|Video: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett come home||01.27.14 at 3:33 pm ET|
“I think we’ll always bleed green as long as we’re playing basketball and as long as we’re living. Even when they bury us six feet, this is what it’s going to be.”
When it comes to covering basketball in Boston, it doesn’t get much better than Sunday night. I could wax poetically about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and their legacies as Celtics, which I attempted to do in this column, but this 15-minute video sums it up better than any words I could put together on a page. Enjoy.
|Fast Break: Nets cut down Celtics in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett homecoming||01.26.14 at 9:09 pm ET|
Pierce and Garnett combined for 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a 85-79 Brooklyn victory, handing the Celtics (15-31) a 17th loss in their last 20 tries. Meanwhile, the Nets (20-22) moved within 1.5 games of the division-leading Raptors.
Rondo (13 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds) engineered a Celtics comeback that brought the Celtics within three points in the final minute, but a Garnett dunk off one of the C’s 16 turnovers put the game out of reach. Brandon Bass led the Celtics with 17 points and eight rebounds, Chris Johnson netted 12 points on the night his first 10-day contract is set to expire and Gerald Wallace also added a dozen.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Sweet emotions: It’s almost as if everyone forgot they had to actually play a basketball game. Pierce and Garnett finished scoreless in the first quarter (0-3 FG), and the Nets were 4-of-18 in the opening 12 minutes. The Celtics weren’t any better, as Brooklyn took a 35-34 halftime lead. (Fitting, the C’s had 34 first-half points, by the way.) Pierce didn’t score his first points until the third quarter, when he sunk a pair of free throws 1:08 into the frame.
Oh, shoot: After Brad Stevens ripped his team for settling for too many jumpers against the Thunder, the Celtics fell into the same trap in the third quarter against Brooklyn, taking 12 of their 18 shots outside the paint and making just three in the frame. Meanwhile, the Nets built a six-point cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
Sully-Green: While Rondo and Bass enjoyed stellar games against their former teammates, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger struggled offensively opposite the two C’s legends. Through three quarters, the pair was a combined 3-for-18 from the floor, and Stevens actually gave more crunch-time minutes to Gerald Wallace and Humphries.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paying tribute: As usual, the folks behind the video tributes did a masterful job putting together pieces for both Pierce and Garnett. Likewise, the crowd responded accordingly, chanting “Paul. Pierce.” before the Nets lineup was introduced, cheering their introductions and tearing the roof off the Garden when the Garnett and Pierce tributes were played on the Jumbotron during the second timeout and following the first quarter, respectively.
National TV Rondo: Whether it was the bright lights or just a natural progression, Rondo enjoyed his best game since returning from ACL surgery. He played 14 first-half minutes, also his most this season, producing eight points, five rebounds and four assists by the break. Whether he meant his “just another game” comment about his former teammates’ return or not, Rondo showed little emotion as he remained focused on his comeback.
Bass swishing: Only a handful of the current Celtics were on the roster with Truth and Ticket, and Bass was one of them, getting the start over Kris Humphries. Like Rondo, he responded with a solid game against his former mates, even driving past both of them for a dunk at one point. After failing to grab more than five rebounds since Jan. 15, he asserted himself on the glass, leading a solid team rebounding effort that included double-digit offensive boards.
|Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett: ‘Some things are forever, man’||01.25.14 at 2:09 am ET|
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett spoke at length to Nets media about their Boston homecoming. Here’s a sample of what they said leading up to Sunday’s game, their first against the Celtics in the Garden.
Garnett: “I’m gonna embrace it for whatever it is. The emotions are gonna be very high, and I’ll react accordingly.”
Pierce: “It’s going to be special. I don’t know how I’ll react, what emotions are going to be going through my head.”
Garnett: “I think anybody who’s part of that run and part of that era will always be remembered. Bostonians, New Englanders, they understand that and they never forget their favorites. We was fortunate to be part of that whole transformation … and some things are forever, man. I’m happy to say I’m part of that era.”
Pierce: “Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of emotions. You play your whole life there, you won a championship there. I mean, being the first time coming [back] … I never thought it would happen, but it is and it’ll be here Sunday.”
Garnett: “I think they saw the appreciation and the hard work that we put into that, the effort more than anything. It’s funny, they have a little pregame thing they used to always say, and in the pregame, I used to always hear Larry Bird. I would never look up, but I would hear it. Larry said, ‘You can’t fool the people of Boston. They know when you’re working hard, they know pure basketball.’ And that’s right. When you go all out, they understand that, they root for that, and that’s what they remember.”
|Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett from enemy’s perspective||01.25.14 at 1:53 am ET|
As the Celtics prepare to welcome Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett back to Boston on Sunday, one member of the new-look franchise knows the two legends of the game all too well from the opposite side of the ball. Joel Anthony endured three straight playoff meetings against the Celtics from 2010-12 as a member of the Heat.
“More than anything, you just wanted to beat them,” said Anthony, who entered the league the same year Garnett came to Boston. “You really, really wanted to beat them. They made you want to be like that because of how they played and how they competed. It’s really the beauty of the game, the beauty of basketball — the whole competition aspect and what you love about the game – to be able to have those type of moments, those battles, those types of feelings and emotions. That’s what it’s all about — to be able to have those battles with that team was special.”
Particularly after a brutal loss to an undermanned Thunder team, Anthony’s reminiscence of those series — a five-game Celtics win before LeBron James‘ arrival during the magical 2010 run, the five-game Heat victory when Rondo dislocated his elbow in 2011 and the epic seven-game Eastern Conference finals in 2012 — will make any basketball fan long for one more matchup between those grit and balls C’s and King James ascending to his throne.
“You respected who they were, what type of team they were and how good of a team that they were,” Anthony said. “Those were the games that guys really got up for, because we knew we were going to be in a battle with those guys every single night and every single minute on the floor. That was just the biggest thing, knowing that they were such competitors — that team was such a tough team to play against every single night.”
As Pierce and Garnett’s arrival in Nets uniforms will attest on Sunday, those days of meaningful Celtics-Lakers and Celtics-Heat playoff meetings are long gone — a chapter in NBA history that will be remembered the same way Larry Bird‘s Celtics and Magic Johnson‘s Lakers ultimately made way for Michael Jordan‘s Bulls.
There were a lot of tough battles for LeBron when he was in Cleveland and with us in Miami, a lot of pain from losing to that team,” added Anthony. “They were an extremely good basketball team, and so to be able to win those games was big, because it was really a huge step for us to be able to get that monkey off our back in terms of surpassing a team that you struggled against and that you respected, but that you wanted to beat more than anything.”
Was it really mutual respect, or was there more to it than that? Because it sure seemed like there was more to it than that. “I think there was some dislike in there,” said Anthony. “Yeah, there was some dislike in there.”
Regardless, Anthony remembers Pierce and Garnett the way most everyone does.
“KG’s intensity and demeanor,” he said. “Defensively, especially, he changed how that team was. They kind of took on his identity. And, in terms of Paul, his ability to hit those big shots. They’d find a way to keep it close, and Paul would end up getting the ball in some kind of iso and find a way to always make big shots.”
Yup, that’s Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a nutshell. Even Rajon Rondo, who called their homecoming “just another game,” knows deep down Sunday will be special. There are too many memories for it not to be.
|Rajon Rondo: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett return ‘just another game’||01.25.14 at 12:39 am ET|
In between providing one-word answers about his current state of play, Celtics captain Rajon Rondo likewise shed little light on his expectations for Sunday’s Boston homecoming for Nets Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
“It’s just another game,” Rondo said after an 18-point loss to the Kevin Durant-less Thunder. “We need to win.”
Like his team’s record, which dropped to 15-30 after a 16th loss in 19 games, the point guard’s return from ACL surgery has been a work in little progress. As one member of the Celtics organization said afterwards, Rondo was really only Rondo for one play. His minutes limit prevents him from getting into a rhythm, and as he said, “Plays I usually make, I’m not making right now, but I still feel positive and I’m OK with my progression right now.”
Here’s a sample of what was a typically tenuous Rondo interview after a 101-83 loss to Oklahoma City.
Do you feel like you’re more of yourself out there every game? “I’m getting there.”
Is it disappointing the way you guys came out tonight? “Yeah.”
What happened? “We didn’t get stops.”
How do you judge your progress? “I just take it one game at a time.”
Is there something you’re looking for? “Yeah, but I don’t want to say.”
|Fast Break: Kevin Durant-less Thunder strike down Celtics||01.24.14 at 9:45 pm ET|
While Carmelo Anthony was scoring 56 points through three quarters at Madison Square Garden, the Celtics netted just 59 through 36 minutes in Boston, and the Kevin Durant-less, Russell Westbrook-less Thunder swept the parquet with them, 101-83, handing the C’s their 16th loss in 19 tries.
Only Jeff Green (16 points on 17 shots), Gerald Wallace (13 points) and Brandon Bass (11 points) reached double figures for the Celtics (15-30). Rajon Rondo had five points, eight assists and two rebounds in his fourth game back — and first since resting on Wednesday.
WHAT WENT WRONG
No slim reaper: After setting the NBA world on fire over the past month, Durant rested against the Celtics. The Thunder surprised the media with news of Durant’s apparent shoulder injury before the game. It was his first DNP of the season and only trip to Boston in 2013-14 — an unfortunate revelation a couple hours before tipoff for Celtics fans who paid to see one of the game’s most fascinating players face their lottery-bound home team.
Lambasted: With Durant sitting and Westbrook still nursing an injured knee, the Celtics had a real chance to slow one the league’s top-five offenses, but Jeremy Lamb had different ideas. The UConn product scored 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 15 first-half minutes, leading Oklahoma City to a 50-46 advantage at the break.
Rondo’s reintroduction: As Brad Stevens has noted, Rondo is still in preseason form. The spacing of his minutes-per-quarter prevent him from getting into a rhythm, and he’s not finishing around the rim for whatever reason (confidence, legs, confidence in his legs). After scoring a single point and missing all eight shots against the Heat and resting against the Wizards, Rondo finished with five points on seven shots.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Sharing is caring: With the unselfish duo of Rondo and Phil Pressey manning the point, the Celtics actually ran an offense, resulting in 10 assists on 11 buckets and a 73.3 field goal percentage in the first quarter. That trend tapered off a bit while 17 turnovers and the Thunder’s 53.8 percent shooting didn’t help matters.
Crashus Clay: In two home games since Rondo’s return, Wallace has shown signs of life, scoring in the double digits and filling up the stat sheet. After posting a 14-4-5 with three steals and two blocks against the Lakers a week ago, he totaled three assists, two rebounds and three steals against the Thunder. Now, if he could only contribute on a more consistent basis, he might raise his grade from the first-semester report card.
|LeBron James, Kevin Durant headline NBA All-Star Game starters||01.23.14 at 9:44 pm ET|
The NBA announced the starters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game, and naturally leading MVP candidates LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the leading vote-getters for the Eastern and Western conferences, respectively.
The roster includes no Celtics, who are in danger of failing to produce an All-Star for the first time since 2007, when Paul Pierce suffered through an injury-plagued season, and only the 10th time in the game’s 63-year history.
Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are the C’s only hopes for a spot when the voting from coaches reveals the final seven Eastern Conference All-Stars on Jan. 30, but neither is expected the make the roster (unless Rondo receives the sympathy vote for his fifth selection). Each received more than 100,000 fan votes — well shy of a starting spot.
Old friends Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett edged out Rondo and Green in the fan voting for backcourt and frontcourt players, respectively, although Green received 26,006 more votes than Pierce. Here are your 2014 starters:
Bryant, who received his 16th All-Star bid despite participating in just six games this season, will likely be replaced in the starting West backcourt by Chris Paul (804,309 votes) due to the Lakers star’s knee injury.
Likewise, should Wade’s knee injury keep him from participating in his 10th All-Star Game, John Wall (393,129) would be the second starting guard alongside Irving in the East. Among the remaining healthy Eastern Conference guards, only Allen received more votes than Rondo, but his fate lies in the coaches’ hands now.
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