A funny thing happened at the forum known as the Garden last Friday night.
There was the controversial Stephon Marbury, clad in Celtics green, coming off the bench in his debut for his latest team, the first minutes he had played in more than a year following the soap opera that surrounded him in New York. Noted “team killer” and all-around embodiment of the narcissistic professional athlete, Marbury is on board in Boston out of desperation, a move Celtics fans weighed for months with a drastic amount of trepidation thanks to his past transgressions in the NBA.
Yet despite the overwhelming fear that this one player, equivalent to poison in the locker room, might derail a team with championship aspirations, the Garden crowd greeted Marbury with a standing ovation as he strolled onto the parquet. A player many fans had said would be difficult to root for just hours earlier received a hero’s welcome before even scoring his first bucket of the season. Maybe we’re just a welcoming society, and it was a greeting to a new beginning. Or maybe it’s the increasing sycophancy in this town after a decade of professional athletic excellence.
We’ve seen this before. It has been less than two years since the Patriots stole Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders to the knee-jerk chagrin of Pats fans, concerned that the volatile wide receiver would create a schism in a franchise built on a foundation of team-first preaching. Yet Moss has re-emerged as one of the game’s top receivers, and wouldn’t you know, ever since he donned New England’s colors, he hasn’t been such a bad guy after all.FULL ENTRY
Rajon Rondo and Eddie House have been through this sort of thing before.
This time last year, Sam Cassell landed in the Celtics’ locker room with a long resume and large personality. Though everyone tried to say the right things, they clearly felt uncertainty, for good reason.
Rondo joked that Cassell was there to take all his minutes. Then, for stretches of the early part of the playoffs when Rondo struggled on the road, he did just that.
House said he would stay professional no matter what happened, and to his credit, he did. He sat and watched nearly two full playoff series while the role he’d carved out over the previous six months vanished.
House wound up coming back with a huge impact in some of the C’s biggest playoff victories — most significantly, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Cleveland and the Game 4 NBA Finals comeback in Los Angeles — then opted to return to Boston as a free agent when he had longer, more lucrative offers to go elsewhere. Asked in August if he was worried about history repeating, he responded emphatically.
“I don’t think they would re-sign me not to play, or so they could go find somebody else,” he said. “Even though at the time I was unhappy about not playing, nobody knew it. I stayed working hard, waited for my opportunity. Then when I got it, I seized it. That should be rewarded.”FULL ENTRY
The list of suitors is small, the list of candidates even smaller. For title contenders,
the buyout season — nestled between the NBA trading deadline in mid-February and the March 1 buyout deadline for players to be eligible for the postseason — is like a whirlwind tour through the mall on Christmas Eve.
In the past two years, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has dodged and weaved around the parking lot, then feverishly darted through the last-second sale items. Last season, he emerged with P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell, who both played significant playoff minutes in the title run. On Tuesday, he won the tug of war for 7-footer Mikki Moore. The C’s have one remaining roster spot open, which is expected to go to Stephon Marbury on Friday.
Like most of his competition, Ainge faced tough choices this week. Should he jump at the first big man he sees — in this case, Moore, whom the Kings released Feb. 18 after the trade deadline passed — or hold out for someone potentially more appealing, like, say, Thunder forward/center Joe Smith? Of course, if Smith doesn’t become available or chooses another team (his former club in Cleveland, perhaps), then Ainge risks showing up at the playoff stretch party with no gifts for his team.FULL ENTRY
Asked prior to the season how it would be different guiding an aspiring champion compared to an actual one, Celtics coach Doc Rivers tried to be honest.
He didn’t know, because he’d never done it before.
He wasn’t worried about the team coming into the season fat, happy, and content. He was confident the presence of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce would ensure that wouldn’t happen. He knew the date against the Celtics would be the focal point of every other team’s schedule. He just didn’t know to what extent, or how his crew would respond to the unrelenting pressure.
As Rivers took a step back from the title defense for a few days during the All-Star break, he said the biggest difference he sees between this year and last is one of mission statement.
Last year, the team was looking to prove it could be the best. This year, it is looking to prove it is still better than everyone else.FULL ENTRY
It got a big laugh even though it might not have been entirely a joke.
Following his 36-point effort against the Timberwolves on Feb. 1, Paul Pierce said the scoring outburst proved he could still fill up the stat sheet “even at 31 [years old].” The performance came amid a wild stretch in which the Celtics played a grueling schedule, including two games without Kevin Garnett (flu), with a national TV audience for a series of marquee matchups.
Pierce did his part to wear as many hats he could, sometimes trading them on and off within games. Against the Wolves, Sixers (29 points on Feb. 3), and Knicks (26 points last Friday), he did it with his scoring. Against the Lakers on Feb. 5, he had to try to do it with his defense on Kobe Bryant.
With Garnett, Ray Allen, and an emerging force in Rajon Rondo on the floor with him, Pierce knows he doesn’t always have to be the offensive focal point anymore. Yet without James Posey this season, he realizes that much of the burden of covering the league’s top scorers will fall on him for longer stretches as the games become more important.
“I’ve become accustomed to it,” he said. “I get a feel of each and every game from the start of how it’s going to be played. What can I bring to the game to help my team knowing that every night is not going to be about my scoring? Every night is not going to be about certain parts of the game that I know I have great strengths in.
“I try to give the game what it needs. If it needs my rebounding and my defense, I try to put more of an emphasis on that. If we need my scoring, I try to do that also.”FULL ENTRY
You might think it would be impossible for a Springfield-bound basketball player who has made eight All-Star teams, averages over 20 points per game, and ranks second all-time in 3-pointers made and 10th in free throw percentage to be overlooked or underappreciated while still an active player.
Yet for the Celtics’ admirable Ray Allen, that is the case. At least, it is this season. As the Philadelphia 76ers so harshly learned at the buzzer Tuesday night, the elegant 33-year-old shooting guard has been the glue of the defending champions as they have methodically built a 41-9 record. And yet the appropriate accolades and appreciation too often seem to elude him. So consider this our honest effort to give credit where credit is due, for the Boston Celtics franchise would not be this reborn juggernaut without his essential — and apparently, to some, subtle — contributions.
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to watch his steady-to-stellar play this season, it was disheartening to learn of the latest and most noticeable oversight: his exclusion from the Eastern Conference All-Star roster, which was finalized last week when the reserves were announced. In the long run, it may be a blessing — the more rest and respites the Celtics’ stars can get during the regular season, the better they should be in May and June — but it can be taken as nothing less than a slight, for the Celtics’ most efficient star absolutely deserves the honor after all he has done and meant this season.FULL ENTRY
Want to start a spirited debate among Celtics fans?
Topic: Tony Allen. Ideal sixth man and shutdown defender, or maddeningly frustrating player perennially overrated by management and coaches?
Grab the popcorn, sit back, and enjoy.
There was plenty of surprise this summer when Allen returned on a two-year contract after the C’s decided not to pick up his option in June. The market on athletic wing players was a little thin after James Posey jumped ship to New Orleans, and C’s general manager Danny Ainge lauded Allen’s improved maturity and his readiness to take his game to the next level with added responsibility and playing time.
The responsibility was considerable — primary backup at both shooting guard and small forward to start the season, as well as both an offensive and defensive spark off the bench. Through 30 games, the results were mixed. At times, Allen’s playmaking helped carry the developing bench, while at others his inconsistency and out-of-control play dragged the unit down. Sometimes he was effective on defense and made you think that he might be able to fill some of the void left by Posey. At other times, his gambling ways raised the question of whether his defensive prowess was more theory than reality.FULL ENTRY
Eddie House starts out deep in the near corner behind the arc. He looks for the pass. He’s open, briefly. He’s ready to shoot.
The play doesn’t find him right away, so he takes off. First he scurries along the baseline, briefly lost among the 7-footers, and emerges out the other side. He is now in the far corner behind the arc. He looks for the pass again. He’s open a little longer this time. He’s still ready to shoot.
By the end of the possession, he will make it back to the other baseline and out to the top of the key. He will stunt and retreat. He will sprint around a screen 22 feet from the basket. He is still looking for the pass. He is open longer and longer each time. He’s always ready to shoot.
“A lot of the guys don’t want to chase a lot of the great shooters in the league,” Celtics guard Ray Allen said of the challenge House’s movement presents a defense, “because you’re getting hit by two or three screens, then you come off a screen and you’ve got to run to get back in front of your guy. You not only have to chase them, but you have to contest the shot at the same time. That’s not easy to do.”
It certainly wasn’t easy for the Heat to do on Jan. 21 when House torched Miami for seven 3-pointers (six in the second quarter), and it wasn’t easy for the Mavericks to do last Sunday when House matched that trey total in scoring 23 points in just 27 minutes.FULL ENTRY
The most popular guy on a football team is often the backup quarterback, and the most popular players on an NBA team are often the promising youngsters buried toward the end of the bench.
Doc Rivers has heard the calls for the kids throughout his five-year tenure in Boston. From Al Jefferson, to Gerald Green, to Ryan Gomes, to Rajon Rondo, to Leon Powe, to Gabe Pruitt, the unknown quantities have intrigued fans and media, and Rivers has had to explain why it’s taking so long to get to know them.
Now Rivers is hearing those questions about rookie Bill Walker. His combination of leaping ability, size, and toughness makes him an intriguing option. But Rivers has made his young players earn their way into the lineup in recent years, and he says he is not ready to rush Walker from the Development League right into a spot in the main rotation just yet.
“Whenever I hear that about Patrick [O’Bryant], or this week it’s Billy, or next week it might be J.R. [Giddens], I always wonder who they want me to take off the floor,” Rivers said. “It’s not anything they’re doing or not doing, but they have to beat out the guy in front of them. You play nine guys, we play 10 as much as I can help during the regular season, but it’s just that simple.
“It’s either that, or in the olden days, you’d just take the guy out who is in front of you.”FULL ENTRY
The truth is that the real 2008-09 Boston Celtics rank somewhere between the roaring juggernaut that ripped off 19 straight victories and had some of us daydreaming of eclipsing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ single-season record of 72 wins, and the scattershot crew that at times recently has appeared to be paying bizarre homage to the 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies. Say, is that Brian Scalabrine or Big Country Reeves?
The afflictions that have ailed the Celtics in recent weeks are nothing that the All-Star break and a savvy acquisition or two by Danny Ainge can’t cure. Joe Smith would be ideal, and I suspect that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen are taking turns whispering in the allegedly retired P.J. Brown’s ear about reboarding the ship for the stretch run. With good health and the appropriate personnel tweaks, this is still a 60-something-victory team with legitimate championship aspirations. But right now, some concerns are very real, particularly regarding the state of the bench.
I didn’t want to do this, but I can’t stop myself — I must lament the departure of James Posey. It’s clear that a reasonable facsimile of the tough, versatile swingman isn’t going to come walking through that door, and his absence is making the Celtics’ quest for banner No. 18 considerably more challenging than it might have been had he remained a Celtic. We’ve been reluctant to fault Ainge for sticking to his offer of three years when the New Orleans Hornets gave Posey four in their winning bid, but it’s entirely possible that the general manager’s long-term vision and fiscal prudence may end up costing the Celtics a championship in the short run — like, say, this season. Perhaps no one will be able to prevent a certain 6-foot-8-inch, 270-pound runaway train in Cleveland from achieving his goal of NBA domination this season, but a Posey-Pierce tandem would have had as good a chance as anyone.
As for the holdovers on the bench, only Leon Powe passes for dependable at the moment, and he seems to find his way into Doc Rivers’s doghouse for the slightest of infractions. Powe’s fellow big man Glen Davis remains an affable enigma in his second season; he might carve out a rewarding 12-year niche as a rugged inside scorer off the bench, or he could be the next John “Hot Plate” Williams and find himself out of the league in three years. Five seasons into his career, Tony Allen still plays like a puppy in relentless pursuit of his tail. Eddie House is, to be blunt, useless if his shot isn’t failing ... and too often lately, his shot isn’t falling, though to his credit, he keeps firing them up with the confidence that the next one will mark the beginning of a hot streak. Scalabrine is a fan favorite and a Rivers favorite, but it’s a stretch to expect him to accomplish much more than putting up a good fight on defense and knocking down an occasional wide-open jumper.FULL ENTRY
They braved the withering storm remarkably well for a remarkably long time. Yet, over the past three weeks, it all seemed to catch up to the Celtics just a bit.
All the nights with the bull’s-eyes right in the middle of their home whites and road greens. The eight games in 13 days in November, the six back-to-backs in the first six weeks of the season, the franchise-record winning streak they did their best not to acknowledge, the Christmas trip to Los Angeles, and the dearth of real practice time seemed to take their collective toll.
The bad news is that 19 straight victories led into six losses (five on the road) in eight games. The good news is that, although the targets on their chests won’t go away, the seemingly constant trail from charter flight to hotel to arena, then back home for a day or two at the most, is ending.
With two days off following Wednesday night’s game against the Nets, the Celtics will have their first back-to-back days off that don’t involve a cross-country flight since Dec. 13 and 14. Now they have consecutive days off in three out of four weeks. Figure in eight home games in a 14-game stretch, which includes only two back-to-backs, and that means more rest and more workouts.
“It will give us some consistencies being at home instead of picking up and going, picking up and going, picking up and going,” Ray Allen said following the C’s home-and-home sweep of the Raptors on Sunday and Monday. “It seems we’ve been doing that a lot.”
“I have never in my career played 55 games before the All-Star break,” said Brian Scalabrine, in his eighth year. “That’s 55 games. I think the most I had ever played is 51, and usually it’s about 48. Hopefully, what we’re doing now, grinding it out now, will pay dividends later.”FULL ENTRY
As rumors continue to swirl over the next two months regarding every available veteran player possibly coming to Boston to help the defending champs add depth, the current reserve corps will be scrutinized nightly.
Throughout the season, the bench has sometimes struggled with holding leads, but more often has battled with holding momentum. With some notable exceptions — last Sunday in New York being one of them — the starters set the tone for the game. The bench doesn’t necessarily lose ground on the scoreboard, but by the time the first five returns, they often have trouble re-establishing themselves against a suddenly emboldened foe.
As Doc Rivers tries to limit the regular-season minutes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, the coach has looked to go more often with a second unit void of a go-to star on the court.
Success, however, has been limited.
“I think the big thing for us was that we weren’t sharing the basketball,” said Eddie House, the most established veteran on a largely inexperienced unit. “We have to take the mindset of playing defense first and letting the offense come to us. Everybody is going to have plays called for him on the second unit. But if you don’t have the shot, you have to move the basketball and get a better shot.”
Though Rivers has said he has told starting point guard Rajon Rondo to call his own plays most of the time, possessions on the second unit appear more structured, possibly leading to some of the stagnation. When a player who might get only three or four shots a game has a shot called for him, he’s going to think harder about giving it up.FULL ENTRY
When you’ve had a taste of the big time, a return to the small time can be a harsh reality slap. Celtics rookie J.R. Giddens felt the sting on Nov. 15 when he was assigned to the Utah Flash of the NBA Developmental League. Fellow newcomer Bill Walker suffered the blow five days later when his publicly stated hopes of avoiding the same fate were dashed.
As one of two veteran Celtics players — along with Patrick O’Bryant — who made the same journey through the NBDL outposts, Gabe Pruitt could relate. But given that he’s gone from the very far edge of the bench on last year’s champions to an increasing role in the repeat bid, he said he urged the rookies to view it as more of an opportunity than a punishment for not being able to crack the rotation with the best team in the league.
“I talked with Bill, and at first he was like, ‘No, I don’t want to go,’ and this and that,” Pruitt said. “But once he got down there he saw it was not too bad, and he had a chance to play. After J.R. had 34 in a game [Dec. 1] I called him up afterward. He was enjoying it because he was playing. He was making the most of it.
“I think they realize what they’re down there for and trying to use it to make them better.”
Statistically, it seems to be working. After looking lost at times during training camp and in the preseason, Giddens has excelled with the Flash, averaging 18.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Walker, who seemed a bit further down the path as a potential NBA role player, has also done well, with 17.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in less than 30 minutes per night.FULL ENTRY
Ray Allen talks about so many options in the Celtics’ offense. A defense might be able to stop one, perhaps it can game plan for two, but if the Celtics keep going through the progressions there will be an option the defense either hasn’t prioritized or simply can’t contain.
Then the Celtics beat them over the head with it.
At the beginning of the season, it was Paul Pierce with his big quarters in comebacks against the Raptors and Hawks. Then it was Ray Allen as he led the C’s in scoring seven out of nine games. Then it was Kevin Garnett powering the comeback in the fourth quarter on Dec. 17 in Atlanta. Even Kendrick Perkins had his chance on Dec. 19 with a career-high 25 points in a 126-108 victory over the Bulls. Finally, it was Rajon Rondo’s turn as he scored 18 points on 9-for-9 shooting in the third quarter of Sunday’s 124-105 triumph over New York.
With the starters shooting over 65 percent in two straight games last weekend and the team dishing out 73 assists in that span, it seems the offense is now so balanced with the first unit on the court it is almost indefensible.FULL ENTRY
The Celtics have this little game they play when it comes to records, winning streaks, and anything else that doesn’t specifically have to do with securing a championship.
They claim ignorance.
Ask them their record, and they’ll vow they don’t know. Tell them their record, then ask them again the next day, and they’ll swear again they haven’t a clue. Mention a winning streak, and the Charlestown Code of Silence kicks in.
They take pride in the lack of awareness of something they view as insignificant to their ultimate goal. Asked last week about the streak — 15 straight games, fourth longest in franchise history as of Tuesday — Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he asked the players how long it was and was happy when only half of them knew the right answer.
Asked about it again a couple of days later, after a victory over the Jazz, the coach acted as if reporters had given him a problem straight out of advanced placement calculus.
“I just don’t even know, honestly,” he said.FULL ENTRY
Old friend James Posey returns to the Garden Friday night for the first time since those wonderfully delirious hours after Banner No. 17 was secured and all heaven broke loose, and when his former employers present him with his championship ring during a pregame ceremony, the ovation is sure to be raucous, prolonged, and heartfelt. Posey is a Hornet today, but his remarkably dependable performance during his lone season in Boston ensured that in legacy, he will forever be a Celtic.
It was natural for a fan to lament when Posey said goodbye and joined the Hornets as a free agent not too long after the Duck Boats’ engines had cooled, but he is one modern athlete we could not fault for chasing the dollar signs. As a 30-year-old who had already worn the jersey of five different teams, he took his last open shot at NBA riches, and he prudently accepted the best offer once it was obvious that Danny Ainge, keeping the long-term interests of the franchise in mind, wasn’t going to give him the fourth year New Orleans did. Given the circumstances, his departure made sense for both sides — business-wise, anyway.
Entering the new season, however, it was difficult to imagine how — or if — the team would replace him on the basketball court. To put it in the context of recent Boston athletes, Posey’s uncommon aptitude in deliver-or-lose situations was reminiscent of Troy Brown with the ’01 Patriots, or perhaps of Dave Roberts during a certain Red Sox postseason moment in ’04. When something absolutely, positively needed to get done — say, drilling a 3-pointer from the corner, taking a charge on Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, poking away a steal in the backcourt, zapping Kevin Garnett with the tranquilizer gun, anything — he inevitably did it, no questions asked. He was the ultimate role player, and his departure was commonly and logically perceived as a blow to the franchise’s chances of a second straight championship.
But a strange thing has happened since his departure: The Celtics, 20-2 and soaring as high as the rafters, seem to have improved. We never would have suspected it the day he departed, but the team James Posey will encounter Friday night might just be superior to the one he left behind.FULL ENTRY
For three years, Celtics coach Doc Rivers has been pleading with Rajon Rondo to run.
Not just off steals, not just on the fast break, not just once in a while. Rivers wants Rondo to push the ball up the floor on nearly every possession.
For a player whose game is speed, it seemed odd that the message didn’t get through all the time. But over the past three weeks, it finally has. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics have won 12 in a row, with Rondo putting up numbers that may earn him a trip to Phoenix for the All-Star Game on Feb. 15.
“Just knowing the game better,” said Rondo of the increased urgency. “I’m trying to use my quickness more. I see a lot of teams do it to us around the league. I try to do the same thing. Sometimes you get defenses slipping and you catch them uneasy.”
The point guard’s jump in statistics is reason for many opponents to be even more uneasy. They know what to expect out of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. But Rondo’s assists this season have jumped from 5.1 per game through 22 games to 7.6, and his shooting percentage has leaped from 49.2 to 52.4. The spoils of a more up-tempo style have rippled throughout the stat sheet. No one has benefited more than Allen, whose shooting is up from 44.5 percent last year to 50 percent this year.
“I attribute that to the way Rajon is playing,” Allen said. “He’s pushing the ball up the floor, and teams are back on their heels defensively.”FULL ENTRY
The Celtics entered December with the best record in the NBA's Eastern Conference. They encountered a tough, busy schedule to start the season, playing three games in four nights on six different occasions.
Now, in the midst of a much quieter stretch (only four games in the first 10 days of December), Doc Rivers discussed his team’s hot start and how much he has learned about himself after guiding the Celtics to their 17th NBA championship.
TC: When you looked at this schedule to start the season, you knew how difficult it would be. You must be awfully happy to be sitting where you are right now.
Rivers: I am. When I first saw the schedule, I was thinking let’s just get through it healthy and let’s keep our heads above water. That’s basically what we talked about as a staff. My whole thought as a coach, though, was making sure the players stay fresh throughout, and to do that I knew I was going to have to use the bench more than we normally would have, and [give players] a lot of days off. Early in the year as a coach, you never want to give days off because you have things to work on, and I thought there was slippage on the floor because of that, but we kept winning games, so that allowed us to do it.
TC: Are you able to make some of that up? Can you make up for lost time on the practice floor?
Rivers: No, you can’t make up that time, but we will have a lot of practice time coming up. So now, we have a body of work that we can show the players to show them what we have to work on, and we can take it one piece at a time and try to work it out.FULL ENTRY
Kendrick Perkins’ offensive game is a work in progress. His defensive game remains a warrior’s work of art.
The Celtics center has made his bones in the NBA as a physical and imposing presence in the paint. Over the past six years, his ability and eagerness to man up against the biggest men in the league has allowed him to go from overweight teenager to starting center on the defending champions.
Forward Al Jefferson enjoyed a reputation as an emerging star before being traded to the Timberwolves last summer, and Perkins’ defense helped allow Jefferson to shine offensively. The pride Perkins took on the defensive end also endeared him to Kevin Garnett after they clashed early in their careers.
Despite undergoing off-season shoulder surgery that cost him nearly the entire summer, Perkins has been as effective and passionate on defense as ever. He has slowly added a nifty offensive move or two as well.
“I didn’t get to really have the off-season the way I wanted,” he said. “With the month of October, I had to hurry up and jam it in all in one. I was trying to work on my game and get better. I am still trying to improve.”
Although he fumbled away a series of Rajon Rondo feeds in an eight-point effort during Monday’s 107-88 victory over the Magic, Perkins was coming off a pair of games in which his offense went well beyond the usual array of spoon-fed dunks. His deft double post move on Philly shot-blocker Samuel Dalembert was part of a 4-for-4 first quarter that helped set the stage for a 102-78 blowout of the Sixers on Nov. 28. The next night, Perkins took a season-high 15 shots on the way to scoring 15 points with 12 boards in an 89-84 victory at Charlotte.FULL ENTRY
The truth is that now, years later, Paul Pierce is better than we might have believed. The truth is that so much as the Celtics were bad, for as long as they were, Pierce's game suffered. The truth is that even those of us who watched Pierce regularly made the mistake of underestimating his talent, his skills, his desire.
And the truth now is that Pierce has awakened an entire nation, served notice that he belongs among the most elite group of basketball players in the world.
Here is a quick story for you: Last year, during the NBA Finals in Los Angeles, many reporters and credentialed onlookers were relegated to watching the game on a large-screen television in an impromptu workroom. The Celtics already had completed a stirring comeback in Game 4 and were on the verge of another in Game 5, and it was dawning on the basketball world that most of the experts had been wrong, that the Celtics were the superior team, that the best player in the Finals was not Kobe Bryant but rather Pierce, who entered the Finals on the undercard.
Here was the star of the Lakers, the otherworldly Kobe Bryant.
And there was Pierce, the other guy.
“I’ve got to be honest,” one NBA employee said in the midst of Pierce’s scintillating, 38-point performance in the Celtics’ eventual Game 5 loss. “I had no idea he was this good.”
No shame there.
After all, let’s be honest.
When you get right down to it, neither did we.
Just give him a chance
For Danny Ainge, all along, the idea was to build around Pierce, whom Ainge regarded as one of the greatest players in franchise history. The assessment sometimes seemed like something of a stretch. For all of the talents that Pierce demonstrated during the first nine years of his Celtics career, he turned the ball over too much, made relatively little commitment to defense, seemed to prefer the supporting role. Antoine Walker was seen as having more leadership skills.
Given Brian Scalabrine’s first couple of years in Boston, you can forgive him if the over-the-top cheers sometimes rang a little more mocking than heartfelt.
After two seasons full of boos and howling disapproval at his mere presence on the court, things turned around for the seldom-used veteran last season. Whenever he entered the game — often late in lopsided contests — the Garden faithful rose to its collective feet and urged him on with the “Scal-a-brin-eee!” chant. Whenever he touched the ball, he was urged to shoot. The farther beyond the 3-point line, the better.
It wasn’t that he minded the cheers, but he didn’t like being asked to look for his shot outside of the team’s offense. Regardless of the score, that’s not ubuntu, he would say — referring to the team’s mantra of putting the whole above the self. That’s not Celtics basketball.
Yet over the past two weeks, any melodramatic enthusiasm for Scalabrine has turned legitimate. Since getting the call as the first player off the bench in the overtime victory in Milwaukee on Nov. 15, he has established himself as part of the extended rotation. During the team’s five-game winning streak entering Wednesday night’s game against Golden State, Scalabrine has averaged about 16 minutes a game, including a 21-minute effort as a spot starter on Nov. 18 against the Knicks while Kevin Garnett served a one-game NBA suspension.FULL ENTRY
Just because Eddie House misses a few 3-pointers doesn’t mean he’s not going to take the next one. Or two.
Or five. Or six.
House is a shooter. That’s what he’s done throughout his nine-year NBA career, and that’s what he’s going to keep doing whenever he gets the chance. He knows if he stops, his time on the court will be limited. He knows the best way to prove he can still do it is to take those shots over and over again.
“If you’re getting open looks, you’ve got to continue to take the shot,” he said. “You can’t make the next one if you don’t take the next one.”
It’s called a shooter’s mentality. All 3-point specialists have it. You can compare it to a gambler at the blackjack table. Ultimately, the odds of success are against you — even a dead-eye like House shoots at only a 37.9 percent career clip on treys — but the shot is a high-stakes game, and the payoff is high.
“You’ve got to keep shooting, man,” he said. “It only takes one. You hit one, and you might make three, four in a row.”
For the Celtics early this season, the house has taken the House on most occasions. He hit on only 11-of-45 3-point attempts through Monday (a glaring 24.4 percent). He appeared to be shaking his season-long slump with a 3-for-7 night in a 13-point effort off the bench against the Nuggets on Nov. 14, but regressed the next night in Milwaukee when he missed five of six treys.FULL ENTRY
Throughout last season, fans, reporters, and teammates often looked at Kevin Garnett in disbelief. How does he do it?
The passion. The energy. The one-step-away-from-“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” mentality that he brought to the court every night.
After he bent down to kiss the Celtics’ midcourt logo following Game 6 of the NBA Finals, you half-expected his head to explode and confetti to spray out to the rafters. Those who knew him best insisted it was no act.
That’s how Garnett is and how he always will be. Early this season, he is picking up right where he maniacally left off in June.
Consult the Manchester, N.H., basketball stanchion Garnett pummeled before a preseason game to see whether he’s mellowed. Ask the Nets, who saw him get down in the “panther stance” to play defense in the backcourt during another exhibition game, whether he’s content.
Even though he’s struggled at times with turnovers and shooting in the first three weeks of the season, his inner inferno hasn’t faded in the slightest. It burned at perhaps its most scorching during the 94-87 comeback victory over the Raptors on Nov. 10, when the listless Celtics — coming off their Eastern Conference finals rematch victory in Detroit — needed a spark, and Garnett pulled out a blowtorch.
“He brought the energy,” said starting frontcourt mate Kendrick Perkins. “That’s what KG does. I had seen his focus before that game. I knew he was going to come out with a lot of energy. He was still gassed up after the game. That’s KG. He’s the sparkplug.”FULL ENTRY
Not for nothing, but Stephon Marbury, soon to be an ex-New York Knickerbocker, is responsible for the shoes I wear when I rake my leaves. He is also responsible for the fact that I own letter jackets not only from Hickory High, of the movie Hoosiers, but also one from Carver High in Los Angeles, where Ken Howard used to coach as “The White Shadow,” long before his present gig haunting Boston stages as Tip O’Neill. When I put on the jacket, I think of myself as one of the people down the Carver bench — Goldstein, maybe, or Salami, who was played by one of the several Van Pattens. I think it was Trigger.
Anyway, the reason I own these clothes is that they were, well, cheap. The Starbury sneakers cost less than $15 and the jackets less than that. I considered both of these to be very good deals, since I really don’t believe someone should have to apply for federal matching funds to buy basketball shoes, especially if one is only going to wear them to putter around the yard. Raking leaves does not require great lateral movement or a prodigious vertical leap, not since we got rid of the snakes, anyway. And the Hickory High jacket regularly sets perfect strangers to yelling, “Run the picket fence at ’em!” across the dairy aisle at the supermarket. I believe life should be full of unexpected movie references.
So, just in the sartorial sense, I’ve always been something of a fan of Mr. Marbury. Of course, he’s fallen on hard times. The primary retail outlet for his gear spent the last year tap-dancing along the financial abyss, finally cutting out most of its stores. And, of course, he’s had problems of his own. The Knicks are trying to get out from under him and the $21.9 million they still owe him under a deal he got from Phoenix that was picked up by former New York team president Isiah Thomas, who is what sports businesses contract instead of Dutch elm disease. (Thomas was last seen suffering from that classically New York malady, the Messy Tabloid Episode, for which there is no real cure.) The Knicks hired Mike D’Antoni to coach them, and, although the season is young, D’Antoni has shown a rather impressive disinclination to play Marbury. For his part, Marbury, who acts as his own agent, refuses to talk about a buyout. And around and around they go, for the moment, anyway.
Back in his AAU days in Oakland, Leon Powe got used to playing the center spot. When you’re that age, unless you have the handle of a Magic Johnson or the explosiveness of a LeBron James, most muscular guys over 6-foot-6 know they’re headed straight for the post.
At a generous 6-foot-8 — he is probably closer to 6-foot-7 — Powe was content to bang in high school and even in college; he was an All-America power forward at the University of California.
But when it came time to turn pro, Powe figured it was time for him to catch a break. Although the adjustments of playing away from the basket would be daunting, he was pretty sure his center days were over.
“I was thinking eventually I would be a three [small forward], maybe a four [power forward],” he said of his expectations after the Celtics traded for the pick used to select him in the second round of the 2006 draft.
Three years later, not only is Powe still in the post, but he has become the defending champions’ rock off the bench there. He started in place of an injured Kendrick Perkins at center in Game 5 of the NBA Finals and has been the primary backup at center so far this season.FULL ENTRY
Bill Walker couldn’t help himself.
For about 15 minutes following the final workout of the preseason, the Celtics rookie forward made his way to a basket at the far end of the practice parquet and dutifully shot free throws. Nothing glamorous. More like a daily homework assignment.
Eventually, out of boredom or simply to reward himself for finishing his chores, he abandoned his final foul shot in favor of a rim-shaking jam before heading back to the training room.
Right before he got there, he called for the ball once more and delivered a final powerful dunk that had heads turning all over the Waltham facility.
Those crowd-energizing moments made the second-round pick out of Kansas State University an instant hit in his first preseason game. But Walker knows that the more subtle things such as free throws, bursts of defensive energy, and his seemingly natural ability to infuriate opposing scorers will earn him a piece of the minutes pie.
“Coming to a team that won a championship without you, I’m prepared to not be able to play sometimes,” he said. “I’m not going to pout about it. I’ve just got to keep getting myself ready to play every day and be ready when the time comes.”FULL ENTRY
For the first few weeks, Paul Pierce hardly let the trophy out of his sight.
The Celtics’ captain brought the NBA Finals MVP bronze to his summer camp in Boston and gave it a seat next to him at the finest restaurants all around town. He took it with him on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in Hollywood and paraded it up and down the Las Vegas Strip so much it could have qualified for comp points.
About a month before the official start of training camp, Pierce arrived back in Boston full-time and began the separation process. He didn’t have much choice. His teammates wouldn’t have appreciated it gleaming on the sideline at scrimmages at the team’s HealthPoint facility in Waltham, and it might have been awkward to keep in tow among the yachts and mansions of Newport, R.I., during training camp.
But Pierce had another reason for letting go. The trophy — the MVP hardware as well as the team’s Larry O’Brien grail for its 17th championship — will always be a part of him and his teammates. It’s just that now his focus has shifted to making sure the awards are part of their lasting legacy instead of symbols of their last hurrah.
“It’s a great accomplishment, no doubt about it,” he said of both the personal and team accolades earned last season. “But once you’ve done it, you realize there’s a lot more basketball in your career left. You think about how much more you want to accomplish. Once you accomplish a goal, you say to yourself: ‘How can I be even better?’
“That’s what I’ve done my whole career. That’s what I want to do this year.”
The process began in earnest on Sept. 30 when the Celtics arrived at Salve Regina University for their first training camp workout. Over the course of that week, they underwent the metamorphosis from champs back to a group of hungry guys chasing a championship.
Very quickly, the preseason took on the same men-on-a-mission feel of last season’s methodic march. If anything, having so many players back from the title squad — 12 of the 15 projected on the opening-night roster — has made the exhibition season more task-oriented exercise and less whirlwind tour.FULL ENTRY
Tony Allen will stress that he is not claiming to be better than James Posey. He is just poised to take on the challenge ofthe former Celtics sixth man’s old job.
When Posey bolted to New Orleans as a free agent this summer, that opened the door for Allen — whose contract option the Celtics had not picked up in June — to return to Boston for a fifth season. It also opened up one of the few roles the defending champs had available: they were suddenly in need of a primary backup at small forward behind Paul Pierce. Already the first option off the bench at shooting guard behind Ray Allen, Tony Allen enters the season as the closest thing the team has to a 25-minute reserve.
“That’s what he was going to be, anyway,” said Doc Rivers of Allen as the main bench option at both wing spots. “He’s capable of doing that. That’s why he’s here.”
After playing extensively in the absence of Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak two years ago, Allen tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He struggled at times last season with the aftereffects of the second major knee surgery of his career and never adapted well to being productive in the limited minutes he saw behind Posey.
But this season, he figures to see ample time off the bench for Pierce and Ray Allen as Rivers tries to limit wear and tear on the pair of 30-something All-Stars.FULL ENTRY
If gratitude were currency, then Darius Miles might have already bought himself a multiyear deal with the Celtics.
A player reborn at age 27 after six seasons in the league, and two more on the periphery rehabbing a career-threatening knee injury, the 6-foot-9 wingman never hesitates to gush over how thrilled he is to be wearing No. 7 for the Green.
"This is amazing to me," he said. "From where I came [in Portland], it's like a light shining on me. I came from a big old rainstorm, and it's like the sun is out now."
Sincere enthusiasm alone, though, won't earn Miles a spot on the opening-night roster. In many ways, he still plays the same McDonald's All-American style he played in high school and early in his career with the Clippers, Cavaliers, and Trail Blazers. Celtics coach Doc Rivers made it clear in training camp that style won't fit with the defending NBA champions.
Miles says he realizes that and, perhaps more slowly but surely, he is incorporating that mental approach into his game.
"Consistency and defense is all I think about," he said following back-to-back preseason games last weekend. "With this defense, I've got to be consistent. The offense, I really don't care about to be totally real, because I'm not in that position here. I used to be in that position where I was a one or two option. I'm not a one or two option here. I'm not any kind of option on this team. The defensive end is where they want me to do it, and that's what I want to do."FULL ENTRY
When Ray Allen looked around during last year’s preseason, nearly everything was new. New teammates, new coaches and new surroundings in a country most of the Celtics had never set foot in before.
The contrast to this year’s scene has been striking. A dozen players from last season’s championship squad, which held training camp in Rome, are back. All of the coaches are familiar faces, with familiar plays, barks and commands. With the exception of two rookies and two veterans signed as free agents, it’s been almost like picking up right where the team left off in June.
“It’s been a lot easier because we get right into our sets,” said Allen. “We get right into practice. Last year, it was like you just sat there. There was so much instruction. For many of us, it was like our first time playing basketball because there was so much where we were starting over with terminology with the coaches, and getting to know everybody.”FULL ENTRY
The smoke machine means that something's different this year. The smoke machine means that something's different this century. One by one, the members of the Boston Celtics -- excuse me. The (cough, wheeze) world champion Boston Celtics -- wander through the beginning of their new season, each one of them attending fervently the Stations of the Media. They stop in front of a series of black backdrops, where they smile and glower and get themselves immortalized, at least for the rest of the new season. Some of them wait grumpily in an upstairs corridor, substitute players fidgeting while Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen jump ahead of the line to tape preseason interviews for what appears to be every platform on the cable dial except the History Channel, which is not here perhaps because none of the Celtics is a member of the Knights Templar.
Down on the floor below, Leon Powe goes station to station. He smiles and he glowers and gets himself immortalized, at least for the rest of the new season. At the last station, he stands, dribbling, while a smoke machine puffs clouds of gray vapor all around his ankles. Somewhere, James Naismith picks up his battered old fiddle, plays a sad song, and weeps into his mustache.
But, amid the snapping of the cameras and the chattering of the reporters, there is nothing but happiness here for Leon Powe. Happiness, and a kind of peace that you find by putting one foot in front of the other, day after grinding day, when hope seems as transient as smoke in the wind.FULL ENTRY
Scanning the plastic-wrapped Celtics locker room the night of the championship celebration, it wouldn't have been a stretch to name Sam Cassell "Least Likely to Return" among the suds-soaked crew.
Billed as the answer to any lingering backup point guard concerns when acquired just after the trade deadline, Cassell proved an uneven contributor, and at times in the playoffs unnerving to those who watched the offense grind to an isolation-filled halt whenever old No. 28 made his way on the court.
Yet Cassell was back on the parquet when the team broke for training camp in Newport, R.I., this week. A little more than a month shy of his 39th birthday, Cassell decided he wanted to give it one more run, and somewhat surprisingly, the Celtics were willing to let him attempt it in Boston.
"I wasn't going nowhere else," he said. "Why would I? I didn't put it out there to play for another team. If I had, I think I could have gone someplace else. But why? We're the champions."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said there was always a place for Cassell on the Celtics' bench if he wanted it, and that he always figured he would take it.
"I just think you're going to have to drag Sam away from the NBA," said Rivers. "He's a gym rat. I think Sam's one of those guys who can play forever. It's not like Sam relies on his speed. He hasn't for 10 years, and he's still very effective."
He wasn't always effective last season in Boston. Battling back pain, and adjusting to a reserve role for the first time since his Timberwolves days, Cassell shot 38.5 percent, averaging 7.7 points, in 17 regular-season games. He sat out five playoff games entirely -- including the Game 6 clincher against the Lakers -- and the team's ball movement often ceased when he did play.
At the time, much of it was chalked up to Cassell being unfamiliar with the schemes. That excuse won't work this year.
"The difference is now when he takes one of those shots I know he broke the offense," Rivers said. "Last year, he kept saying he didn't know the offense. When he takes one of those shots, and he will, I now know he's breaking the offense for sure."
Cassell, who enters camp not assured of a spot on the opening-night roster, reiterated his pledge from last year to be the good soldier regardless of playing time.
"The fire never left," he said. "It was just me deciding this is what I want to do one more time. I came in winning two. It would be great to go out winning two."FULL ENTRY
A year ago, the biggest question surrounding the revamped Celtics was their second-year point guard. Bringing together 22 years' worth of All-Stars with a luxury tax-busting payroll and putting it all the hands of such an unproven commodity was equated to putting a kid with a learner's permit behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce.
The doubts surrounded Rajon Rondo from the first day of training camp. While most in New England soon grew comfortable with the dynamic talent running the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen show, in the playoffs there was a whole new crowd in need of convincing. Throughout the postseason, Celtics games became a nightly referendum on Rondo's ability to perform on the NBA's greatest stage.
There were nights when he stumbled. In the end, he shined well enough to help bring Boston a 17th championship.
"From the beginning, the focus was on me," said Rondo as he prepares to begin the team's title defense when training camp starts next week in Newport, R.I. "It never got taken off me. Especially when they put Kobe (Bryant) on me in the Finals, it was on me even more.
"But even in Games 3 and 4 in L.A. when I didn't play much, it was a learning experience. I didn't play well on the road in the Finals, but I bounced back and had a great Game 6. It was just handling adversity. As a young player, being consistent in this league is the hardest thing to do."
Though Rondo had his ups and downs -- which the national analysts documented to exhaustion -- his biggest games came in many of Boston's biggest victories. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semis, he played the entire second half and torched the Cavs for 20 points (on 9-of-15 shooting) with 13 assists. Against the Pistons, Rondo had 17 points, 13 assists, six rebounds and four steals in 46 minutes of a critical Game 5 victory. In the Finals, he helped deliver the knockout blow with a 21-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound, six-steal performance in the clinching Game 6.
His statistics improved from his rookie year in points (10.4 per game from 6.4), rebounds (4.2 from 3.7), assists (5.1 from 3.8) and, perhaps most notably, shooting percentage (49.2 percent from 41.8 percent).
Now last year's biggest question must answer the bell again.
"You could say I'm confident, but not too cocky," he said. "But it doesn't matter what other people say, what critics say. It matters what Coach (Doc) Rivers says. He gave me a lot of leeway last year as a second-year point guard. That gave me the confidence, and Danny (Ainge) did as well. I am a champion now. I proved I am a winner."FULL ENTRY
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports