Celtics

Celtics have Howard's number

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Celtics have Howard's number

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

At some point, you assume hell figure it out.

Whether its in Orlando, or wherever he winds up after the summer of 2012, you imagine that something will eventually click in Dwight Howards head and the rest of the NBA will pay the price.

But Sundays Celtics victory was just another reminder that we arent there yet, and that for now Boston will continue to reap the benefits.

Hey, Dwight! screamed the drunken fan in the big green afro. I bet youre rooting for the Steelers tonight, huh!?!

Nah, Dwight Howard giggled back. Packers!

Up until this point of Sundays game, Howard had been the Celtics worst nightmare.

Hed scored 12 points in the first quarter, and while its not entirely rare for Howard to post a big number, today there was a fluidity to his game that had the Garden crowd reaching for an extra dose of Klonopin. There were dunks, of course, but that wasnt it. He was scoring in ways, and with a confidence, that had you worrying about the future; that made you wonder if those over-hyped workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon were finally translating.

Midway through the first, Howard (already with eight points on a variety of shots) lined up a 15-foot bank shot from the left wing. He caught the ball, sized up his defender, released it and didnt look all that awkward in the process. As the ball was in the air, I thought to myself: Good God, what if this goes in?

Whats the league going to do if this becomes part of Dwight Howards arsenal?

It missed, but that was beside the point. Thats how he had you thinking. Away from the ball, he was (naturally) controlling the paint on both ends, altering shots. He was angry, determined, focused. He was nearly unstoppable, the answer to the question: Hey, what will it look like if Dwight Howard ever figures this all out?

You not only saw a player showing vast improvement in a facet of the game that's bothered him since joining the league, but a guy on the verge of improving even more. Of adding new dimensions to his game and wreaking a more consistent, and different kind havoc on the NBA. One that went far beyond defensive and rebounding dominance. It was pretty terrifying.

But with 3:26 to play in the first, and the Magic up 18-9, Howard went to the bench, and over the next three minutes it happened. The clock struck midnight and the glimpse at what may one day become of Howard disappeared.

By the time Bostons "biggest nightmare" returned to the court, hed morphed back into the same old Celtics fantasy, and what initially looked like a sad day for the Cs turned into yet another big win.

Its hard to say why this happens so consistently with Howard especially in games of this magnitude, against a team as rivaled as the Celtics but when he came back, that physical dominance hed displayed in the opening quarter was overshadowed and corrupted by his inability to hang with the Celtics on a mental level.

And I dont mean intelligence. I mean focus. I mean composure. I mean that when Dwight Howard came back for that second quarter, it was like he'd lost that killer focus, and forgotten how much was on the line.

After putting on a show in that first quarter, he returned to find that the Celtics hadnt wavered, that they were still ready to fight; and he didn't seem ready. And while he did score (he finished with 10 in the second, to give him an impressive 222 for the half), it was much more vintage Howard; right at the rim. Lay-ups. Dunks. Meanwhile, he allowed himself to get suckered into Kendrick Perkins trap (how are you not prepared for Perk to antagonize you?) and drew a technical at the eight-minute mark. Shortly after, Kevin Garnett re-entered the game, and he and Perk went to work. Pushing, scraping, trying to get under Howards skin. The more they did it, the more Howard tried to appear unaffected. And that just weighed more on his focus, stunted his offensive abilities and allowed the Celtics to slowly take over. By the time the half ended, the Celtics had taken that earlier nine-point deficit and turned it into a three-point advantage.

While Howard sporadically showed flashes of intensity during the game, once the whistle blew, something was funny; something was worth laughing at. When you watch a team like the Celtics (and, truthfully, a lot of the guys on the Magic, too), you watch them get completely lost in the game; possessed by the competition. Theyre on that court, in battle, and nothing else matters.

You watch Howard, and its like he never forgets about the cameras. He never forgets that everyones watching. And as a result, I dont think hes trying to show off, but I do think hes always trying to entertain. I think he genuinely enjoys making people happy and thinks that this is the best way to do it.

Im sure David Stern loves that. But right now, it doesnt work against a team like the Celtics, at least not consistently. That mentality makes him an easy target. It leaves him open to falling into those technicals. It creates a weird vibe for his team.

It leads to situations where there are two minutes left in the second quarter, his teams clinging to a 40-37 lead (on the road, against the defending conference champs) and hes having an in-game conversation about the Super Bowl with a drunk guy in a green afro.

I'm not sure what it was about this ridiculous interaction that struck me as so important, but you just don't ever see it. Especially not in a game like that. And this wasn't during a time out either. This was with one of the Celtics at the foul line. The game was going on. Who does that?

Im not saying you have to always be serious. This year, Shaqs proven how much a team can benefit from not always keeping things so uptight. But theres a time and place that Howard just isnt grasping. That in-game silliness doesnt work when the team on the other side is dying for every second. When youre up against Rajon Rondo and KG, two of the most competitive guys out there; Paul Pierce, one of the proudest guys out there; Ray Allen, probably the most focused and detail-obsessed guy out there; and Kendrick Perkins, who knows that his next contract might just ride on how well he can stop you.

People say thats just him; that its just Dwight Howards playful personality. And thats fine, but unless something changes, that means Dwight Howard wont win a title.

Now, obviously, things could be a lot worse for Howard.

Hes barely 25 years, and clearly the best center in the NBA. He changes the game, defensively, like nobody else. Hes led the league in rebounding for the previous three seasons (for what its worth, Kevin Garnett led the league for four straight seasons before that). Hes led the league in blocks for the past two. Hes come up big in the playoffs. Hes led his team to the Finals. He is still a dominant force and an all-time physical specimen. I mean, he still finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds. That's pretty fantastic, but why does he it still feel like he can do more?

We keep expecting him to take that next step and connect the dots, grow up and become a champion.

But were just not there yet. Hes not there yet.

And in some ways, at 25 years old, and in only his seventh year in the league, maybe that shouldnt come as much of a surprise. Maybe it's too soon to overreact.

Shaq was 28 years old, and in his eighth year in the league when he finally reached the promise land, and that was in large part thanks to the maturation of Kobe. Hakeem Olajuwon was 31, and in his 10th year when he first won the title, and that was in enormous part due to the absence of Michael Jordan. David Robinson was 33, and also in his 10th year, and by then it was Tim Duncans team.

Once they reached those heights, the struggles they went through to get there went largely forgotten, or were at least looked back on far less critically.

But right now, as we saw Howard struggle in the second half; shoot 1-6 and fail to overcome the challenges of the Boston front court, it's clear that his maturation process is still under way. He still needs to find that right mentality. He might still needs to find the right combination of teammates. He still has room to grow.

Not that you'll hear the Celtics complaining. At least for now

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Blakely: Work in progress, but oh, what progress

Blakely: Work in progress, but oh, what progress

BOSTON – The words of Stephen Curry following the Celtics’ 92-88 win over his Golden State Warriors had an off-handed, end-of-the-night throwaway feel to them, a statement that would soon be forgotten after the Warriors reel off what should be a long string of victories going forward.
 
“They’re playing the best right now in the East,” Curry said of the Celtics, who now have a 3-2 edge in their past five meetings following Thursday night’s thriller. “And obviously until they beat Cleveland, who's done it three years in a row … so we’ll see.”

CELTICS 92, WARRIORS 88

We already have, folks.
 
The Celtics and the Warriors are both quick to remind us all that we are only a month into the season and that there’s still lots of basketball to be played.
 
But the big takeaway from Thursday was that the Celtics’ ascension to the top of the NBA mountain is a matter of when, not if, it’ll happen.
 
Because what we’re seeing now is a team that is very much a work in progress, yet one that still manages to win games on a lot of nights that they have no business winning.
 
Think about it.
 
They shot 32.9 percent against the Warriors, the best team in the NBA, and still managed to get the win. According to NBA stats guru Dick Lipe, it was only the second time in the past 35 years that the Celtics shot less than 33 percent from the field and still managed to win.
 
That speaks to how well Boston defended the Warriors, who came in averaging a league-best 119.6 points per game.
 
But more than that, it shows this team has a will to win that’s almost unheard of for a group whose pieces are so relatively new to one another.
 
Of the 14 Celtics with guaranteed contracts on the roster, all but four are in their first season in Boston.
 
But even with the new guys coming together quicker than anticipated, Boston should not all of a sudden be considered the favorites in the NBA.
 
Even with the victory, Boston still has some ground to make up if they are to be on the same level as Golden State, a franchise that has been to the NBA Finals each of the past three seasons and has emerged a champion twice.
 
“It takes a lot of basketball to get there,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “They have a good, young, hungry team. You have to give them credit. They have a better record than us, so you can say they’re better now.”
 
And while Thompson didn’t place an emphasis on it, the last word in his comments, “now,” is why Thursday’s victory leaves the Celtics cautiously optimistic.
 
Because as we’ve seen time and time, regular-season success does not always travel well beyond that and into the playoffs.
 
Still, Thursday’s win provides something for Boston beyond hope and optimism.
 
They now have results to go with the work they’ve put in to be a better team and compete with the league’s best.
 
And they’ve done it under less-than-ideal circumstances.
 
Gordon Hayward went down with an ankle injury less than five minutes into the season and he’s expected to be lost for the rest of the season. Al Horford missed two games while recovering from a concussion while Kyrie Irving missed a game after suffering a facial fracture.
 
So in other words, the Big Three that Boston was set on unleashing to the rest of the world has logged less than five minutes together all season.
 
And yet there are the Celtics (14-2), tops in the NBA while riding a historic 14-game winning streak, and there's reason to believe that maybe, just maybe, these two will be the last teams standing when all is said and done and some of those customary throwaway lines uttered by Curry might have some value after all if these two wind up meeting in the NBA Finals.

“I hear the weather is great here in June,” Curry said.
 
 

Brown leads C's to victory just a day after best friend's passing

Brown leads C's to victory just a day after best friend's passing

BOSTON – The NBA is an emotional game, but the feelings Jaylen Brown was working through on the eve of Thursday’s game against Golden State, are the kind you don’t wish anyone with the death of his best friend less than 24 hours before Thursday night’s tip-off.

Brown channeled his pain into a performance that was absolutely vital to Boston pulling off the biggest upset for them this season, a 92-88 win over the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

He led the Celtics with a team-high 22 points in the win which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to 14 straight. 

But he was in no mood to celebrate afterwards.

CELTICS 92, WARRIORS 88

“My best friend (Trevin Steede) passed last night,” Brown said after the game. “It was tough to accept it. Everybody was kind of in shock. I knew coming in today, he would want me to play.

Brown paused, and added, “It’s hard to get my thoughts together. After talking to his mom and family, they inspired me to come out. I wasn’t in any shape to come out. I didn’t want to leave my room. They inspired me to come out and play and I came out and played in his spirit today.”

Indeed, Brown played with the kind of purpose that made it clear that this wasn’t just another game. 

Sure, Golden State was the defending champs but Brown’s temperament seemed to be on a level higher, much higher, than what you would come to expect from a highly-anticipated matchup. 

His teammates as well as the coaching staff were aware of what Brown was dealing with, and were prepared for him to not play if he decided that was the best thing for him. 

After the game, Kyrie Irving gave the game ball to Brown.

“I knew from start of the game, I gave him some great words that were given to me,” Irving said. “I’ve lost individuals in my life. It’s never a good thing when someone is going through it. You do your best to encourage them, to console them. But at the end of the day, it’s about the strength within themselves and he showed a lot of that tonight.”

Irving added, “to be able to go out and perform the way he did, I knew exactly who the game ball was going to.”

Dealing with this kind of adversity unfortunately is nothing new to the Boston Celtics. 

On the eve of the playoffs last season, ex-Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas’ younger sister Chyna Thomas died in a car accident. 

Just as they rallied around Thomas at that time, the Celtics have done the same for Brown. 

“It’s been a tough 24 hours for him as you call can imagine,” said coach Brad Stevens. “Very similar meetings and talking points I had with Isaiah (Thomas) last year, today. Like Isaiah used it as a distraction, he (Brown) went out there and played and was really, really good.”

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