Celtics

Celtics-Lakers: A Rundown Rivalry

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Celtics-Lakers: A Rundown Rivalry

This opening paragraph would have been a lot stronger without last nights fourth quarter comeback. Had KG and the Brazilian Blur not carried the Celtics to an important (if not all that impressive) Canadian victory, the column youre reading would have started like this:

Tonight marks the first time since March 2006 that the Celtics and Lakers will meet in a game in which neither team boasts a winning record.

That would have been a much stronger, more telling indication of the way this season has gone for both sides of the NBAs most historic rivalry. But what can you do, right? Instead, the Celtics head into tonight with a record of 25-23; the Lakers are 23-26.

Still, just for fun

The game in question took place at the TD Garden on March 20, 2006 and pitted the 34-34 Lakers against the 28-39 Celtics. To no ones surprise, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant are the only players from that game who will be uniform tonight Pierce had 26 points and nine rebounds. Kobe had 43 points (ON 39 SHOTS!), five rebounds, four assists and five steals. Rookie Andrew Bynum had zero points in four minutes for LA. Second-year reserve Al Jefferson had two points in 10 minutes for Boston.

The Lakers won by a score of 105-97, to improve to 35-34 and remained above .500 for the rest of the year before being ousted by Steve Nash, Mike DAntoni and the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs (a series most-remembered for Mr. 39 Shots refusal to shoot the ball in Game 7.) With the loss, the Celtics dropped to 28-40. They finished the season at 33-49 and missed the playoffs for the first time in four years.

Anyway, that feels like a long, long time ago. Mostly because it was. Its been forever since the Lakers and Celtics have been as simultaneously unimpressive as theyve been this year.

Of course, the biggest difference between now and then is expectations.

LA came into this season as one of the favorites to win it all. After OKC traded James Harden on the eve of opening night, LA was (at the very least) expected to emerge from the West. This was the dawn of a new era of Lakers basketball. The arrival of the franchises next historic big man from Wilt to Kareem to Shaq to Kwame and now Dwight Howard. It was the boost Kobe needed to match (maybe even exceed) Jordans six rings. Steve Nash would get his first ring, and an official stamp on his Hall of Fame resume.

Expectations in Boston werent quite as high but still pretty steep. Maybe this wasnt a new era of Celtics basketball, but it was a legitimate extension of the old one. They were expected to compete at the highest level, and most likely find themselves in a rematch with Heat for a berth in the Finals. Against Miami, the C's would be heavy underdogs but no one would count them out.

Either way, way back when, tonight's game at the Garden was supposed to be a match-up between two of the NBA's elite, with the LakersCeltics rivalry chugging along as strong as ever.

So, what went wrong?

Well, it might be a cop out, but we should probably start with injuries. In LA, Steve Nash was hurt right off the bat, and his loss was magnified by the fact that the Lakers only other point guard (Steve Blake) was already on the shelf after stepping on a metal spike. Pau Gasol struggled through a series of ailments, before his latest and far more serious injury. Big man Jordan Hill was lost to hip surgery and most importantly, at the center of it all Dwight Howard has been a mess. The once indestructible giant has missed time with back and shoulder issues, and even when he plays he's a shadow of his former self.

In Boston, the Celtics played the first two months without their starting shooting guard, which reeked havoc on the rotation. Darko hurt his wrist and eventually left the team, while an injured thumb sidelined Chris Wilcox and left the C's with nothing but Kevin Garnett in the front court. Once Avery Bradley came back, they lost Rondo for the season, and then Jared Sullinger.

In both cases, while injuries can't be blamed for everything, injuries have severely limited the teams' ability to fulfill expectations.

Then there's chemistry, with Howard and Rondo in the middle.

First, Howard still isn't mature enough to carry the load that's expected of him especially in a market like LA. I don't envy his position of having to co-exist with Kobe, but it's hard to envision Howard handling it any worse than he has. The Rondo problem is slightly less obvious and publicized, but it's still there. While he certainly co-existed with his Hall of Fame teammates better than Howard, there was something missing. This team wasn't clicking the way the Celtics are supposed to; aka the way they have since their point guard went down.

Management also had a hand in the struggles. For LA, the absurd decision to hire D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson which will haunt the franchise beyond this season. For Boston, there was the decision to stack the roster with guards despite knowing how much Rondo would dominate the ball and leave Garnett without serious help on the block. I'd also throw in the off-season push to hand this team to Rondo among the missteps.

"Passing the torch is typically media generated crap. But in the case, the idea of Rajon Rondo taking over the Celtics was a product of the Celtics. They pushed that narrative as much as anyone else. But it wasn't necessary. Rondo didn't NEED to take over this team yet. Not with KG, Pierce and Terry in the fold. And especially when it's now clear that Rondo wasn't quite ready. That shouldn't have been a major deal, but the team played a role in setting it up that way.

Both teams also suffered through six-game losing streaks that sapped the life out of their season and really, their title hopes.

Between January 16-25, the Celtics lost:

1. At home to Austin Rivers and the struggling Hornets
2. At home to Chicago, in a game where they led by two with the ball, with nine seconds left.
3. In Detroit, a loss that was followed by Doc Rivers threatening to trade the whole team.
4. In Cleveland, after leading by seven points in the second half
5. At home to the Knicks in the Honey Nut Cheerios Bowl
6. In Atlanta, after blowing a 27-point and losing their point guard to a torn ACL.

Between January 1-11, the Lakers lost six games to much better competition than the Celtics faced, but against six teams Philly, Clippers, Denver, Houston, San Antonio and OKC that LA was supposed to beat. The streak dropped them to 15-21, and they still haven't recovered.

It's fair to say that neither of these teams will fully recover and meet the expectations set for them at the start of this season. And there's no question that tonight's game will fall short of what he imagined way back when, in terms of what's on the line, and seeing two of the league's best teams, jam-packed with the league's best players, all competing at their highest and healthiest level.

But then again, let's be honest, CelticsLakers still beats everything else. Even if this game isn't what it could have been, there are few match-ups that stir up more emotion and excitement. Sure, maybe these teams aren't competing for a top seed, but you could argue that this is even better

They're fighting for their lives. All the disappointment has left the Lakers and Celtics more desperate than we ever imagined they would be at this point in the season. This game isn't just about a rivalry, it's about a struggle to even make the playoffs.

And that's a recipe for a great game and a truly memorable night.

Hopefully more memorable than what we saw back in March of 2006, and with a much better result for Boston.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

The Boston Celtics trail by double digits. The Celtics rally to make it relatively close by halftime. Boston continues to gain ground in the third, pull it out in the fourth.

Rinse. Recycle. Repeat.

That has been the Celtics’ mantra this season, with the latest chapter in their comeback narrative being a 110-99 win at Atlanta.

“We need to put an emphasis on playing with space and getting the ball to the other side of the floor,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It just stuck too much early on. We were staring at some post-ups that if we got it to the other side, maybe you could take advantage of.”

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Boston (15-2) fell behind by as many as 16 points against the Hawks (3-13), the second straight game the Celtics have rallied from a double-digit deficit.

In Boston’s 92-88 win over Golden State on Thursday, the Celtics fell behind by as many as 17 before rallying for their most impressive win of the season.

That said, it still shouldn’t take away from what happened on Saturday against an Atlanta team that despite their record, has shown signs of playing better in their recent games.

Players are aware of the penchant they’ve shown thus far for falling behind only to mount a furious comeback for the win.

“We don’t try to (go down early),” said Kyrie Irving following Saturday’s win which extended their winning streak to 15 straight which is the fifth-longest streak in franchise history. “Some teams, they go on runs and whether that be us giving up some easy ones or giving up some turnovers or doing things we can correct. When we do correct them, it turns into a different game.”

And that is what makes this stretch of play so impressive.

The Celtics have not played a full game; instead they have had stretches of good play that have often masked their mistakes early in the game.

That’s why head coach Brad Stevens, obviously pleased with the team’s success, knows as well as anyone that his team has to become more consistent in their play if they are to get the most out of these wins and continue to build off of them and achieve their ultimate goal – getting back to the NBA Finals.

“We’re going to keep playing,” Stevens said. “But the biggest thing is, we can’t keep digging these holes.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

When it comes to the top backcourts in the NBA, you seldom hear about Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown.

That may soon be changing if they have more games like the one they delivered on Saturday as Boston put together a solid second half to pull away from the Atlanta Hawks, 110-99.

Irving had a game-high 30 points which was his second game with at least 30 points scored – both against Atlanta.

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And Brown, who had a strong 22-point performance in Boston’s win over Golden State on Thursday, was even better against the Hawks in tallying a career-high 27 points.

We all know about Irving who has established himself as one of the NBA’s top guards.

But is Brown on the way?

One thing Brown won’t have to develop going forward is, confidence.

He has long maintained that he believes he’ll be among the best in the league. It’s just a matter of him performing at a high level at both ends of the floor, consistently.

“I’ve always had that confidence, I can play with the best in the world,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin following the win over Atlanta which extended Boston’s winning streak to 15 in a row. “It’s just a matter of coming out, doing it. My teammates found me tonight. We had a good team win tonight.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 110-99 win at Atlanta which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to 15 in a row which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

 

STARS

Jaylen Brown

Back in his home state of Georgia, Jaylen Brown delivered another monster game for the Celtics by scoring a career-high 27 points on 10-for-13 shooting with four 3-pointers.

Kyrie Irving

Irving had his most efficient game this season for the Celtics, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting to go with four rebounds and five assists.

Dennis Schroder

Atlanta’s best scorer delivering a strong 23-point, 9-assist performance for the Hawks.

 

STUDS

Jayson Tatum

He only had 14 points, but they all came in the third quarter and they included a few crowd-quieting dunks.

John Collins

He came into the league with the reputation of being a high motor player, and he has not disappointed. His hustle and energy led to him tallying 18 points and seven rebounds.

Marcus Morris

When the offense struggled mightily in the first half, it was Morris’ scoring that kept them within striking distance. He finished with 14 points, 10 of which came in the second quarter.

Kent Bazemore

He was Atlanta’s number two scoring option most of the night, and finished with 19 points.

 

DUDS

Boston’s first quarter defense

The Celtics can’t keep digging themselves these early holes, expecting they will turn it on and find a way to climb out of them. The Hawks led 35-20, fueled in large part by shooting 64.7 percent (11-for-17) in addition to out-rebounding Boston 8-6.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE