|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.
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.
Before Friday’s game against the Thunder, Rondo acknowledged that his representatives have been in preliminary talks with the Celtics about a contract extension.
Rondo signed a five-year, $55 million rookie scale extension on Nov. 2, 2009. That deal pays him $11.9 million this season and $12.9 in 2014-15 before he becomes an unrestricted free agent before the 2015-16 season.
“I like to stick to the script,” Rondo told reporters before returning to the starting lineup Friday night against Oklahoma City. “I don’t like change much. I wouldn’t mind staying here the rest of my career. Things don’t always seem to go that way, but like I said before, it’s just a business. I wouldn’t mind extending another 10 years in Boston.”
On Thursday, Ainge indicated that the team is interested in pursuing some type of contract extension with Rondo. Those talks, he said, would likely have to wait until after the season due to the nature of the collective bargaining agreement.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that a contender looking for point guard help could make a push for Rondo at the trade deadline, which is Feb. 20.
Rondo was selected in the first round (21st overall) by the Celtics in the 2006 NBA draft. He is a four time All-Star and led the league in steals with 189 in 2000-10.
The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar will sit out Friday’s game against the Celtics to rest his shoulder, dinged up in a win over the Spurs Wednesday night. Durant had 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in Oklahoma City’s 119-96 win over the Celtics on Jan. 5 in Oklahoma City. The Thunder enter the game with a 33-10 mark, a half-game better than the Spurs for best record in the West.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game that Perry Jones will fill in for Durant.
“Kevin definitely loves the game. He’s not one that looks forward to missing games,” Brooks said. “The guy is a gamer. He loves to play.”
Durant also loves to score, something he’s done at will in the last nine games. Durant has scored at least 30 points in nine straight games, averaging 38.9 points over that run for the Thunder.
“It’s the best thing for him. Until he’s ready to play, he’s not going to play, regardless of how he feels or what he wants to do. It’s a medical decision,” Brooks added.
For the first time in Thunder history Durant and Russell Westbrook won’t be in their lineup.
“I never looked at it that way,” Brooks said. “I know we’ve always had guys that step up. We have a team that takes challenges every night. You never want to be without your players, not only us but the entire league. Regardless of if he’s a starter or not a starter, you want your entire roster to give yourself the best chance. We have more than enough to compete. Old coach of mine [said]: ‘All you need is five.’”
Durant is certainly a leader in the early MVP race, averaging a league best 31.0 points. Durant has already won three NBA regular season scoring titles.
“I’ve seen Kobe Bryant score 40 points in nine straight games,” Durant told NewsOK.com on Thursday. “Michael Jordan have 11 triple-doubles in 12 games. LeBron James have a month when he’s averaging 35 points. So those guys, that’s something to write home about.”
As for Durant, he may or may not return for the Thunder’s next game, in Philadelphia Saturday night. The
The Thunder, meanwhile, visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. Brooks wasn’t sure if Durant will be back for that game.
The Thunder don’t figure to need Durant against the Sixers who, like the 15-29 Celtics, are bringing up the rear of the Atlantic Division.
|Rajon Rondo will sit vs. Wizards, Celtics announce||01.22.14 at 4:40 pm ET|
The Celtics cited “precautionary reasons” for holding out Rondo in just his fourth scheduled game since returning from ACL surgery.
Meanwhile, Jerryd Bayless (toe) and Avery Bradley (ankle) are also expected to miss Wednesday’s game, leaving only undrafted rookie point guard Phil Pressey and recently signed D-League guard Vander Blue as the only healthy members of the C’s backcourt against Wizards starters John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Keep in mind veteran guard Keith Bogans was granted leave from the team over a playing time dispute and remains on the roster for $5.1 million.
|Brad Stevens, Celtics still uncertain about Rajon Rondo’s status against Lakers||01.15.14 at 11:17 pm ET|
While Brad Stevens and his Celtics players, depleted backcourt and all, could simply be maintaining the mystery, they sure seemed sincere denying any knowledge about the All-Star point guard’s plans for Friday.
“He hasn’t told anybody,” said Avery Bradley. “We honestly don’t know.”
Rondo dressed and participated in the layup lines for Wednesday’s streak-busting win against the Raptors, but was never a consideration despite this week’s departures of Keith Bogans, Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks.
“Well, we were up three with no timeouts trying to get the ball inbounds and one of the best passers in the world was sitting right next to me, so no,” said Stevens. “He would not have been [available]. I told [assistant coach] Jay Larranaga he was next, and [assistant] Walter [McCarty] was right after him, depending on what we needed.”
The coach said he still hasn’t been told whether or not Rondo will be available to play against the Lakers. If so, “he’s only going to play 18-20 minutes.” Members of the organization contend the decision is entirely up to the point guard. He’s been practicing for weeks, has been cleared to play and faces no known hurdles in his rehab.
Yet, Bradley & Co. maintain: “I’m not sure if he is going to play. I’m not sure when he’s going to play.”