|Is this really just another game?||02.06.09 at 12:35 am ET|
No one on the Los Angeles Lakers is more outspoken about his feelings toward the Boston Celtics than Sasha Vujacic. Make no mistake, he is not over last season’s loss in the NBA Finals. Less than a year later, the emotional wound is still very open.
‘I wouldn’t say it’s hatred,’ Vujacic said before the Lakers overtime win against the Celtics (RECAP HERE). ‘It’s just hard when you lose in the Finals to forget about it and say life goes on. It doesn’t go on. I’m always going to be kind of scarred.’
Kind of scarred? Vujacic won’t even wear green — ‘I’ve seen too much green in June’ — but he doesn’t think these sentiments are over the top. Any player who claims it’s just another game, he attests, isn’t being honest.
‘I think that if you go in the Celtics locker room and you ask them about us, they’re going to have the same opinion. The only difference is they have a championship ring and they have a trophy at home,’ he said. ‘I would say that for both teams, no matter what they say or no matter what people think, it will never, ever be ‘just another game’ against the Celtics or against the Lakers.’
For many of the Celtics, this wasn’t just another game. As Ray Allen explained, the Celtics were the hunted against a Lakers team looking for revenge. The Cs knew the Lakers were going to attack with a Game Seven mentality and they wanted to match that energy.
‘We approach it as an intense playoff atmosphere,’ Allen said. ‘We definitely don’t take it lightly. It’s a very intense moment for us. We look forward to it and the focus in the locker room is pretty intense … Now we’re on the other side of the fence where we’ve got to pick it up and we’ve got to get momentum going here into the playoffs.’
Kendrick Perkins agreed.
‘I thought it was very physical. I thought it was a playoff-type atmosphere game,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t a make-or-break for the season, no doubt about it, but we wanted to win the game. You could tell, any time we go through a game like that, hard fought, you just want to get the win.’
There may have been a playoff atmosphere but that doesn’t mean this game has the ramifications of a postseason match up. Nobody won a ring, no one was sent home for the summer.
‘What was it? Game 51? It was Game 51,’ said Eddie House. ‘I think they feel like they won the Finals, the way they were celebrating out there, and it’s Game 51. I think it just meant more to them to come in here and be able to get that monkey off their back to feel like, oh they can get a win out here. So that’s behind us. I think it meant more to them but we just keep it moving.’
At the end of overtime the Celtics were the world champions while the Lakers were still seeking to take the title away. But seasons are not decided in February. Ultimately, it is just another game in the grand scheme of the regular season. Even Vujacic, open wound and all, isn’t celebrating just yet.
‘We don’t celebrate,’ he said after the game. ‘We celebrate in June.’
|Sobe Kobe…||02.05.09 at 1:43 pm ET|
That simple message was delivered at Thursday morning’s shoot-around here in Waltham, mere hours before they take on the reigning NBA MVP and his Lakers on the parquet of the TD Banknorth Garden.
That, and we’re not changing what we do just for Kobe.
“We just play him,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers announced. “We don’t have any Kobe rules or anything like that. We play our defense every night. We literally don’t change our style. Rarely, we may change them for a possession here or there, but you just try to keep him in front of you and wish for the best of luck because he’s tough. If it were easy to defend him, he wouldn’t be Kobe.”
“They’re a good basketball team,” Rivers said. “They’re no different. Obviously, they miss Bynum’s length but they’re going to get through the regular season and get him back for the playoffs and they’ll be fine. Kobe has clearly picked it up the last couple of games but so has Gasol. Gasol has had 31 points the last couple of games himself.”
Yes, Kobe has gone off for a combined 97 points against the 21-27 Knicks and the 19-32 Raptors this week.
“We didn’t play in any of those games that we know of,” Rivers keenly observed. “We can’t do anything about that. That’s the way we always look at that. Let’s hope he doesn’t score 97 tonight. That would be very important for us trying to win this game, I can tell you that.”
Ask Rajon Rondo and the Celtics point guard is quick (and right) to point out that the Knicks have just as much to do with the 61 Kobe scored on Monday at MSG as anything else.
“He’s a great player,” Rondo said. “Sixty-one doesn’t happen all the time in the league but a lot of great scorers go off at times. That was transistion game he played against the Knicks. LeBron had 52 last night. That’s just the style (the Knicks) play.”
And yes, the Los Angeles Lakers come to town tonight with a Western Conference-best 39-9 mark, winners of four straight, playing on the same court they suffered their most humiliating loss in franchise history, that 39-point quit job last June in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
“I’m sure they’ve seen it enough,” Rivers said. “I’m sure no one’s run that on TV at all. Well, they should be. Why wouldn’t they be? They’ll be up for the game. We’ll be up for the game.”
Therein lies the key difference between the Celtics and the Lakers. The Lakers are all about superstars, albeit great scoring superstars, but individuals nonetheless. The Celtics, during their second double-digit winning streak of the season, have built their dominance around defense.
Yes, the Celtics are weakened a little by the flu bug that has run through Kevin Garnett and the rest of the team.
“He felt strong,” Rivers said of Garnett at this morning’s shootaround in Waltham. “He’s fine. We’ll find out tonight. It’s easy to feel strong in a shoot-around but when you’re running up and down the floor when you haven’t done it, that’s a different story. I think there are six guys on Z-Paks, probably all due to Kevin, who knows.”
Z-Paks, for those who didn’t go to medical or pharmaceutical school, are antibiotics given to help those fighting off viruses.
The Celtics will want to be at full strength as they try to ward off Kobe and the Lakers.
|No big surprise: Jefferson and Perkins expected success||02.01.09 at 4:26 pm ET|
If someone had said during the Boston Celtics 18-game losing streak Kendrick Perkins would win an NBA Championship and Al Jefferson would become an All-Star caliber player in less than two years, they would have been laughed at. Yet the pair of big men have made a remarkable turnaround from the dismal 2007 season. And while their accomplishments may have seemed unlikely just a few seasons ago, neither are surprised by the others success.
‘It’s funny because his game has improved a lot, of course, because every year you have in this league you get better and better,’ Jefferson said of Perkins. ‘But the things he’s doing now, I’d even seen them when I was here.’
Jefferson and Perkins faced off on Sunday when the Celtics took on the Timberwolves in Boston. (RECAP HERE) Perkins was nonchalant about the match up — ‘Man, I just want to hoop’ — and seemed unfazed by the success of his close friend. The two had a strong chemistry on and off the court, and saw potential in one another early on. So when Jefferson was the centerpiece of the Kevin Garnett deal, Perkins wasn’t shocked.
‘He’s grown a lot, but he was doing the same thing when he was here,’ Perkins said. ‘It’s not like he just developed into this star player when he got to Minnesota. That’s why he got traded for Garnett, because he was that type of player before he left here.’
In Jefferson’s last season with the Celtics, he averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds. This season he is ranked first among all centers in scoring (23.2 ppg), fifth in rebounds (10.6), and has recorded 26 double-doubles.
‘I think Al is really learning how to be a leader,’ Perkins said. ‘You can tell he’s talking more, he’s communicating on the court, he’s telling guys where they need to be. I think Al’s stepping up, being more of a vocal leader. He’s taking pride in playing defense and it’s really just going from there.’
Even when the Celtics were losing, Jefferson was one of the bright spots on the team. Perkins, however, struggled to learn his role as a defensive presence. He forced baskets and was reluctant to scale down his offensive game.
‘The biggest thing when I was here was he was the type of guy who wanted to rush his offense, he wanted to take shots, he wanted to kind of like be a scorer,’ Jefferson said. ‘And Doc (Rivers) used to always tell him, ‘You’re not a scorer. You’re the type of guy who sets pick and rolls. That’s how you get your point.’ And I think that’s what he’s doing now. He finally accepted that and now he gets his points. He scores just as much now just doing his role by setting picks and rolling to the front of the basket, getting offensive rebounds. He’s getting his points that way and I think he’s finally accepted his role and that’s what’s making him a great player.’
It took losing the player he relied on the most for Perkins to improve his game. He is averaging 8.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, and shooting 59.5% from the field this season, compared to 4.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 49.1% FG in his last season before the trade. Perkins soaked up Garnett’s veteran knowledge and even began to implement a high-low pass that he learned from Jefferson.
‘That’s all he really needed was a guy like KG who was defensive-minded just to bring him up even more,’ Jefferson said. ‘So the things he’s doing now, I’d seen them when I was here. Perk was always one of the guys that was hard for me to score on even in practice. We used to go at each other so it’s fun watching him grow as a player.’
At just 24 years old, Jefferson and Perkins are only beginning to reach their potential. But regardless of how successful the other becomes, it’ll be no big surprise for these big men.
Perkins Cool With Call – By Jessica Camerato
The Captain and the Truth – By Paul Flannery
|Celtics-TWolves Game Blog: Fourth Quarter||at 2:01 pm ET|
For Paul’s third quarter recap, click here.
Fourth Quarter Observations
– Doc started the fourth quarter with Pierce and the second unit in. Jefferson is taking a breather so this would be a good opportunity for Powe and Davis to take advantage at the hoop.
– Still waiting for Kevin Love to score. He was, after all, a top five draft pick but has struggled with first-year inconsistencies this season.
- I have to give the T’Wolves credit today. They’re managing to keep it close without Rashad McCants, who was favoring his right elbow before the game. McCants it their leading scorer off the bench and so far they’ve got just 11 points out of the reserves so far.
– Big Al has developed into such a versatile player since leaving Boston. Guys like Dwight Howard and Shaq get credit for being a big body in the paint but Jefferson has added a dangerous mid-range shot to his repertoire. Have I mentioned Jefferson was snubbed??
– A trey and three-point play from Randy Foye closed the gap, but Pierce thrives in close games. The captain is already pushing 40 points and there is still two minutes to go.
– The Garden’s clearing out with the Celtics up by eight at the 30-second mark.
- Celtics win, 109-101.
|Sounds of the game… Celtics 119, Kings 100||01.29.09 at 9:57 am ET|
If Eddie House was trying to make a case for being included in the three-point shooting contest, it’s hard to imagine making a better one than he has in his last four games.
He is 22-for-32 in his last four games beyond the arc, including an 8-for-9 exhibition Wednesday night at the hands of the helpless Sacramento Kings, leading the Celtics to a 119-100 victory, their ninth straight.
House was hitting them from all angles and all places. He lives in Scottsdale and is going to be in the Phoenix area anyway, and would be a natural for the annual event at All-Star Weekend.
As far as trying to petition the league on such matters, head coach Doc Rivers told Dennis and Callahan this morning that, “the league is like the gestapo about it. We’re not sure who we can lobby about it.”
Well, let us help. Yes, the Celtics bench was a huge part of the proceedings, scoring a season-best 61 points. Yes, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo were red hot early, even though the Kings shot out to an early 23-13 lead in the first quarter.
But the story was the House on Fire.
|Scal out, TA back and Kings up…||01.27.09 at 3:14 pm ET|
The Celtics had a longer than normal practice on Tuesday at their training facility in Waltham.
Here are some nuggets from the day.
Brian Scalabrine, who already was dinged up from a mild concussion on Sunday during the win against Dallas, took a serious shot to the head from Patrick O’Bryant and had to be taken off the court and given medical treatment. He was having pain from the light and has been ruled out for Wednesday’s game against Sacramento by head coach Doc Rivers, who added they might have to check with the Patriots for advice.
Tony Allen looked “great” to Rivers and with Scalabrine being out, will likely return for the first time since spraining his right ankle on Jan. 4 in New York against the Knicks.
Rivers said he will remind his team that they embarrassed the Kings by 45 points on Dec. 28 in Sacramento (their lone win on the West Coast swing) because “every team in the league has pride” and they will be “out to show that that game was a fluke.”
Here is the audio version of the above.
|Sounds of the game… Celtics 124, Mavericks 100||01.25.09 at 8:09 pm ET|
Another Western Conference team makes the trip to Boston and wonders why it even bothered.
Lakers Game 6, 2008 NBA Finals. Portland on Dec. 5. Phoenix last Monday. The Dallas Mavericks were the latest team on Sunday to quit in the middle of a game, knowing they were hopelessly out of it. It’s pretty sad to watch, actually.
The Celtics should get all the credit in the world for taking all of the heart out of the competition early and that’s what Ray Allen, Eddie House and every player in green and white was talking about afterward. That, and the fact that the team is passing so well right now that they are playing at a level even HIGHER than during the 19-game winning streak. Wow.
The Celtics shots 66 percent in the first quarter, 65 percent for the first half, led by 32 points in the second quarter and 35 in the third quarter. They could’ve played Gino on the big screen at the end of one. It was THAT bad.
Now, the Sacramento Kings head to Boston for a match-up on Wednesday. You remember them, don’t you? The Western Conference team that kept it close in the pre-game warmups before losing by 45, 108-63, in Sacramento on Dec. 28. One can only hope for a competitive, if not close game this time around. But forgive me if my expectations aren’t very high.
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