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Celtics-Blazers Game Blog: First Quarter 12.30.08 at 8:08 pm ET
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Looks like Greg Oden is going to be a go tonight. It will be interesting to see if he’s limited by his ankle. Donny Marshall just pointed out that Kendrick Perkins has better numbers than Oden, which is true. Perk’s emergence has been dwarfed by Rajon Rondo’s rise, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to call him one of the best young centers in the league.

There is good news for the Celtics before it even begins. The Miami heat just hung a nine-point loss on Cleveland, despite 38 points by LeBron James. Florida is apparently the new Bermuda Triangle for NBA teams.

Lots to look forward to in this one tonight. It’s a fitting way to cap what has been a memorable 2008 for the Celtics.

FIRST QUARTER WRAP: After a slow start, the Celtics kicked it into gear and have a 23-13 lead after one. Portland has been dreadful so far, shooting just 33 percent (6-for-18). Not having Brandon Roy is a problem, but the Blazers are settling for jump shots. Good start for the C’s. Time for another bench check.

First Quarter Observations

– KG and LaMarcus Aldridge are already dropping elbows on each other. No question, KG is the villain thanks to the Jarryd Bayless incident.

– My prediction rate is atrocious, but I’m fairly confident in this one: The Celtics will make a shot tonight.

– Steve Blake is what Billy Hoyle, the Woody Harrelson character in White Men Can’t Jump could have been if hadn’t hurt his knee.

– The Blazers are not bashful about hoisting 3′s, they average 20 a game. Unless they pull a Golden State and make about 50 percent that won’t help them tonight.

– Timeout by Portland with the score, 10-9, Celtics. Garnett is off to a solid start and has that baseline jumper working. The Blazers are a different team without Brandon Roy (obviously). Everyone besides Oden and Batum, who doesn’t look to shoot at all, is jump shot-oriented.

– Rondo’d.

– Donny just made a good point that Perkins is going to the basket much more aggressively lately (i.e. not bringing the ball down to the floor before he makes his move.

– Rondo’d, II.

– Joel Przybilla didn’t waste any time getting into it with Perkins, apparently. Years ago when he was a rookie, young Joel came into the Target Center and talked some junk, to which KG responded: I hate a fake thug. So there’s a little history there.

– Stat geeks have been waiting for Ike Digou for years to make an impact. We’re still waiting.

Game Blog: Celtics-Blazers Preview 12.30.08 at 7:17 pm ET
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So, we’re going to do a little TV blogging tonight. The big news is that Brandon Roy is said to be doubtful for tonight’s game and Greg Oden apparently sprained his ankle in practice and is questionable. Oden looks like a better bet to play than Roy.

The Blazers don’t need any more problems because since starting the year 14-6 they have been a little erratic, a slide that began with a thumping at the hands of the Celtics back on Dec. 5. Since then they gone 5-6 and lost three straight at one point. Steady-handed coach Nate McMillan even threatened a rotation shakeup last week and an Oregonian columnist took Oden to task. Nate told the big man “to have fun.” I still think he’s going to be big-time, but I’m not sure he would have been able to handle Boston, judging by his early troubles.

This is a big game for Portland, who many still see as a dark horse threat in the west, but it’s shaping up to be a big one for the Celtics too. The Golden State loss seems to have gotten everyone’s attention and they do not want to come back from the coast with a losing record.

Doc Rivers told reporters that he wants to monitor Kevin Garnett’s minutes, which have been steadily increasing as of late. That’s a positive thing in the long run, but it’s awfully hard to sit KG while a fourth quarter lead is being frittered away. Blazers fans really don’t like Garnett, by the way.

Speaking of the much-maligned bench, the C’s got some bad news when the Rockets announced they were bringing back Dikembe Mutombo. The Celtics had interest there.

We’ll start the blogging at 10-ish so check back early and often. While you’re waiting for tip-off check out my long digression of how I wound up in Oregon way back when. It’s a page-turner.

My Oregon Trail 12.30.08 at 6:56 pm ET
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While waiting for the C’s and Blazers to get underway, I happened upon the bowl game they play in Boise, Idaho (ah, the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl. Thanks Google). That, plus the University of Oregon playing in the Holiday Bowl got me thinking about how it came to pass that I wound up in Oregon, as it says on my bio, which was really Idaho, which I’ll get to a minute. It’s kind of a convoluted story, but I thought I’d share.

The year was 1997. A rookie shortstop named Nomar was winning over the town. The Celtics were in the middle of the Brett Szabo era and hoping to draft Tim Duncan when they brought in a savior named Rick Pitino (whoops). The Patriots had just hired Pete Carroll and the Bruins were terrible too. BC had a gambling scandal rock the football program and Jim O’Brien split for Ohio State after some nastiness with the admissions department. Those were not good times (except for Nomar).

At any rate, I was about to graduate from BU’s journalism program and I needed a job. At nights I was answering phones at the Herald and covering Waltham sports under the watchful eye of Tom Curran (yes that one). The people at the News-Tribune thought I had done enough to warrant a shot, which meant that if I went underground and learned how to do agate pages for six months, I could have a gig. Tommy, or Tom E. if you prefer, was heading off to cover the Pats, but he advised me to take it.

No way, I said. I’m a writer not a desk man, and besides it’s a little hard to meet girls when your answer to the eternal question “What do you do?” Is, “I’m an agate clerk.” So, I went looking for a job and I had three options, which is three more than most young (or old) journos have today.

Up first was a paper in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, of all places. The phone interview went like this:

Editor: Ya’ll ever been in the deep south?

Me: I’ve been to Florida on spring break.

Editor: Boy, that ain’t the deep south.

Me: Something to think about.

Editor: Yup.

Click.

And that was that. OK, I still had two more moves in play. A paper in Alabama that had a good job that paid real money (it would be seven years before I’d actually make what they were offering), and one in Oregon. I held out hope for the Bama job as long as I could, but by Aug. 30 I had all my stuff in boxes, a lease on a dump in Brighton that was about to expire, and no answer. Finally, on Aug. 31 I got the call. I came in second. So, I loaded up my Jeep and set out for the land of fir trees, hippies and rain. Who knows, maybe I’d run into Bill Walton while I was out there.

Only that’s not exactly where I wound up. Oregon is actually two different states, which I definitely should have researched before leaving everyone I knew and driving 3,000 miles away. There’s the Portland/Eugene part, which is cool, and there’s everything else, which is a desert. I wound up in the desert. It was a place called Ontario, and it is known for one thing: a giant mushroom. I’m not kidding. It’s supposedly the world’s largest living organism.

The town had one movie theater and it played Titanic the entire time I was there, and a bar (just one) called Saddles ‘n Spurs, which is where the cowboys hung out. I’ve lived in a lot of places, some of which you wouldn’t want to be caught out in the streets after dark, but I’ve never met a meaner bunch than those cowboys. I dated a girl there whose grandfather had a huge stash of rifles in the closet. You know, in case the commies invaded. I was never sure if he meant the old Soviet Union or our government.

I realized my mistake sometime after I passed through Boise (home of the blue field and the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl), which is about 50 miles east of Ontario. There was nothing but miles upon miles of desert. Ontario is the first town in Oregon you get to after your cross the Snake River, and it was about 300 miles away from Portland. It wasn’t just a world away, it was literally in a different time zone.

Needless to say, I drove out to the Rose City whenever I could and it’s still one of my favorite places in the world. The people there love their Blazers. Because it’s the only thing in town they have a different kind of relationship that east coast cities do with their teams. That’s why they weren’t just mad about the whole Jail Blazers era, they were personally hurt and disappointed that their franchise was the laughing stock of the NBA. And that’s also why they’re so into the current team.

At any rate, I did nine months in Ontario where I actually covered two future NFL players (AJ Feeley and Jordan Gross, the Panthers left tackle) and got the heck out of there. It took eight years for me to get back to Boston, and now the Pats and Sox are premier franchises, the Bruins never lose, the C’s are defending champs, and Tom Curran is a Mr. Big Time NFL reporter, complete with controversial scoops. But I’ll always have a soft spot for Portland. Ontario, not so much, and I still haven’t met Walton.

Celtics Trophy Coming to Rhode Island 12.30.08 at 8:33 am ET
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On Monday, January 5 the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy will be on display in North Providence, Rhode Island from 3:00-4:00pm at center court of the North Providence High School gymnasium. Boston Celtics legend JoJo White, team mascot Lucky the Leprechaun, and members of the Celtics Dancers will also be on hand to sign autographs and pose for photos. This event is free and open to the public. Fans are encouraged to bring their own cameras for photo opportunities with the trophy.

Could the Cavs Catch Up? 12.29.08 at 9:01 am ET
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The Boston Celtics sudden two-game skid put the tight Eastern Conference race into perspective. It took just two losses for the Cleveland Cavaliers to be one game within the lead in the East. The Celtics and Cavs will battle next week in Cleveland, where the Cavs are a perfect 16-0. If both teams continue on a winning pace, it is a match up that could alter the standings. But could one team falter before then? Here is a look at their schedules before they meet next Friday, January 9.

Boston Celtics
December 30 @ Portland Trail Blazers (19-12)
January 2 vs. Washington Wizards (5-23)
January 4 @ New York Knicks (11-18)
January 6 @ Charlotte Bobcats (11-20)
January 7 vs. Houston Rockets (20-11)

Cleveland Cavaliers
December 30 @ Miami Heat (16-13)
January 2 vs. Chicago Bulls (13-17)
January 4 @ Washington Wizards (5-23)
January 7 vs. Charlotte Bobcats (11-20)

The Celtics and Cavs have more to worry about than just each other. The Orlando Magic, currently on a seven-game winning streak, are only three games behind the Cs.

(Standings as of December 29)

The Champ Returns Home 12.26.08 at 2:37 pm ET
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Leon Powe is one of the most down-to-earth players in the NBA. But even he can’t hide his pride of winning a championship, especially when he returns to the Bay Area for the Boston Celtics west coast road trip.

“It feels great. When I go back home whether it’s Oakland, LA, they call me the champ. I told them that’s my new name,” Powe said with a laugh. “But it feels good just going back and seeing my family.”

Being called champ means nothing compared to spending time with his six younger siblings, all of whom Powe takes care of in one way or another. Playing against the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings this weekend will allow them to catch their big brother in action.

“It’s going to be great for me,” Powe said. “I’ve got my little brothers and sisters back there — I’ve got a lot of them — and they’ve been following each and every game. That’s big for me and them.”

Powe has more ties to the Bay Area community than just his family. The Oakland native runs free basketball clinics at the “Powe Folks” Camp — “I don’t really need the money like that, so I let the kids in,” he explains – and is developing a family services program to pair children with mentors and offer them life skills and guidance.

On the court he is teaching his opponents a lesson of his own – don’t send him to the line. Powe ranks second among all NBA reserves in free throws. He has also gotten to the line more than any of his teammates except for Paul Pierce. To put that in perspective, he has taken 41 more free throws than Kevin Garnett in 493 less minutes.

“Whatever you do, make it aggressive,” Powe said. “I’m more confident, settled down out there. So whenever [Celtics coach Doc Rivers] puts me out there, I know what I want to do and how I want to do it. I’m taking my time instead of rushing my shots. If I have a smaller guy on me I’ll take my time, knowing I can get anything I want. And just reading the scouting reports, too.”

This weekend the scouting report on Powe should read, aggressive power player hungry for a win in front of his family.

“I just like the physical play,” he said. “I don’t shy away from contact.”

Read More: Leon Powe,
Lakers-Celtics Instant Analysis 12.25.08 at 7:31 pm ET
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For the game recap of the Celtics’ 92-83 loss to the Lakers, click here.

***

We are live from every blogger’s cliche, literally my mother’s basement in New Jersey, where Game 7 of the NBA Finals just concluded with a stirring victory for the Lakers over the Celtics… and wait, what’s that you say? The playoffs are over?

Huh. I could have swore I saw confetti coming down from the rafters of the Staples Center. And wasn’t that Kobe Bryant playing 43 minutes? I think I even saw Phil Jackson call a timeout while game was being played. That couldn’t have been a regular season game.

For the Lakers, it wasn’t. Clearly. They needed this one, and to their credit they went out and got it. In the last three minutes, Pau Gasol played like the guy everyone wants him to be all the time. Bryant was ridiculous the whole game, forcing when he needed to force and deferring when he needed to defer. And the Laker bench outplayed the Celtics second unit. They went all out in this one, and if they had lost it would have been devastating, but they didn’t. No we’ll see if they build on it or fall back into the bad habits that hurt them last week.

For the Celtics, the winning streak is over, which means we all have to come up with new questions for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but more importantly, the Celtics finally got a chance to test themselves against a team that is in their universe. They answered some questions–can Rajon Rondo operate when the other team won’t guard him?–and left open a few more, such as, is their bench good enough?

Those, and a few more observations while resisting the urge to watch the Yankeeography marathon on the YES Network. Read the rest of this entry »

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