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.”