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Kobe Bryant, the Celtics and the fountain of youth

02.08.13 at 1:54 am ET

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the Garden parquet, laughing side-by-side as Gino danced his ridiculous dance on the Jumbotron. The former had submitted his finest performance against the Lakers since walking off the same floor with an NBA Finals MVP trophy. The latter had scored his 25,000th point in owning the league’s most dominant big. Together, they delivered a sixth straight Celtics win sans Rajon Rondo.

They are 35 and 36 years old, respectively. Combined, they’ve played nearly 90,000 minutes, which translates into more than a year of playing time on NBA basketball courts across the country. And they’re not done yet.

“It’s a generational thing,” said 34-year-old Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant after an embarrassing 106-95 loss to the Celtics. “In that generation, we all seem to hold on or have found the same fountain of youth somewhere.”

And not the kind of fountain of youth Alex Rodriquez reportedly found in Miami. “Not that one,” laughed Bryant. “Not that one.” More like a pacemaker that keeps a championship heart beating year after year. Like a 32-year-old Muhammad Ali biding his time against a 25-year-old George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle.

“It’€™s typical Celtics basketball,” said Bryant. “They all just put their hard hats on, and they go out, play hard and figure things out. Whenever their backs against the wall, that’s when you really see the best from them. … It’s just like last year, when they made their playoff run. That’s just what this team does. They kind of rope-a-dope you.”

Ironically, it’s the tenured veterans pulling double shifts for the young bucks. Pierce and KG without Rondo. Kobe and Steve Nash without Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. That’s why Bryant told Jackie MacMullan, “We don’t have time for [Howard’s shoulder] to heal. We need some urgency,” because Father Time is knocking at the back door. And that’s why he’ll never count the Celtics out — even without Rondo.

“We’ve seen them in a series twice, and they’re just a tough group,” said Bryant of the 13 games between them in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals. “They’re a tough group. Whether or not they can sustain it for the remainder of the season and going into the playoffs, obviously, remains to be seen. Rajon’s a really, really special player, and so you’re missing a lot, particularly in the postseason, but if anybody can figure it out this group can.”

Figuring it out without their All-Star point guard probably won’t mean Banner 18, a third NBA Finals appearance in six seasons or even another seven-game Eastern Conference finals, but it will mean another fun ride with this team. Pierce, Garnett and any Celtics teammates willing to follow their lead will make damn sure of that.

The Celtics have won six straight, including victories against their two most bitter rivals, and they’ve taken hold of the conference’s seventh seed — just 1.5 games behind the Hawks in sixth and three games back of the Bulls and Nets in fourth and fifth — on the backs of a 71-year-old tandem.

Both Pierce and Garnett have stated their desire to stay in Boston, and C’s president Danny Ainge told The Big Show that the most likely scenario at the Feb. 21 trade deadline was that his two aging superstars remain in green.

“There aren’t a lot of teams trying to pursue players of KG and Paul’s age,” said Ainge in his weekly appearance. “I think we value them more than other teams value them.”

Of course, Ainge also has to answer to the team’s owners. You think Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca want to give up on another dramatic postseason run or destroy nights like Thursday night, when the Lakers were in town, the Garden was rocking and The Captain and The Ticket stood laughing at Gino?

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
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