Current Pacers coach Jim O’Brien coached the Celtics from 2001 to 2004. While the Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002, O’Brien’s tenure in Boston was a far cry from the success this current Celtics team is currently enjoying.
O’Brien was asked how he felt about the Celtics being back on the map.
“[I’m happy for] Paul, among many others that have been dying for a contender,” O’Brien said. “I think their whole organization, their whole front office had gone through lean times. It’s certainly nice to see this franchise back where everybody’s talking about them as the team to beat in the East…I think people would be surprised if they were not in the Finals this year.”
O’Brien recalled the atmosphere in the Garden during Boston’s last deep run into the playoffs, when the Celtics succumbed to the Nets in the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals.
“It was certainly different than what I had come to expect the previous four years,” said O’Brien. “It was electric, a great home court advantage. Passion that you could cut with a knife.”
Pierce was the mainstay on O’Brien’s Celtics team.
“He’s one of the two or three toughest guards in the league,” O’Brien said. “I mean, toughest people to guard. Certainly, putting the ball in his hands, there are not too many people that can guard him one-on-one. And with the group of people they have surrounding him right now, he could have a huge playoff.”
One of the players Pierce has around him is Kevin Garnett. Garnett has suggested that Pierce should be named the MVP of the league this season.
O’Brien respectfully disagrees.
“Garnett is very nice to say that Paul should be the MVP, but I don’t think I can remember a player coming into a franchise like Garnett has and single-handedly change the culture of an organization,” he said. “And I think he’s done that. So there might be people on the court that are better statistically than Kevin Garnett, but I think if you’re talking about most valuable, I can’t imagine anybody being more valuable to their team than Garnett is.”
O’Brien doesn’t love facing either of the two players.
“It’s like a little kid trying to plug up the leak in the dike,” he said, illustrating with his hands. “You stop Pierce (holds out his finger). You stop Allen (holds out other finger). You plug your nose in there and stop Garnett. You keep Rondo out of the middle. If Kendrick gets a deep post-up, what do you do to stop him? You bring House and Posey off the bench. And Tony Allen. You just do the best you can.”
“I think he’s a hell of a basketball player and a hell of a point guard,” O’Brien said. “He’s shooting the ball with confidence. I think he’s playing with terrific maturity.
“The other thing is, the Celtics play harder than anybody in the league defensively. A lot starts with defense at the point guard position. [Rondo] is so quick. He has such good hands. And then he’s backed up by people like Garnett. Their quickness is outstanding…It’s a credit to their coaching staff that they play every single quarter like they were in the Finals.”