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Irish Coffee: It’s matter over mind for Celtics

11.23.10 at 11:47 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

When these veteran Boston Celtics are resting their aching bodies and losing back-to-back games to the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers in April, remember this four-game stretch in November.

Pundits enjoy saying things like, “Games in November don’t matter much in the NBA,” but these Celtics are more mentally prepared only when the games matter — if that makes sense. And come playoff time, as we all know, every game means something.

Exhibit A: Last Wednesday’s 31-point blowout of the Washington Wizards. If the Celtics suffer letdowns against meaningless teams, why would they care about a Wizards team without John Wall, its newest star?

Because it mattered to Kevin Garnett, who was undressed last April to the tune of 31 points and 11 boards by Washington’s Andray Blatche.

“This is a team that gave us problems last year, and we haven’t forgotten that. I haven’t,” Garnett told reporters after the win. “Paul [Pierce] and I got here and could hear [Wizards assistant coach] Sam Cassell voice about how young they were and how they were going to come at us. We made note of it. We talked about it, you know, before the game and coming out here, taking care of business. I thought we stayed with that for 48 minutes.”

Exhibit B: Kevin Durant and Jeff Green‘s Oklahoma City Thunder came to town, only Durant and Green didn’t suit up. The Celtics had already quieted the Thunder with those guys in uniform, in their house, two weeks before. They’d already proven themselves against OKC. No urgency to do it again.

“I think we underestimated that team,” Shaquille O’Neal told the media following the loss. “Shot ourselves in the foot. It’s kind of hard in this league to get up for certain people. Tonight, we disrespected the basketball gods. We paid for it.”

Exhibit C: On a lazy Sunday afternoon, the Celtics faced a Toronto Raptors club that was worse than usual, playing undermanned after a trade. The C’s thought a hard-fought first quarter and a solid six-minte stretch in the second half would be just enough effort to take care of Toronto. Think again.

Before the game, I tweeted, “Do you think a Celtics lineup of Delonte West, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Semih Erden could give the Raptors a game? I kinda do.”

I figured the home loss to OKC and a day off in between would fuel the Celtics to a blowout in Toronto.  I thought this team had learned something from playing to the level of their opponents last season, but perhaps what they learned is that they can play that way — and still be successful.

The guys over at Gino’s Jungle tweeted back, “I thought a lineup of KG, Pierce, Ray Allen, Shaq and Rajon Rondo could beat a Durant and Green-less OKC, so no game’s a gimme with this team.” And they were right.

“We’re a better team than those two teams,” Pierce told reporters after the defeat. “I know we are. Just mentally, I don’t think we have the right mindset coming into these games.”

Exhibit D: Monday night in Atlanta, the game once again had meaning to the Celtics, who got swept by the Hawks last season. That led to a 99-76 dominating victory against the Hawks in Atlanta.

In the aftermath, one thing became clear: These Celtics will play hard when they want to play hard, regardless of how good of a motivational speech head coach Doc Rivers delivers before the game.

“I gave that up my first year coaching,” Rivers said postgame. “This group, that’s who they are. We’re going to have those poor nights. But I just thought the loss Sunday set the tone for us. You could feel it.”

The examples should have been evident right from the start, when the Celtics dominated the Miami Heat in Game 1 and then lost to a woeful Cleveland Cavaliers team in Game 2.

Remember all of this evidence when people are questioning how much the aged Celtics have left in the tank entering the NBA playoffs. When these C’s have something to play for, they are great — capable of wiping the floor with mere good teams like the Atlanta Hawks.

REACTIONS FROM ATLANTA

Yup, when these Celtics play hard, they can make any team question itself. And that’s exactly what the Hawks were doing on Monday night. Head coach Larry Drew thinks his team might have had a few too many Four Lokos the night before, and Mo Evans is asking, “Who am I?” like a heartbroken girl from a teenage drama.

  • “I told the guys I don’t know what you are doing the night before we play,” Drew told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I don’t know what you are doing away from the floor. Something is going on that is not allowing us to play with an energy and passion that we should be playing with. As a head coach, I’ve got to find out what it is.”
  • “The Celtics know who they are,” Evans added. “We don’t have an identity, unless it’s when things go bad we go the other way. Maybe that’s our identity and we don’t know it.”

The AJC also caught up with Shaquille O’Neal, who said he picked the Celtics over the Hawks because Boston gave him a better shot at a title. And it sounds like the Hawks agree with him.

“They have a blend of veteran players with the core of their team, and it’s a lot easier to fit in a vet like Shaq,” Drew added. “If we brought him in here, it would be a little tougher. I don’t think his personality would have fit with our guys. It makes more sense to have veteran guys around him.”

Boston Celtics shooting guard Delonte West (13) looks for an open man during the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards at the Garden in Boston, Wednesday night, Nov. 17, 2010. West returned to action Wednesday night after a 10-game suspension resulting from a NBA gun violation. The Celtics defeated the Wizards 114-83.

Putting his issues behind him, Delonte West is looking ahead to a successful season with the Celtics. (AP)

DELONTE WEST DISHES ON HIS DISORDER

CBS Sports.com senior writer Ken Berger wrote a fantastic piece on Delonte West’s battle with bipolar disorder.

However irresponsible West’s actions were when he was arrested on multiple weapons charges a year ago, it’s impossible not to root for a guy who is working as hard as he is to overcome his issues.

Here are a few highlights:

  • “Bipolar is like, when things are bad to you, they seem worse and when things are good, they seem great,” West said. “I’m at a place where things are behind me and I’m focused on what I love to do.”
  • “When you’re thinking about, ‘Am I going to go to jail after the season?’ and going through a tough divorce during the season, those things can weigh on you sometimes,” West said. “When you’re a professional athlete, you’ve got to be a robot sometimes. You’ve got to check your emotions at the door. But we’re humans. You can’t say, ‘OK, I’m not going to think about this,’ when it’s something to really think about. … When things are up in the air and all people can say to you, the courts and the lawyers, is, ‘You’ve got to wait and see,’ there’s a lot of nights when you’re not sleeping.”
  • “There’s only one way it’s going to play out,” West said. “I want it to play out that way and it’s going to play out that way. And that’s holding the trophy at the end of June. Man, that’d be a strong chapter in the book or the movie I’m going to write one day.”

I love that last quote. It comes from a man who is taking hold of his own destiny.

West also sat down with Chris Tomasson at NBA FanHouse to discuss being a role model, Gloria James and the Von Wafer fight.

“You’ve got to remember, this is just a game,” West told Tomasson. “Some people are die-hard fans and they paint their face and it’s all great. But you got to do unto others as you have unto yourself. People say something about your mother and drag your mother through something like that and your family, you’d be ready to do something yourself. So it’s sad that happened. But, you know, they hated Jesus, too. You got to keep going. So I wish [LeBron James] much success down there [in Miami] with his family, and I got to keep going here.”

‘THE ASSOCIATION’ FOCUSES ON CELTICS

The Celtics are the focus of a season-long documentary by ESPN Films and NBA Entertainment, entitled “The Association: Boston Celtics”. ESPN will debut the behind-the-scenes footage from the past few weeks on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. Here’s the schedule:

  • Friday, Dec. 3: 7 p.m.
  • Friday, Jan. 21: 7 p.m.
  • Friday, Feb. 25: 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, March 16: 7 p.m.
  • Friday, April 15: 8 p.m.

With the addition of Shaquille O’Neal, the preseason antics of Nate Robinson and the all-star power of Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Allen, the Celtics had to be the obvious choice.

THE MIAMI HEAT HAVE ISSUES

All three of the Miami Heat’s Big Three — Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh – made news over the past week with remarks about their unexpected 8-6 start.

  • Wade in a lengthy interview with Esquire Magazine: “This team has a lot of work to do. I don’t look at the individual players right now and say, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing.’ I say, ‘This team, we got a lot of work to do, because there’s a lot of teams out there — L. A., Orlando, Boston, and so on — that are better teams than the Miami Heat right now. So how do we get to their page FAST, like, NOW?’ I look at this team and I’m proud of it, I’m happy, but once tomorrow starts, we got to get to practice. We got to get to work.”
  • James in a discussion with ESPN.com: “There is a point where you have to be serious and you need to be serious,” James said. “Just because you’re having fun on the court and having fun in practice doesn’t mean you’re not serious. I’m always serious about the game. But you’ve got to have fun while you’re doing it. We’re not doing that right now, we’re not having fun at all.”
  • As we previously posted, Bosh in a postgame interview with ESPN: “[Head coach Erik Spoelstra] wants to work; we want to chill.”

It’s almost comical how much difficulty they’re having trying to figure out why things aren’t working. Not to worry. Erick Dampier is coming to the rescue.

NBA LOCKOUT A ’99 PERCENT’ LOCK

Exactly one month after we predicted as much in this very space, the Players Association brass predicted a lockout this coming summer if NBA commissioner David Stern continues to push for a 40 percent reduction in salaries.

“I’d be 99 percent sure as of today that there will be a lockout,” NBA Player Association executive director Billy Hunter told The New York TimesI’ve said, ‘Save your money because in all probability there’s going to be a lockout.’ … I’m waiting to get some sign, some movement from owners, that they want to reach a reasonable deal. Right now they’re being unreasonable. And I can’t tell you when reason is going set in.”

 Trust me, it didn’t take a genius to see this one coming, because I’m no genius.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Delonte West, NBA
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