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Irish Coffee: Vin Baker Comes Clean 10.29.10 at 10:37 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

 

Six years after the Boston Celtics terminated him for violating his alcohol treatment program, a near-broke Vin Baker has come to terms with how alcoholism and depression squandered a 13-year career — and an $87 million contract.

While promoting a book he’s written about his ordeal, Baker admitted in an appearance on Connecticut’s Stan Simpson Show that he began to recognize the existence of a problem before the 2002 trade that sent him from the Seattle SuperSonics to the Celtics.

“Towards the end of my Seattle career, when I was traded to Boston, I knew something was going on that I had to change,” Baker told Simpson. “At the time, I really couldn’t change it, because it’s a disease. It affects 18 million Americans. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on. I had to fix it. It was a situation where the support system around me was tough.”

Irish coffee, indeed.

One season removed from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2001-02, the Celtics had hoped Baker could return to some semblance of the player that made four straight All-Star Games from 1995-98 and won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.

In Boston, Baker sunk deeper into the diseases that had already derailed a promising career. In just 89 games over two seasons, he averaged only 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds before being suspended from the team when coach Jim O’Brien smelled alcohol on his breath during a practice. Baker said he wanted to change, but couldn’t.

“I had to figure out a way to make it right,” Baker said in his appearance on the Connecticut FOX affiliate. “I couldn’t make it right. The Celtics — a great organization — they worked with me, but with my issues I didn’t take the time I needed to take to make it right.”

It’s a shame Baker’s career fell off so sharply and abruptly, considering that four-year stretch — averaging 19.7 points and 9.6 rebounds — before a 1998-99 NBA lockout that saw the New England native balloon to 300 pounds.

“When you’re doing certain things on the court, a lot of times people just trust your talents,” Baker added in the interview. “They don’t know what’s going on inside your heart and your mind, and it becomes very difficult to relay to people that, you know, I might be struggling with something. Entertainers, basketball players, NFL players – sometimes it gets to a point where they don’t understand who you are as a person. They just look at the money, the power, the fame.”

SCALABRINE ON THIBODEAU

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Brian Scalabrine revealed what made Tom Thibodeau such a valuable asset in Celtic practices over the last few seasons: The C’s assistant coach and defensive guru wasn’t afraid of anybody, including Kevin Garnett.

“He likes KG, and KG loves Thibodeau, but he stared right at Garnett and said, ‘We’re doing it this way, you have to do it better, do it harder, and do it more together or I’m going to have to make a change,'” Scalabrine told the Tribune. “If coach Thibodeau can do that to Kevin Garnett, he can do that to anybody.”

The question moving forward is — when this year’s Celtics suffer defensive lapses — can Lawrence Frank do the same to guys like KG and the O’Neal brothers? Time will tell.

By the way, if you’re wondering how Scalabrine is performing in Chicago, the answer is: Just fine, thank you very much. He’s shooting 100 percent from the field. Of course, he’s only taken one shot in 11 minutes.

Oh, and my new favorite Twitter personality to follow is @FakeScalabrine. Over the last few days, he’s given us gems like: “Shaq is picking up my slack with the missed layups,” and, “Watching Nate clank threes and just thinking, ‘Man, that could be me.'”

SI: GARNETT GOING STRONG

Speaking of Garnett, Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Mannix details just how much KG’s knee problems affected his play last year — and how far he’s come since.

One Eastern Conference scout told Mannix that he thought KG was “finished” last season after seeing Andray Blatche score 23 points on the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year.

“Offensively, he understood what he could or couldn’t do,” Doc Rivers told Mannix of last season. “He had become a pick-and-pop player. It frustrated him that he couldn’t post more. He couldn’t get his balance. Defensively, guys were driving by him, beating him off the dribble. He couldn’t get blocked shots.”

“Watching Kevin now is like night and day from last season,” Rivers added in the interview. “In camp last year, I thought he was physically healthy, but mentally he wasn’t sure. He was scared to do things.”

One of the driving forces behind KG’s return to the old KG was Pau Gasol’s 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in the 2010 NBA Finals.

“Gasol having that good series,” Rivers added, “really ticked Kevin off.”

RONDO’S NEW SHOE

Nike revealed a new shoe: Zoom Hyperfuse Rajon Rondo PE. What do you think?

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

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Rajon Rondo
NBA Power Rankings, 10/28 10.28.10 at 2:40 pm ET
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1. LA Lakers: After receiving their championship rings, the Lakers started 1-0, thanks to new addition Steve Blake, who nailed a last-second 3-pointer to defeat the Rockets — on an assist from Kobe Bryant. Wait a second, Kobe trusted a teammate? And a new teammate to boot? I must have read that wrong.

2. Boston: The Celtics made their statement on opening night: When they’re up for a game, they can beat anybody in the league, including the LeBron-led Heat. Then they made another statement last night: When they’re not up for a game, they can lose to anybody in the league, including the LeBron-less Cavaliers.

3. Miami: LeBron was right when he said after the loss to the Celtics that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In reality, it was built over the course of 870 years. I don’t think it’ll take that long for the Heat to start jelling. They played pretty poorly in the opener — and still almost beat our No. 2-ranked team on the road.

4. Oklahoma City: Kevin Durant took his first step towards claiming his MVP trophy, totaling 30 points and seven rebounds in a season-opening win over a team that will probably be one of the league’s best defensive squads (the Bulls). So, what’s in store when he plays against the Pistons tomorrow night? Watch out.

5. Orlando: I overheard a conversation at the TD Garden the other night. One guy said to another, “Hey, how come you don’t like Orlando’s chances this year?” The other guy’s reply? “They still have Vince Carter, don’t they?” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why — no matter how impressive their preseason was — they’re not higher.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, NBA
Paul Pierce knows clutch when he sees it 10.27.10 at 3:38 pm ET
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You know you’re clutch when Paul Pierce says you’re one of the best clutch players he’s ever played with. Kevin Garnett echoed those feelings about Ray Allen after the sharpshooter showed off his deadly shooting prowess again late in Tuesday’s season-opening 88-80 win over the Miami Heat.

Allen hit a clutch three-pointer from the left baseline with 49.8 seconds to go in the fourth quarter to seal Boston’s win over LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the highly-anticipated NBA lid-lifter at TD Garden.

“I’ve been a witness of it the last three years, and he’s one of the best players that I’ve ever played with,” Pierce said of Allen. “It’s an honor just to be able to step on the court with him night in and night out. You’ve got a guy that can take that kind of pressure off you, it’s an amazing feeling. I don’t know if you guys realize it, but Ray, he’s hit so many game winners for us and so many clutch shots for us, we have confidence to get him the ball in these situations. He delivers nine times out of ten.”

“And this guy hits big shots himself,” smiled Garnett, who added just the right amount of perspective.

But Pierce also admitted, “I like watching, too.”

Pierce did exactly that when he fed Allen off a designed play and the Celtics desperately needing a bucket to regain control after Miami drew to within three on a James lay-up with under a minute remaining.

“We drew a play out of the time out, and the only thing we said is, if it’s not there, it won’t be there because they have to rotate, and if they rotate, if we make the next pass, the ball will find the open guy,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, before giving props to Pierce for making the extra pass.

James was defending Pierce very closely and not giving him a good look so the Celtics captain found an open and willing Allen on the left baseline.

“And that was terrific,” Rivers added. “He had a shot, but it would have been contested, and he made the extra pass. We always talk about no hero ball, and to me that was a hero pass in a great way. He didn’t have to make that pass, but he made the right decision, and it was great.”

Who was supposed to be on Allen? Former Celtic Eddie House, a shooting guard who can appreciate hitting the clutch shot.

“I should have stayed with him on the baseline,” House said. “He kicked it out and got that one right in front of our bench. That’s a play I’ve already replayed in my head about 1,000 times already. But Ray just does that to you.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, eddie house, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James
Celtics-Heat game draws 5.6 rating on TNT at 11:27 am ET
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Tuesday night’s Celtics-Heat game scored a 5.6 overnight rating for TNT, a 75 percent improvement from last season’s opening game between the Celtics and Cavaliers. The second half of the TNT doubleheader featuring the Lakers and Rockets also had a solid boost from 2009, drawing 40 percent more viewers to register a 3.5. Overall, TNT averaged a 4.5 for the doubleheader, making it by far the most-watched NBA opening night in TNT history.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, TNT,
Photos: Slide show of Opening Night between Celtics and Heat at 11:25 am ET
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Click here, or on the image below, to launch a slide show of photos from Celtics Opening Night. Ray Allen led the offense with 20 points and drilled a clutch jumper late while Rajon Rondo dished out 17 assists as the Celtics played smothering defense to spoil the highly anticipated debut of LeBron James with the Heat. The Celtics won, 88-80, Tuesday night at TD Garden in the NBA season-opener.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat,
Irish Coffee: Rondo Hall of Fame-bound? at 10:54 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

In the first NBA game since 1969 to feature 13 former All-Stars, it was the most recent player to join that list whose star shone brightest.

In his fourth year in the league, Rajon Rondo emerged as an Eastern Conference All-Star, so what’s in store for the Celtics point guard’s fifth season — and beyond?

“He’s got a good chance of being a Hall of Fame-type player,” Jermaine O’Neal said after last night’s 88-80 opening-night victory against the Miami Heat.

High praise? Sure. But Jermaine isn’t the only O’Neal heaping praise upon Rondo after playing just one regular-season game alongside him.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Shaq said of playing with Rondo, who finished with 17 assists last night. “He’s the perfect point guard. He knows where all his guys are. He led us out there, and he didn’t let us panic on the floor. Great player.”

Since entering the league, Rondo’s point, assist and steal averages have risen each season, culminating in last year’s 13.7 points, 9.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. His rebounding numbers had also risen each season until a slight dip in 2009-10 put him at 4.4 per.

Is it ridiculous to assume Rondo could average 15 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two-and-a-half steals per contest in 2010-11?

Those statistical averages would compare favorably with the fifth-season numbers of the four most recent point guard greats (all either HOFers or HOF locks) — Steve Nash (15.6 points, 7.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals), Jason Kidd (11.6, 9.0, 4.8, 2.4), Gary Payton (20.6, 7.1, 3.4, 2.5) and John Stockton (17.1, 13.6, 3.0, 3.2).

And Shaq agrees, especially after Rondo found him with a couple floating assists around the rim last night. “The last six or seven years I really haven’t had a point guard like that,” said Shaq, “but I’m just getting back to what I’m used to. I’m by the basket, and when he comes by the basket I just gotta be ready.”

If you’ll recall,  just two years ago, Shaq played one-and-a-half seasons with Nash himself.

Obviously, the most  glaring weakness in Rondo’s game is his shooting. Defenders point to the .500 field goal percentage in each of his last two seasons, but it’s his 3-point (24.4 percent in his career) and free throw shooting (63.0) that need improvement.

During the preseason, Rondo demonstrated a new-found knack to knock down the mid-range jumper, but he didn’t have that touch in the opener, finishing 2-of-9 from the field last night.

Nobody’s asking Rondo to have Nash’s 3-point (40.0 percent in his 5th season) and free-throw shooting (89.5 percent in Year 5) ability, but how about Payton’s (30.2 3-point FG and 71.6 FT in Y5)?

Kidd also started his career as a sub-.300 3-point and sub-.700 free-throw shooter. Since then, he made himself into a .425 3-point and .808 free-throw shooter last year in Dallas. All I’m saying is, there’s hope.

And if indeed Rondo emerges as a Hall of Fame-type player as J.O. alluded, that would mean the C’s current starting five would feature a full lineup of HOFers.

Not bad for a guy that joked in the video accompanying this blog that he might not still be in the NBA in 2012.

SHAQ’S CELTICS DEBUT

The Celtics got exactly what they hope for out of Shaq last night: nine points, seven rebounds and a block in 18 minutes. So, how did The Big Shamrock feel about his first night as a Celtic?

“I just wanted to come out and just play,” said Shaq. “I had a couple early-game jitters. I missed a couple chippies, but Rondo … gave it back to me. We’re all gonna get better, and I’m gonna get better. It’s gonna be a great year.”

Shaq talked to the media for about five minutes after the game. Here are a few highlights:

  • On the opening-night hype: “We just wanted to come out and win our first game, and that’s what we did. We let y’all worry about all the hoopla and all that. We knew that we wanted to come play a solid game, and we knew if we did what we wanted to do then we could get a win. This game is over. We’ve got a game tomorrow, and we just want to be 2-0.”
  • On Ray Allen’s clutch 3-point shot in the final minute: “Ray is one of the greatest players ever to play the game — a great shooter. Doc (Rivers) drew up a play. It’s a play we practice all the time. We had many options, and that was one of our options. Ray Allen just did what he does — shoot the ball and make it.”
  • On Paul Pierce: “He’s a great player. I don’t think you guys give him enough media attention that all the other guys get, but he’s up there with the other two players over there (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade). He’s a great player, a great scorer, and his name should be mentioned more.”
  • On the Boston crowd: “Excellent. Electrifying. Magnetic. … It was great. It’s a great town. People here are anxious to get No. 18. It’s going to be like that all year, and we want to remain a dominant team at home.”
  • On starting 2-for-2 from the free-throw line: “I was leading the league? A thousand percent? That record got messed up pretty quick.”

REACTION FROM MIAMI

The fallout from the Miami media appears unanimous: Last night’s loss was the exception, not the rule. In fact, the Heat hype consensus is that they’re still the team to beat …

Greg Cote, Miami Herald columnist:

The gleaming Maserati, so gorgeous in the showroom, so perfect to look at, hit the road for the first time Tuesday night, and the engine hiccupped a little, and the brakes squealed some.

The ride is going to be fine. Needs some tinkering and tuning, that’s all.

If anything, Miami’s 88-80 loss to the Boston Celtics verified the Heat’s awesome potential more than cast the least bit of doubt on it.

See, the Heat is good enough to come this close being that bad.

Israel Gutierrez, Miami Herald columnist:

It’s reasonable to call this the most difficult regular-season test the Heat will experience all season.

And, yet, with less than a minute left, after playing as miserable a duration of basketball as this team might ever play all season, the Heat trailed by just three points and oh-so-close to ripping out the hearts of Celtics fans on opening night.

With all that in mind, it might be time to translate Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez‘s quote from several weeks ago into the language of basketball: There’s nothing wrong with going 81-1.

Dave Hyde, Florida Sun Sentinel columnist:

In their first quarter together, the Heat’s Dream Team scored fewer points (nine) than in any Heat quarter last year. Where have you gone, Quentin Richardson?

That’s why the Heat’s loss to Boston 88-80 actually was worse news for the rest of the NBA. Go ahead and laugh a little more at that one, if you want.

But let me go further: This game was the very worst news the rest of the league could have received. There’s really no other way to assemble what happened in this Heat opener in another context.

Similarly, after the game, LeBron James tweeted, “Rome wasn’t built in a day! Work in progress. On to the next one.” The funny thing is — as Rondo points out in the video accompanying this blog — this Celtics team literally built itself in Rome, during a trip to Italy during the 2007 preseason.

No, one game won’t mean much in the standings come April, but last night’s game was about more than just the one day. It was about preparation, unity, familiarity — Ubuntu.

After all, “The Decision” happened more than four months ago. What have the Heat been doing since July? Perhaps spending one too many days checking out the talents on South Beach.

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

Read More: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, NBA, Rajon Rondo
Ray Allen, C’s knew what was coming at 2:21 am ET
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The Heat played right into the hands of the Celtics all night long ‘€” and right into the teeth of their defense.

LeBron James finished with a game-high 31 points, but he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to make only 17-of-48 shots.

And Ray Allen, who defended Wade much of the night and held him to 4-of-16 shooting, explained exactly how the Celtics were able to defend Miami in an 88-80 win in the season-opener at TD Garden.

The Celtics knew coming in that with James and Wade, the Heat were going to run isolation plays all night to try and get their two scoring stars going.

“We had a great swarm,” Allen said. “Everybody was in position. We talked on defense. We knew every play they were running so when they ran it, [Rajon] Rondo was right there, there was no gap. There was nowhere for LeBron to go and then we were coming back out for the shooters. There was one stretch where we were letting those corner 3s [be taken] and we have to do a better job of letting them have those shots.”

Then there was this from Glen Davis, who along with Shaquille O’Neal was making life miserable in the paint for the Heat all night.

“We had seen every thing they run. and they run a lot of iso,” Davis said of isolation plays for James and Wade. “And the one thing about iso is you can guard that by throwing two or three guys at them.”

Miami, which made just 11-of-41 shots in the first half, finished the game shooting a measly 36.5 percent, connecting on 27-of-74 attempts. The two players primarily responsible for guarding James were Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels. Allen was on Wade and Garnett drew Bosh.

“I thought we’re a defensive team that can score the basketball,” Kevin Garnett said. “Paul has his hands full, I have my hands full, Ray Allen had his hands full. Those three are going to be a force to be reckoned with. With know that. Very talented guys, but it’s not one, two, three individuals that make a team. It definitely sets the foundation.

“But for the most part every time we touch the floor it’s about getting better. I thought tonight we did just that. We’ve got a lot of room to improve, but it’s the first night, a lot of expectations on tonight. But for the most part I thought we were solid enough to win, and we want to be better at home. What a way to start the year, with a win at home.”

The Celtics will try to continue their “swarm” when they play their first road game of the year on Wednesday night in Cleveland, serving as the opposition in the Cavaliers‘ first game without LeBron James.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James
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