|Irish Coffee: Kobe Bryant on his admiration of Austin Rivers, love of Rob Gronkowsi and ignorance of Jeremy Lin||02.10.12 at 8:52 am ET|
Despite his team emerging victors by an ugly 88-87 margin in an overtime game, Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant sounded more impressed by the Celtics than his own squad when asked if the two once great and now aging championship clubs mirrored one another.
“I don’t know,” said Bryant, who finished with 25 points on 24 shots. “They’ve got three Hall of Famers and a fourth one coming. That don’t look too familiar to me over here.”
Not only did Bryant sound off about his own teammates, but he pulled no punches on the topics of Rob Gronkowski, Austin Rivers and Jeremy Lin (particularly priceless stuff), among other subjects thrown his way. The following are highlights from the Black Mamba’s postgame interview.
ON THE CELTICS
“We know each other so well. The unit we had on the floor, and their unit — we’ve played against each other so many darn times. We know what’s coming before it happens.”
[Asked again about the rivalry:] “It’s always a brawl in every fight. It’s ugly. It’s physical. I’ve enjoyed competing against them. I like all of them personally. On the court, that personal stuff goes out the window. It’s been fun.”
[And again:] “It’s a throwback in the sense that we’re old school. Ray [Allen] is old school. Paul [Pierce] is old school. Kevin [Garnett] is old school. And so is Rajon [Rondo]. How we prepare for the game, how much the game means to us, you can see the emotion that they pour into it, how much they put into the game, you don’t really see that too much from the young guys nowadays.”
[And again:] “It’s been great. It’s been a dream come true growing up and watching it. Here I am part of it. It’s great. The only difference between us and the ‘80s is that guys over there in the other locker room I actually know and like. That’s the big difference between this time around and the ‘80s.”
[And again:] “They’ve been playing extremely well. They’ve won nine out of their last 10 games coming into tonight, so they’re figuring things out obviously. Us, we’re still searching. It’s a whole new system. We’re trying to figure things out still. You kind of see it on the court. You kind of see things that are kind of botched plays every now and then, miscommunication now and then, because we’re kind of practicing things on the fly. But all in all, we’ll be Ok. Both of us will.”
|The All-Star cases for Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo||02.09.12 at 12:33 am ET|
Through his first 11 games of the season, Paul Pierce averaged less than 15 points a game and shot 37 percent from the floor. He also averaged fewer than five rebounds and a little more than four assists.
The Celtics lost six of those 11 games, including the first-ever five-game losing streak in the new Big Three era, and when that was combined with an 0-3 start without Pierce while he was recovering from a bone bruise in his heel, there were naturally questions about whether it was all over for this group of Celtics.
Then Pierce scored 34 points against the Wizards to go with eight rebounds and 10 assists, and that kickstarted a remarkable renaissance. Over the next 10 games, Pierce averaged 22.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists and the Celtics went 9-1 with Pierce leading the way.
Are those 10 games enough to make Pierce an All-Star?
Through the first 13 games of the Celtics season, Rajon Rondo essentially carried the offense. With Pierce injured and then working his way back into game condition and Kevin Garnett off to a slow start, the Celtics asked Rondo to take on more of an aggressive role and he attempted almost 200 shots (making 52 percent of them) while handing out 122 assists.
The Celtics weren’t good, but Rondo was, rebuilding his reputation after a late-season swoon in 2011 and an offseason of trade rumors. Then Rondo fell awkwardly on his right wrist and missed eight games. The Celtics went 6-2 and when he came back he was able to return to his preferred playmaking role, racking up 28 assists in his last two games.
Are 16 games enough to make the All-Star team?
After the starters are chosen by the fans, the reserves are selected by the coaches who vote for two guards, two forwards, a center and two wild-card choices. They will be announced before the Celtics play the Lakers on TNT on Thursday night. There are roughly 20 players in the East who could be considered for the honor, but only a few truly stand out. Compare that to the West where the competition is tighter, but also much tougher.
It says more about the Eastern Conference than it does the seasons that Pierce and Rondo are having that the answer is yes — although there is more of a debate in Rondo’s case.
With the obvious exception of LeBron James — who is the clear front-runner for MVP — Pierce has been the most productive small forward in the East. Among players at his position in the Eastern Conference, Pierce ranks second in true shooting and assist percentage behind LeBron and he grabs rebounds at roughly the same rate as Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng.
That’s including the first 11 games when even considering Pierce for an All-Star berth would have been laughable. His last 10 make his selection an obvious choice.
Rondo’s competition among point guards comes from the trio of Brandon Jennings, Deron Williams and rookie Kyrie Irving. In Rondo’s favor he has the highest True Shooting, assist percentage and rebound rate among the four guards. Working against him is the simple fact that he’s missed a third of the team’s games in this condensed schedule.
It should also be noted that picking an All-Star team after 24 games of a season like this essentially comes down to subjective arguments. Does Rondo get credit for picking up his game when his team needed him, or penalized for not winning more games? Without Williams, are the Nets the Bobcats? The argument here is that Rondo has been statistically the second-best point guard in the East after Derrick Rose, but the margin is thin.
Here are my selections for both the East and Western Conference All-Stars.
Guards: Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson
Forwards: Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh
Center: Tyson Chandler (narrowly over Anderson Varejao)
Wild cards: Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith
Toughest omissions: Deron Williams, Greg Monroe, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, somebody from the Pacers
Forwards: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge
Center: Marc Gasol
Wild cards: Tony Parker, Paul Millsap
Toughest omission by far: James Harden
|Fast Break: Pierce, Celtics take down Bird, Bobcats||02.07.12 at 9:47 pm ET|
BOSTON — All went according to plan for the Celtics in a 94-84 defeat of the Bobcats. Captain Paul Pierce climbed another rung on the team’s all-time scoring list, passing Larry Bird for No. 2 behind John Havlicek, and the C’s picked up their season-best fifth straight victory and ninth win in their last 10 in the process.
PIerce amassed 15 points, nine assists and eight rebounds as the Celtics (14-10) reached four games over .500 for the first time this season. The remaining Big Four and Brandon Bass (13 points) all reached double figures as well (Kevin Garnett 22, Ray Allen 17 and Rajon Rondo 10).
UConn’s Kemba Walker totaled 16 points and seven rebounds in defeat for the lowly Bobcats (3-22).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
A Bird in hand: With 10:22 remaining in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s game against the Bobcats, Pierce passed Larry Bird for No. 2 on the team’s all-time scoring list. After 13-plus seasons in a Celtics uniform, the 34-year-old Pierce entered the game needing just nine points to tie (and 10 to pass) Bird, who finished his 13-year career with 21,791 points. After scoring seven first-half points to close within two of Larry Legend, The Truth made his fourth 3-point attempt to clip Bird’s wings.
KG’s hot start: Garnett made four of his first five field goal attempts and reached double figures by halftime. He even attempted another 3-pointer, which he missed (But he can shoot 3s, Ok!). Rivers has been on KG all season to assert himself into the offense more regularly, and Garnett did just that — leading all Celtics scorers with 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go along with seven boards.
Rounding into form: For much of the season, somebody in the Celtics nine-man rotation (the starters plus Bass, Mickael Pietrus, Chris Wilcox and Avery Bradley) has either been sidelined or still recovering from injury. Not so against the Bobcats. All played, and all — with the possible exception of Wilcox — played admirably. Five of the nine reached double figures, Rondo recorded double-digit assists for the third consecutive night, O’Neal grabbed eight rebounds and Bradley made both of his field goals while playing his usual pesky defense and spelling Rondo for the entire fourth quarter. The C’s are hitting their stride.
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I beat myself up’ after first game back||02.04.12 at 5:12 pm ET|
In most sports, a player rehabs his way back from an injury gradually. Generally, they take batting practice, do hitting drills or take jump shots in their time away from the action. This is the case most of the time. If you are Rajon Rondo, and you’re coming back from missing eight games from a wrist injury, then you’re good to go after taking a few jumpers before the game.
Rondo didn’t want to aggravate or do any further damage to his injury suffered against the Raptors two weeks ago. After Saturday’s practice, the two-time All-Star said he refrained from shooting at all up until hours before his return Friday night against the Knicks.
“I was pretty critical [of myself] last night,” said Rondo. “Realistically, I haven’t touched a ball since Toronto because of the wrist. I’m a right-handed player so I couldn’t shoot free throws. I beat myself up because I missed a few free throws and some turnovers I made I wasn’t strong to make the pass, but that was the sacrifice I made to go out there and play.”
Rondo said he feels much better, and only expects to wear a protective wrist guard for a few more games because it bothers him mentally. One thing that didn’t bother Rondo Friday night was dealing with the black eye he had after taking a nasty blow in the first half from Iman Shumpert.
“I don’t think [the black eye] affected me,” he said. “It wasn’t the cause of a couple of my turnovers. It was just the timing and me trying to get back throwing regular passes.”
It certainly wasn’t a stellar performance for Rondo. He was 1-of-4 from the field, missed three of his four free throw attempts and had five turnovers. But his mere presence back in the lineup gave Boston greater offensive flexibility.
“It’s a different play-set when he’s out there, because he knows our entire playbook,” said Paul Pierce Friday night after the victory. “There are a set of plays we run when Rondo’s not in, but when he’s out there we expand our playbook a little more. So we ran plays that we haven’t ran in eight or nine games.”
Time and repetition, along with applying ice to his injured wrist, is the recipe needed for Rondo to get his game back to its desired level. Until then, however, Boston’s floor general is just happy to be back on the court.
“It felt great,” he said. “It’s a different flow. After no practice or anything for two weeks, and to get back out there in the game, you never know until you’re in the game. You can run and do cardio all you want, but you when you get on that floor and do pick and rolls, and hit the floor and get up doing transition back and forth, it’s a different type of game.”
|Fast Break: Celtics team effort scratches Raptors||02.01.12 at 9:47 pm ET|
Without starting point guard Rajon Rondo for the eighth consecutive game, the Celtics shared the wealth anyway — assisting on 28 of their 37 field goals — to dominate the Raptors from start to finish, 100-64.
Captain Paul Pierce led the way with just 17 points for the Celtics (11-10), who eclipsed .500 for the first time since Jan. 4 and improved to 4-2 on the second night of the deadly back-to-backs. Ray Allen (12 points), Brandon Bass (12 points), Avery Bradley (11 points) and JaJuan Johnson (11 garbage points on 5-5 FGs) all reached double figures as 10 different Celtics scored at least six points.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Start C’s up: Considering both teams were on the second night of a back-to-back, it wasn’t pretty basketball early, but the Celtics went on a 12-0 run midway through the first quarter — thanks to six straight Bass points sandwiched by four from Pierce– that gave the C’s an early 25-9 advantage they never relinquished. Even against the likes of the Raptors, the Celtics have had trouble getting off to good starts, so Doc Rivers had to like what he saw against Toronto.
Moore Bradley: Without Rondo for an eighth straight game and Keyon Dooling for his 11th game in 12 outings, the point guard duo of Bradley and E’Twaun Moore (8 points) continued to hold court — this time both in the same game. Bradley’s getting a knack for getting free under the basket, and his fellow starters are rewarding him for easy buckets. And Moore is proving himself as simply a good NBA offensive player, especially evident on one particular shot clock-beating pull-up jump shot.
Downtown Kedrick Brown: The Celtics connected on 12-of-24 3-pointers, actually shooting almost as well from beyond the arc than they did overall (52%). The dozen treys tied a season high for the C’s. Pierce led the way, burying 4-of-6 from long distance, while Allen, Pietrus and Sasha Pavlovic each added a pair.
|Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett’s ‘goddamn bar fight’||01.27.12 at 12:23 pm ET|
Three nights after holding the Magic to a record low 16 field goals in an 87-56 victory at the Garden, the Celtics dealt Dwight Howard & Co. another embarrassing blow in Orlando — storming back from 27 points to steal a 91-83 win in one of the 10 greatest comebacks in NBA history. And one of the great postgame interviews in history.
“It was a goddamn bar fight,” Celtics forward Kevin Garnett told TNT’s Craig Sager after the game. “A goddamn bar fight, man. It was a bar fight, Craig. Tonight was a bar fight, man. We knew they were going to come in with a lot of energy. Tonight was a bar fight. You ever been in a bar fight? Ask Charles [Barkley], he’s been in a bar fight. This is what it was tonight. We won in the second half. We came out with a lot of energy.”
At some point, KG remembered Sager was conducting an interview, so he allowed him to ask a couple questions.
We heard Doc Rivers say late in that third quarter, “This is not over yet.” Did you believe him?
“Since I’ve been here in Boston, Doc has never told me nothing that wasn’t true. We were in the Finals one time, we were down whatever it was, and he told us we could come back. And I believed him. And we did. So, tonight was no different.”
Does this victory mean even more than holding the Magic to 56 points on Monday?
“When you’re down and you fight back, you’ve got reason to be proud of yourself. That’s what this was. This was a Celtics win right here, man.”
Of course, Garnett proved a big part of that win, notching his second straight double-double and fifth of the season. More importantly, he helped hold All-NBA center Dwight Howard to fewer than 20 points.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics weekly report card, part deux||01.20.12 at 2:11 pm ET|
Father Red, for it’s been two weeks since my last report card. As I’ve mentioned before, with 66 games crammed into 17 weeks, each seven-day stretch of this NBA season takes on the importance of an NFL week. As NFL writers are won’t to do, we’ll continue our (bi)weekly series of Celtics report cards. Since last marking period, when the Celtics had just won four straight, Doc Rivers and Co. have endured a five-game losing streak snapped Wednesday night against the mighty Raptors. That being said, let’s get to the grades.
MICKAEL PIETRUS: A
Last Grade: N/A
The Celtics desperately needed scoring and defense off the bench, and Pietrus has filled both roles better than cream fills a Hostess cupcake. Since debuting against the Mavericks, he’s averaged 8.2 points on 41 percent from beyond the arc in addition to snagging four steals against zero turnovers. In his last two games, he’s scored 26 points (7-13 3P), culminating in his first Celtics win and his rendition of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.”
KEVIN GARNETT: B+
Last Grade: A-
Rivers wanted Garnett to take more shots, and KG listened, attempting 19 field goals in consecutive games. It worked one night (21 points at Pacers) and failed another (12 points vs. Thunder), which seems to be a running theme for Garnett 2.0, who just doesn’t have the same lift as the Timberwolves prototype. In all other aspects of his game, he’s lived up to his self-proclaimed “X-factor” role: “Whatever you need me to do, I’m gonna do.”