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No big surprise: Jefferson and Perkins expected success

02.01.09 at 4:26 pm ET
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If someone had said during the Boston Celtics 18-game losing streak Kendrick Perkins would win an NBA Championship and Al Jefferson would become an All-Star caliber player in less than two years, they would have been laughed at. Yet the pair of big men have made a remarkable turnaround from the dismal 2007 season. And while their accomplishments may have seemed unlikely just a few seasons ago, neither are surprised by the others success.

‘€œIt’s funny because his game has improved a lot, of course, because every year you have in this league you get better and better,’€ Jefferson said of Perkins. ‘€œBut the things he’s doing now, I’d even seen them when I was here.’€

Jefferson and Perkins faced off on Sunday when the Celtics took on the Timberwolves in Boston. (RECAP HERE) Perkins was nonchalant about the match up — ‘€œMan, I just want to hoop’€ — and seemed unfazed by the success of his close friend. The two had a strong chemistry on and off the court, and saw potential in one another early on. So when Jefferson was the centerpiece of the Kevin Garnett deal, Perkins wasn’t shocked.

‘€œHe’s grown a lot, but he was doing the same thing when he was here,’€ Perkins said. ‘€œIt’s not like he just developed into this star player when he got to Minnesota. That’s why he got traded for Garnett, because he was that type of player before he left here.’€

In Jefferson’s last season with the Celtics, he averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds. This season he is ranked first among all centers in scoring (23.2 ppg), fifth in rebounds (10.6), and has recorded 26 double-doubles.

‘€œI think Al is really learning how to be a leader,’€ Perkins said. ‘€œYou can tell he’s talking more, he’s communicating on the court, he’s telling guys where they need to be. I think Al’s stepping up, being more of a vocal leader. He’s taking pride in playing defense and it’s really just going from there.’€

Even when the Celtics were losing, Jefferson was one of the bright spots on the team. Perkins, however, struggled to learn his role as a defensive presence. He forced baskets and was reluctant to scale down his offensive game.

‘€œThe biggest thing when I was here was he was the type of guy who wanted to rush his offense, he wanted to take shots, he wanted to kind of like be a scorer,’€ Jefferson said. ‘€œAnd Doc (Rivers) used to always tell him, ‘You’re not a scorer. You’re the type of guy who sets pick and rolls. That’s how you get your point.’ And I think that’s what he’s doing now. He finally accepted that and now he gets his points. He scores just as much now just doing his role by setting picks and rolling to the front of the basket, getting offensive rebounds. He’s getting his points that way and I think he’s finally accepted his role and that’s what’s making him a great player.’€

It took losing the player he relied on the most for Perkins to improve his game. He is averaging 8.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, and shooting 59.5% from the field this season, compared to 4.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 49.1% FG in his last season before the trade. Perkins soaked up Garnett’s veteran knowledge and even began to implement a high-low pass that he learned from Jefferson.

‘€œThat’s all he really needed was a guy like KG who was defensive-minded just to bring him up even more,’€  Jefferson said. ‘€œSo the things he’s doing now, I’d seen them when I was here. Perk was always one of the guys that was hard for me to score on even in practice. We used to go at each other so it’s fun watching him grow as a player.’€

At just 24 years old, Jefferson and Perkins are only beginning to reach their potential. But regardless of how successful the other becomes, it’ll be no big surprise for these big men.


Perkins Cool With Call – By Jessica Camerato

The Captain and the Truth – By Paul Flannery

Read More: Al Jefferson, Big Al, Celtics, Kendrick Perkins

The Captain and the Truth

02.01.09 at 3:52 pm ET
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There were about four and a half minutes left Sunday when a guy in the loge seats yelled out, “All right, Paul. Time to take ov-ah.” It wasn’t a command, and it wasn’t even a plea. It was more of a statement of fact. Of course Paul Pierce would take over because that is what Paul Pierce does in situations like this.

No Kevin Garnett. An 18-point halftime lead that had become five. What else would he do?

The Timberwolves had gone small in an effort to get back into the game which left Randy Foye singled up on Pierce. In retrospect, this may have been a miscalculation. (Click here for a recap of the Celtics‘ 109-101 win over the Wolves.)

First Pierce cut into the lane where he muscled up a shot and got two free throws. Next he backed Foye down from the elbow, slowly, deliberately, and then whoosh, he hit him with a spin move, a lay-up and a free throw makes three. For the capper, Pierce simply stared Foye down and drained a 15-footer right in his face.

Game over. Drive home safely.

“I just try to give the game what it needs,” Pierce said after giving the game 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “Today, I thought it needed my scoring. I don’t expect to go out and score 30 points a night. When Kevin’s out there we play through him.”

Yeah, but. It must be nice to know you can still do it when you have to, right?

“You go off (like that) and you say, ‘I still got it,'” Pierce said with a wide grin. “Even at 31 (years old).

It’s not that easy, of course. It can’t be. If it was, every Tom, Dirk and Sebastian would do it.

“He didn’t get a lot of credit the other night against Detroit, but I thought he won that game for us in the stretch where he was the one guy out there with the bench and he didn’t score a point,” Doc Rivers said. “His play led to scores, and he knew what he was doing. He was trying to suck guys in and get everybody shots. When he’s the one guy with the second unit he does that as well as anybody.

“And then,” Rivers continued, “he can sense when we need a bucket and he needs to take over games. Clearly you have to have the ability to do that. I think a lot of guys think they can, but very few actually can, and Paul does a great job with that.”

Pierce has reached an interesting stage in his career. He has proven, on the game’s biggest stage, that he is one of the great players in the world. There was never any doubt, for example, that Pierce would make the All-Star team this year even though a superficial look at his numbers would suggest that he is not nearly as productive as he has been throughout his career. His scoring average, to cite the obvious, is the lowest it has been since his rookie season.

A quick look at his last five games tells a disjointed tale.

Orlando: 27 points, 10 rebounds four assists

Dallas: Eight points, five rebounds, one assist

Sacramento: Eight points (1-for-5 shooting), three rebounds, eight assists

Detroit: 20 points, four rebounds, five assists

Minnesota: 36 points, eight rebounds, six assists

It is exactly because Pierce can go an entire game in which he makes one shot and then turn around and effortlessly drop 36 a few days later when his team is missing one of its key players that he has become so great. He has found the last few years the one thing that he has always wanted back from the game: respect.

Early in his professional life he would tick off the names of the teams that passed over him in the 1998 draft and the players they chose while knocking down shots in practice. As the names of the recently departed shuffle off to retirement, or inactivity–Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz, Robert Traylor, Jason Williams–it becomes clear that whatever the issue was on Draft Day had more to do with bad scouting than with Pierce’s ability or attitude.

He has made seven All-Star teams, but never as a starter. He has never finished in the Top 10 in the MVP balloting and never been voted higher than Third-Team All-NBA, which he has accomplished exactly three times. He was, as he said, “A classic example of a great player stuck on a bad team.” Pierce took a lot of heat for that statement, but in retrospect he was absolutely correct.

Great players are supposed to take all the abuse and make all the shots, but more than that, great players are supposed to lift up their teammates and make them better than they really are. There’s a lot of evidence out there to suggest that that particular notion is entirely bogus. (Would James Worthy and Kevin McHale have been Hall of Famers if they hadn’t played with Magic and Larry? The way you answer the hypothetical reveals how you feel about that argument.)

What we have with Paul Pierce in 2009 is a player who is entirely at peace with himself and his game. We have a player fully capable of going off for 30+ whenever the situation calls for it, and one who is content to provide for others whenever it is not.

That’s the only truth that matters for the Captain.

Celtics-TWolves Game Blog: Fourth Quarter

02.01.09 at 2:01 pm ET
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For Paul’s third quarter recap, click here.

Fourth Quarter Observations

– Doc started the fourth quarter with Pierce and the second unit in. Jefferson is taking a breather so this would be a good opportunity for Powe and Davis to take advantage at the hoop.

– Still waiting for Kevin Love to score. He was, after all, a top five draft pick but has struggled with first-year inconsistencies this season.

- I have to give the T’Wolves credit today. They’re managing to keep it close without Rashad McCants, who was favoring his right elbow before the game. McCants it their leading scorer off the bench and so far they’ve got just 11 points out of the reserves so far.

– Big Al has developed into such a versatile player since leaving Boston. Guys like Dwight Howard and Shaq get credit for being a big body in the paint but Jefferson has added a dangerous mid-range shot to his repertoire. Have I mentioned Jefferson was snubbed??

– A trey and three-point play from Randy Foye closed the gap, but Pierce thrives in close games. The captain is already pushing 40 points and there is still two minutes to go.

– The Garden’s clearing out with the Celtics up by eight at the 30-second mark.

- Celtics win, 109-101.

Read More: Celtics, Timberwolves,

Celtics-T Wolves Game Blog: Third Quarter

02.01.09 at 1:28 pm ET
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After a tremendous quarter the Celtics are holding an 18-point lead. Interesting that Doc Rivers found time for Patrick O’Bryant to start the second quarter. Now is the time to find out what they have with the young 7-footer and while his four minutes weren’t the most brilliant four minutes it was good for him to get some meaningful run.

The Celtics defense has also stepped up after a sleepy opening. They seem to be hitting on all cylinders and it’s huge to keep cranking out wins with the race for the Eastern Conference’s top spot likely going down to the wire.

On to the second half…

THIRD QUARTER WRAP: And we’ve got a ballgame folks. Al Jefferson lit his old team up scoring 14 of his 30 points and Minnesota is back within 14 points at 87-73. It’s a comfy lead for the Celtics, but it’s not a done deal yet by and stretch.

For the C’s, Paul Pierce was the man with 14 of his 29. Big Baby also gave the Celtics good minutes, taking two charges and scoring five points.

Third Quarter Observations

— Had a quick cup of coffee with the local chairman of the Bassy Telfair fanclub at halftime. For obvious reasons he shall remain anonymous. At any rate he pointed out that during the pregame intros Craig Smith got a nice hand, Ryan Gomes got a nicer hand, Al Jefferson got a standing O and Kevin McHale got the biggest cheers. Bassy got booed.

We’re in the fourth year of his career and it still remains to be seen if he will ever be an effective NBA player. No doubt he’s playing better than he has at other points in his career but his game remains a serious work in progress. Would a year or two playing for Rick Pitino have made a difference? It may have, but at this point he’s looking at a Marcus Banks-esque career.

— This is gut-check time for the Wolves, and don’t you just hate cheap sportswriting cliches? They’ve got it down to a dozen and there’s still 18 minutes or so left in this one. Big Al has gone for 24 and seven on 10-for-13 shooting but the defensive presence just isn’t there at the other end. A solid NBA team would look at the next few minutes as an opportunity to get into position to try and steal one. Will the Wolves?

— For the Celtics, this is Pierce time. The Captain has been able to get essentially what he wants this afternoon and now would be a good time for him to re-establish control.

— The Celtics are a little out of sorts offensively. They tried to go into Pierce (who has Randy Foye on him) but Minny is doubling him at all times. Somebody’s got to make a shot.

— Still a lot of contact going on out there. Still, not a lot of calls. Consistency is good, so long as its stays that with through crunch time. (If there is a crunch time today).

— Pierce is carrying the Celtics.

Celtics-TWolves Game Blog: Second Quarter

02.01.09 at 12:48 pm ET
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FIRST HALF WRAP: One player is not enough to beat the Celtics. Perhaps the Timberwolves will realize that down 18 points at halftime. Al Jefferson leads all scorers with 16 points and while he is having a standout game, his teammates aren’t doing much to help. (Sebastian Telfair has 8, Ryan Gomes has 6). I’m looking for more out of rookie Kevin Love (0 points, 3 rebounds) in the second half. Meanwhile the Celtics are leading a balanced attack without KG. Pierce and the Allens have combined for 41 points. Perkins has added eight points and seven boards. The Timberwolves have their work cut out for them in the next 24 minutes.

Second Quarter Observations:

For Paul’s first quarter recap, click here.

Patrick O’Bryant is getting some early play at the start of the second quarter.

Doc Rivers wasted no time calling a timeout two minutes into the quarter. A Mike Miller trey isn’t sitting well with him. On that note, Eddie House missed his first long-range attempt of the game.

Tony Allen is showing no lingering signs of his ankle injury. He’s back to the old TA this afternoon, driving hard to the basket.

Paul Pierce heads to the bench with a game-high four assists.

– Cue the highlight reel. Eddie House drained his first three of the game, prompting a T’Wolves timeout and a collection of his treys on the Jumobtron set to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “The House Is Rockin.'”

– Even with Al Jefferson on the court, the Timberwolves are not attacking the hoop. They have scored just two points in the paint in the first six minutes of the second quarter. Big Al can’t do it all on his own, and as a result he ends up snubbed for the All-Star Game because of his supporting cast.

– Ryan Gomes vs. Paul Pierce: This is a match up Gomes was excited for. This week he told, “It was always a challenge to guard him in practice and it’s a challenge now. He was MVP of the Finals and everyone knows his game. He can score and put the ball in the basket, he’s the kind of guy who can make his team go. Everyone’s playing well for him. But I have to defend him also so it’s going to be a good challenge because when I was in college I tried to model my game after him a little bit, so it’s always good to play against one of the best players in the NBA at the small forward position.”

– “Where best fans in the world happens” – the Celtics made their own tribute to the Boston faithful with a take on the “Where amazing happens” videos.

– Sebastian Telfair has been impressive in the first half. He has a lot more control over his game than he did with the Celtics and he’s making smart choices with the ball.

- At the half … Celtics 62, Timberwolves 44

Celtics-T Wolves Game Blog: First Quarter

02.01.09 at 12:06 pm ET
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Greetings from the Garden where we are live for today’s game between the Celtics and the Timberwolves, aka the former Celtics. The question for today: Is there any force on this mortal coil that could keep Kevin Garnett from making his appointed rounds against hid old team? Apparently there is. It’s called the flu and it has knocked KG out for today and possibly into next week.

Big Baby Davis gets the start in his place and he has been playing the best ball of the season. He’ll have his hands full trying to help stop Al Jefferson, et al. We’re about ready to begin and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Kevin McHale just got a standing ovation during pregame warm-ups when his image filled the JumboTron.

KG may not be here, but Jess and I are back in force. Let’s have at it…

FIRST QUARTER WRAP: Great quarter by Kendrick Perkins who went for nine points and five rebounds. The Celtics are owning the boards, 13-5, even without Kevin Garnett in the lineup.  Minnesota has cooled off after a fast start. It will be interesting watch how this game is called the next three quarters. The refs let a lot of contact go without calls in the first 12 minutes.

First Quarter Observations

— Of course Kendrick Perkins will have Big Al most of the day, but Baby will have to keep an eye out to help. That’s where a player like Garnett would have been valuable today.

— That’s the second time I’ve seen Rondo break out the overhead diagonal bounce pass on the fast break. Those things aren’t accidents folks. It may look funky sometimes but there’s not much that Rondo does that he hasn’t thought through a few times.

— If Minny is going to insist on putting Craig Smith on Perk, that’s a matchup the Celtics should be able to exploit. Perk’s offensive game has been coming along nicely the last year or so. If he gets just a little more fluid, he has the touch, and you know he has the bulk, to be a very productive low-post option.

— If you could have one guy back from the KG trade–besides Al Jefferson–whom would it be? Got to be Ryan Gomes, right? A versatile 6-8 or so forward with range would be ideal on this team. Of course, it’s still a trade you make every day of the week and twice on Sundays, but I think the rest of the league is finally acknowledging that it wasn’t the straight-up steal people thought it was at the time.

— Four turnovers already for the Celtics. If they keep a lid on that they can go for 110 again. Great start by Paul Pierce who is 4-for-4 and nine points. This is a game for Pierce to really pick up his scoring. As has been noted several times, I love the way he’s playing this year. He’s in the flow, so to speak. Time for him to ride the wave this afternoon.

On the other side, you can see what not having KG does to the defense. The T-Wolves are getting good looks, and they’re making them.

— Great move by Ray Allen. He pump-faked the 3 and went hard to the basket. He’s doing that so much more than he did last year when he was basically a catch-and-shoot player. And yes, he got robbed for the All-Star team. Rondo too.

— Minnesota has zero rebounds. Sorry, now they have one.

Kevin Love and Mike Miller are in for Minny. Miller is the subject of much trade rumor mongering and he would definitely help a contender. The guy has very quietly put together a solid career. Love, meanwhile has also put together a decent, if not overwhelming, rookie campaign. Safe to say he’s a better rebounder than people thought he would be. Once he extends his range he should be a solid NBA player for the next decade.

Larry Fitzgerald will be lucky to get as many yards after the catch as Tony Allen just got on that drive.

More than trade bait

01.30.09 at 6:21 pm ET
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An NBA title with the Boston Celtics has made it easy to forget about Kevin Garnett’s days with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is no longer the player who couldn’t win it all. Rather he is the champion who proved anything is possible.

Yet the former Celtics who were involved in the blockbuster deal are still known as ‘the guys traded for Garnett.’ It has been two seasons, though, since the move and now they are ready to make a name for themselves in Minnesota.

‘€œWe’re thankful for what [the Celtics] gave us but now we’ve got to set our own trends, set our own careers,’€ Ryan Gomes said in a telephone interview. ‘€œWe’re not with the Celtics anymore. We know who they have and what they’ve accomplished, but now we’ve got to try to set other goals for ourself.’€

Gomes, Al Jefferson, and Sebastian Telfair are the only remaining players on the Timberwolves from the 2007 trade. (Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff have signed with other teams.) Last season they finished 22-60, their worst record since the pre-Garnett era. In attempt to establish a new identity, the Timberwolves made off-season moves to acquire a highly-touted rookie and veteran shooter. Nonetheless they got off to an eight-game losing streak.

‘€œWhat people should understand is that we had high expectations coming into this season, with the trade of Mike Miller and getting Kevin Love and Brian Cardinal and Rodney Carney,’€ explained Gomes. ‘€œWe had high expectations and it didn’t work out for the first 35 games.’€

The Timberwolves were 4-15 when head coach Randy Wittman was replaced by former VP of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale. Ironically it was a Celtic great who got the Timberwolves playing their own style of basketball. They headed into the new year hot off a five-game winning streak.

‘€œIn the beginning we did go through a rough time,’€ Gomes said. ‘€œOur schedule in the month of December was real tough and we were trying to find ourselves. But now we’ve found ourselves and I think that’s why we’re playing well. Everyone’s understanding their roles and fulfilling them, and I’d say that’s the most important thing. Whenever you have success that means everyone’s doing their part.’€

Gomes points to a demoralizing loss as the source of their improved play. In December the Timberwolves (then 6-24) blew a 29-point lead in the third quarter to the Dallas Mavericks. In spite of losing, the Timberwolves gained confidence and momentum.

‘€œWe ended up losing that game and that was what turned it around,’€ said Gomes. ‘€œWe had seen what we could become and where we were at, and then they took it away from us. They kept fighting and kept pushing through it and believing they could win, and I think that’s what we took out of it. We had a tough stretch where we lost 13 games in a row early in the season and that game showed that we can bounce back and we can make something of the season. There’s a lot more games to be played, and once that came in January we got off on the right foot and we’ve been rolling ever since.’€

The Timberwolves are 9-3 since January 1, including upsets over the New Orleans Hornets and Phoenix Suns. They will look to continue their streak when they face the Celtics on Sunday in Boston. Their former teammates have taken notice.

‘€œFirst of all, Big Al’s playing like an All-Star,’€ said Kendrick Perkins. ‘€œSecond of all, Randy Foye has stepped his game up. Rodney Carney, the rookie (Kevin) Love, Sebastian (Telfair), they’re all playing well. Since coach Kevin McHale got the job, they’ve been playing well. They’re playing good defense and I’ve been watching them lately on TV, so they’ve been playing really well.’€

With just under 40 games left on their regular season schedule, the Timberwolves are nine games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. A postseason berth is a longshot, but Gomes doesn’t mind waiting. Even if their time doesn’t come this season he is confident it’s only a matter of time before the Timberwolves establish themselves as a playoff contender.

‘€œI think the Timberwolves are a team on the rise and this year is not over,’€ Gomes said. ‘€œWe’ve got a lot of games to play and if we play the way we’ve played this month for the rest of the season, who knows where we’ll be. Hopefully we can maybe sneak in the playoffs and if not we could be right there. Next year should be our breakout year to take what we did this year and carry it over next year from the beginning and have a successful season. So the Timberwolves should be a team that teams should be worried about in the West and in the East because of the way we’ve been playing lately.’€

Read More: Al Jefferson, Boston Celtics, Gerald Green, Kevin McHale
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