooting tips.) Just when I was starting to think that the savvy P.J. Brown should get the brunt of the minutes at center, Perkins submits a performance like this one, and I'm reminded of why his teammates seem to hold him such high regard: he's not the most athletic big fella around, but there are few who work harder.
Anyway, I'm here, and this should be, well, interesting. I cranked out probably a dozen to 20 live blogs of Sox and Pats games in my 3+ years at the old TATB address, but this is my attempt at doing this for a hoops game. I'm not sure how conducive the sport is to the format - I'm worried the action moves too fast, except when Kendrick Perkins is involved - so I'm just going to try to limit the play by play as much as possible. Like Ray Allen teeing up a 3-ball, I'll take my best shot and hope it hits something.
Two key plot points tonight:
• Chauncey Billups's hammy: He claims he's 100 percent healthy, but his stat line after game one suggested otherwise. If he can't get into the lane, draw fouls, and use his strength to compensate for Rajon Rondo's quickness advantage, Game 2 will go much the same way Game 1 did for Detroit.
• Ray Allen's shot: The Celtics went out of their way to get their struggling shooter going early in Game 1, but he didn't hit a jump shot the entire game and finished with 9 points. I hope Doc Rivers is patient enough to try the same approach again, because I have a hunch Allen is thisclose to busting out of it.
"They'll get up, you gotta hit 'em again . . . they'll get up, you gotta hit 'em again . . . they'll get up . . . " I'll admit it. Doc's pregame speech got me fired up. I just slugged the cat. (He got up. I didn't hit him again.)
Okay, the lights are down, the new Garden is rocking like its beloved predecessor did 20 years ago, and KG's screaming like a maniac from the Jumbotron. Yep, must be a meaningful basketball game in Boston tonight. So nice to have that feeling again . . .
10:22 - Pierce knocks down a 3 off an Allen feed. Nice shot with a hand in his face, but I almost wish he'd given it right back to Allen there. Pierce likes trying to be the hero out of the gate, though.
7:18 - After Sheed is called for a foul on Garnett, he disputes the verdict with one of his favorite magic words and is slapped with his fifth technical of the playoffs. Dang. In the office pool, I had him getting his first T at 10:12 of the third. Should have known that was too late.FULL ENTRY
Consider this my pathetic and transparent attempt to make up for having nothing posted after Game 1, but I'll be right here at 8:30 p.m. sharp as KG, The Truth, and the rest of Cs try to improve to 10-0 at home this postseason. I'll also be checking in on the comments from time to time, so be sure to pop in and add your two cents in real time.
(Spokesmodel M.L. Carr was not compensated and does not officially endorse this live blog. Because if he did, he'd be waving a towel.)
(Getty Images Photos)
1. Whew . . . can we exhale yet? After this one, I think I'm sweating more than Kendrick Perkins. It felt like the Celtics' lead was no more than three points the whole game, and those 48 minutes were more tense than we would have liked - I was secretly hoping for a repeat of Game 7 from Hawks series, though hardly expecting it. But when the final buzzer sounded, the Celtics lived to play another day, thanks mostly to a phenomenal performance by Paul Pierce. The magnitude of Pierce's 41-point outburst can't be exaggerated; ol' No. 34 submitted perhaps the best and certainly the most important performance of his career. It seemed like every time the Celtics were desperate for points, he delivered them, whether it was a 15-foot step-back jumper, a rattled-in free throw, or a nothing-but-net bomb from three. He was a superstar in every sense today, and I do hope this effort at least temporarily silences the ignorant but vocal few who prefer to emphasize the silly negatives of Pierce's career while disregarding how dependable he has been, how there are few pure scorers in his class, how he is a rock of a teammate who usually tried to do the right thing, how he was often the one reason a lousy team was worth watching. You know Pierce deserves this, even as we must concede that the show was nearly stolen from him by the transcendent LeBron James, who scored an easy 45 points and damn near extended Cleveland's season by his own sheer will and unprecedented talent. While Pierce/LeBron didn't quite have the drama and one-upsmanship of Bird/'Nique '88, the duel was undoubtedly a classic, and we'll all remember this game for many seasons to come. Right now, I'm just relieved we'll remember it well.
2. As excellent as Pierce was, this season might be over without a steady performance from the bench, particularly P.J. Brown, who earned every dollar of his salary today with a outstanding stretch of play in the second half in which he scored four straight points, had a tap-back rebound that saved a key possession, and buried a huge jumper with just under two minutes left. And I couldn't possibly have more respect for Eddie House, who lost his minutes to nearly washed-up chucker Sam Cassell, stayed ready when lesser men would have checked out, and came through when his coach got the good sense to call on him again.FULL ENTRY
The usual postgame overreaction while congratulating Tim Donaghy and Ronnie Milsap on a fine job of refereeing tonight . . .
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2. As aggravating as it is to watch him flop and whine like his name is LeBron Lemieux, it really is fascinating to watch the Cavs' superstar do his thing over the course of a long series. When his shot is falling, I feel like he will score every time he touches the ball - its downright unfair that someone that big is able to change direction so quickly and effortlessly - and yet he insists on playing selflessly, which turns mediocrities such as Joe Smith and Delonte West into formidable threats. He really is an amalgam of Magic and Jordan, and if he ever develops a consistent midrange jumper, there will be no stopping him. At the moment, LeBron would be pretty easy to root for if the Cavs were facing a different opponent and the refs weren't pulling for him as well.FULL ENTRY
1. Pretty decent Chris Paul imitation by Rajon Rondo tonight, wasn't it? The second-year point guard scored 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including huge back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first half as the Celtics rallied from an early and disheartening double-figure deficit, and most encouragingly, contributed 13 assists against just one turnover. It's fair to say at this point that if Rondo plays well, so do the Celtics. The inverse is also apparently true, which is why it's imperative that Doc Rivers shows confidence in him during his occasional bouts of Telfairitis, especially if he wants Rondo to perform as well on the road as he does at home. The kid is a much better and more confident player when he's not looking toward the bench to see if he's getting yanked out of the game after he makes a mistake.
2. So listen up, Doc, because this is how it needs to be from here on out. Rondo, whose 22-year-old legs can handle the workload, plays 38-plus minutes no matter what. Eddie House receives around 10 minutes a night to reclaim his role as the backup point guard/designated bomber. And Sam Cassell gets a reserved seat between Tony Allen and Big Baby Davis, where he can look goofy, wave a towel, continue his rapid calcification, and root on the guys who are actually going to play meaningful minutes.
3. Though he ranked a team-worst minus-10 on the interesting, occasionally telling, and somewhat contrived plus/minus scale during his 7 minutes of playing time tonight, I'm becoming convinced that P.J. Brown will be a legitimate asset to this team should their playoff run continue beyond the next two games. He's still a dependable shot-blocker and rebounder, and he always seems to be in the right place on defense, which is apparently a weakness of Leon Powe if you believe what Doc's broadcasting lackeys tell us. It's easy to see why the 38-year-old is still a respected player in the league, 16 seasons after he was selected behind the likes of Todd Day, Oliver Miller, Jon Barry, and Don MacLean in the '92 NBA Draft.FULL ENTRY
Another helping of postgame overreaction while daydreaming that Danny Ainge will be coaching this team come Game 5 . . .
1. I'm trying my best to give Paul Pierce the benefit of the doubt for his performance tonight, and I suppose he did do a pretty effective job defending LeBron. But offensively . . . man, he was just a horror show. He took too many ill-advised, contested 3-pointers in a desperate attempt to play the hero, missed a key open layup, had no lift or acceleration going to the hoop, and generally performed like a one-man tribute to Antoine Walker. LeBron's mom made better on-court decisions than Pierce did tonight, and again, I couldn't help but wonder if he's in worse shape physically than anyone has let on. Heck, at this point I almost hope that's the reason.
2. Tonight's Undeniable Proof That Doc Rivers Should Turn In His Barely-Used Clipboard And Return To Broadcasting Immediately: Well, as usual there's plenty to choose from - do they even have any offensive sets for Ray Allen? - but I'm going to go with the most blatant blunder: his brick-skulled decision to play P.J. Brown and Big Baby Davis together for the first four minutes of the fourth quarter while Kevin Garnett rested on the bench. Brown played relatively well - and Doc, a master of self-preservation, made sure to point out as much in his postgame press conference - but Davis has no business being on the court for meaningful minutes in this series, let alone in the fourth quarter of a tight game. Garnett can rest in July.FULL ENTRY
If you're looking for postgame overreaction, you've come to the right place . . .
1. Well, the only way that could have been uglier is if ABC had hit us with a few more Delonte West closeups. (All right, cheap shot. Forgive me. I just watched two hours of hideous basketball, I'm out of malt liquor and Smart Puffs, and I'm cranky.) Though I did keep expecting the Celtics to make a run that never really came, I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that Cleveland won going away. That's what quality basketball teams are supposed to do when they are playing their first home game in a series they are trailing. It's just that it was so - I don't know, alarming or frustrating or disappointing - to watch the Celtics play so lethargically pretty much from beginning to end, with the exceptions of Kevin Garnett and the admirable James Posey. The offense never found a rhythm and there was way too much one-on-one (and one-on-two) play, especially when Slingin' Sam Cassell was on the court. The defense was just as bad. Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West got open looks all night, Joe Smith played well enough to almost convince Kevin McHale he was worth the five No. 1 picks, and Ben Wallace somehow shook off his osteoporosis long enough to score nine points and grab nine rebounds. Those four mediocrities combined for 63 points - 22 more than Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce. That's inexcusable, and if those numbers aren't reversed in Game 4, this series is going to be tied, and we're going to continue to wonder why this team suddenly looks so disjointed and beatable on the road.
2. If Kendrick Perkins isn't going to bother to step up and cut off the driving lanes on defense - and tonight he was moving his feet like he was shuffling to the kitchen to start the first pot of coffee in the morning - then he shouldn't even bother taking his warmups off, because there's absolutely no reason for him to be on the court. Leon Powe might be undersized by comparison, but the effort is always there on both ends of the floor, and it doesn't take him the entire shot clock to gather himself for a dunk.
3. For someone who's built like an NFL tight end, LeBron sure has an aversion to contact - I think he dives more than all of the Montreal Canadiens combined. Though I guess I can't really blame him: His he-touched-me! whines are inevitably followed by a whistle. It's good to be the king.
4. I have nothing against West, who always played hard while he was here and gets the most out of his varied but limited skills. But I have to admit it annoys the hell out of me to watch someone I associate with an atrocious Celtics team light up this usually winning group. That's not how it's supposed to work. And that goes double for Szczerbiak.
5. As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:
Yeah, he's a Cav in this picture (love the "Solid Gold"-inspired jerseys), but after what I saw of Cassell and Rajon Rondo tonight, I'm starting to think ol' Bags would be a decent point guard alternative in Game 3. (Okay, so it's not quite that bad . . . but man, the point guard play has got to be better on the road.)
A few Rondo-quick observations while wishing the Celts-Cavs tipoff would hurry up and get here . . .
1. Count me in the camp that is giving the Celtics a pass for their inconsistent - and nearly fatal - performance in the Hawks' series. In retrospect, Atlanta was a terrible matchup for them, a young, live-wire of a team with a nothing-to-lose attitude and a legitimate star, Joe Johnson, who played like he was hungry for vengeance against the franchise that gave up on him 48 games into his rookie season. Obviously, the series never should have gone seven games, but the guess here is that it will act as the wakeup call, and the Celtics team we see in the second round will look much more like the one we came to admire during the 66-win regular season. The prediction: Celtics in 6. You could tell me that LeBron will have a Jordan-in-'86-caliber series, and I still would refuse to believe that the Celtics will lose more than two games against a team that often depends on Wally Szczerbiak as its second option.
2. I suppose you could call me a Paul Pierce apologist, but I'm happy he got his moment of redemption with his steady and determined 22-point performance in Game 7. And frankly, he had to play that well, or he might have sufferered irreparable damage to his reputation. While I think Pierce is somewhat underappreciated around here, a classic case of a great player who becomes so familiar that you begin to emphasize what he can't do rather than all the things he can, there's no denying he has had a couple of Rasheed-style meltdowns in the postseason, and such antics are unacceptable from a player of his talent and importance. He's the captain, he's supposed to act like it, and I suspect that from Game 7 on, he will.
A few semi-coherent pre-game thoughts on a certain suddenly vulnerable basketball team . . .
1. Doc Rivers is a swell guy who has charmed the Frito-stained Dockers off the local hoops media, but even his most ardent supporters have to admit he's getting his lunch handed to him by Mike Woodson in this series. And this isn't exactly Jerry Sloan we're talking about here; Woodson nearly lost his job on more than one occasion this season. It's safe to say Celtics fans' worst fears are on some level coming true here; namely, that Doc and only Doc could screw up this deep and talented basketball team. It goes without saying that we're all cool with Byron Scott beating him out for coach of the year at this point. Should the Celtics lose this series - and I do not believe that will happen, despite Doc's questionable substitution patterns and maddening inability to make the proper adjustments (see: Allen, Ray vs. Johnson, Joe) - he should be fired before the final buzzer. Hey, Larry Brown ought to be bored in Charlotte by then.
2. It's tempting to say Kevin Garnett needs to show us something tonight, but Mike Gorman made a great point on Felger's show today: KG shows us something every night, and the reason he doesn't take his game to another level in the playoffs is because he plays at the highest possible level every single time he takes the court, whether it's a suddenly crucial Game 5 in a first round playoff series or a mid-January grinder in Minnesota.
3. A "green out"? Really? I guess it's a good thing Red has already gone to the Great Humidor in the Sky, because if the cheerleaders didn't finish him off, this cheesy act of Orlando-style yahooism probably would.
4. The Hawks have no business being in this series, but I will concede they have more talent than you'd expect to find on a 37-45 team. Joe Johnson has long been one of my favorites (he's an underrated and clever passer), Al Horford has basketball intelligence beyond his years, and few players in the league can match up with Josh Smith athletically. With good health and incremental improvement of young players like Horford, Smith, and Marvin Williams, they could be a team to reckoned with for the next several seasons.
5. I'm not ready to declare the Sam Cassell trade a complete bust, but I will agree that a) he looks for his own shot way too often, and b) his plodding style is a terrible matchup against the athletic Hawks. He should be tucked away on the bench until the Celtics encounter Cleveland, where he'd looked positively quick so long as Wally Szczerbiak is hovering around the perimeter at the same time.
6. Johnson claims he barely remembers his half-season in Boston, but evidence is mounting that he remembers it rather well. There were a lot of whispers that Antoine Walker and Pierce didn't exactly treat him like the Third Amigo when he got off to a fast start in his rookie season, and if you look closely, you can almost see the chip on his shoulder.
7. It seems everyone but Doc knew he should have switched Ray Allen off Johnson in the fourth quarter of Game 4, but I have a hard time agreeing with the conventional wisdom that Tony Allen was the man for the job. He is an exceedingly dumb basketball player, and while he has all the skills defensively, he goes for pump fakes like a young Golden Retriever falls for the fake stick throw. I'd rather have seen James Posey, or even Pierce, get the assignment first.
8. I want to give Pierce the benefit of the doubt with this whole "menacing gestures" controversy, because I think he's generally a good and accountable person. But in the past, he's done some inexplicably stupid things in the playoffs when things haven't been going his way, so until he explains himself, there has to be at least some level of skepticism. A flat denial from him would go a long way right now.
9. Pierce does look like he's physically hurting - he seems to be wincing every time the camera catches him. Does anyone know if the Crips keep a chiropractor on staff?
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.