Celtics

Levine: Focus on what's in front of us

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Levine: Focus on what's in front of us

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Back in 2007, the Celtics didn't face a legitimate NBA contender until the ninth game of the season, when they went down to Orlando and lost 104-102 in overtime.

In the eight games prior, the C's went undefeated, but during that stretch needed overtime to beat the eventual 41-41 Raptors, and also narrowly edged the Heat who would finish with the worst record in the NBA (15-67) by one point at the Garden.

This after a preseason where the C's shared a life-changing trip through Italy, were unscathed in the injury department, and had already found and entirely embraced the magic of Ubuntu.

After the loss to Orlando, the C's earned an inspired win a week later against the Lakers, but then lost their first game against the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers, and then lost their first game against the powerhouse Pistons.

I think you get my point. But just in case, here it is.

From the Celtics perspective, Miami's struggles, in the first game of its own Big Three era, will have very little effect on the course of this NBA season. The Heat weren't a team on Tuesday night; they were just 15 guys wearing the same uniform. They were awkward, disjointed and all together out of whack. The fact that, despite all this, the C's still found themselves in a one-possession game with a minute left to play might be a little disconcerting, but, hey, it was their first game, too. And anyway, they came through at the end as we learned in June, that's really, and sometimes unfortunately, all that matters.

But the point is that the squad Boston saw on Tuesday is not the same one it will see a few Thursdays from now in Miami or on February 13 back in Boston or, very likely, in the playoffs this May. So while there's every reason to celebrate the C's memorable, if not entirely aesthetically pleasing, start to the new season, let's celebrate it for the right reasons.

Not because it means that LeBron and Wade won't click, or that Bosh is a bust or the Heat bench can't hack it or that Pat Riley should "Stan Van Gundy" Erik Spoelstra. Is there a chance all that comes to fruition? Sure. But it's just as likely that 'Bron and Wade learn to compliment each other, Bosh embraces his role, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers stabilize the Heat bench and Spoelstra becomes the next Pat Riley. We have no clue.

So, let's just take the opponent out entirely I know that's hard, and not nearly as fun and focus on all the positives that are there, and will remain, regardless of which team is on the other side.

Positives like Kevin Garnett, who didn't finish with the prettiest of box scores 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting, 10 rebounds and 7 turnovers but showed flashes of energy and athleticism that can't help but get us excited for what he's now capable of, a full 17 months removed from surgery. As crazy as it sounds, for me the most inspiring play of KG's night actually came on a missed dunk. It was at the 3:50 mark in the second quarter, when Paul Pierce missed from three-point range, the ball clanked off the rim and Garnett exploded the kind of explosion we hadn't seen since before his injury grabbed the rock in one motion, at the height of his leap, and attempted to ferociously send it home. Again, he missed the dunk. But the move was a thing of beauty.

Positives like Glen Davis, who it seems, will be a staple of Boston's crunch-time unit. Last night, Big Baby found the perfect mix of aggression on the offensive end taking it to the hoop, taking that open jumper, establishing himself as a threat while still keeping within the framework. He played 29 minutes (more than he played in any game last season), had 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, five rebounds, no turnovers and still takes a charge better than anyone else on the team.

It's always dangerous to get too high on Davis. His history of questionable off-the-court instincts and unstable emotions will always linger. But with this being a contract year, and with him being year older and wiser, he's apt to develop into the most consistent weapon on an already impressive bench.

Same goes for Marquis Daniels, who showed us last year how quickly things can go south but seems to have embraced his second chance with the C's. So far this season, it's been the New Adventures of the Old Marquis. He's been everything Boston thought it was getting when it signed him in the summer of '09. The eight points were nice, and they came in the manner you expect from "The Old" Marquis. The C's didn't run any plays for him, or even have to worry about getting him involved; he does that by being his tenacious self. The big takeaway with Daniels was his defense; the way he stepped up and checked Wade when the starters were on the bench. If the Celtics are going to miss Tony Allen this season, that's where it will be in helping out on the other team's top shooting guard or small forward but for one night, that wasn't an issue. That's thanks to Daniels.

Ray Allen's long-range shooting and Paul Pierce stepping up in the clutch were two other bright if not entirely surprising spots, but the night's biggest positive has to be Rajon Rondo.

Could any other guard in this league have a 2-for-9 shooting night yet still dominate a game the way Rondo did? Could any other point guard drop 17 assists without anyone noticing? Could any other player go an entire night with the defense playing five feet off of him yet still get to the basket when he needed to?

Listening to Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal talk about Rondo after the game, it was like they just went through a religious experience. And you get the sense that might be a common theme as the year goes on. Rondo's the fastest guy on the court, but he still sees the game in slow motion. He sees things other guys don't. And that vision is only expanding each night. It's going to be fun.

And honestly, so was watching the Celtics bring the new Big Three back down to Earth; a lot of fun. But in looking at the big picture, I'll get a lot more satisfaction in what the Celtics did, as opposed to what the Heat didn't.

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

Plenty of on-the-job training for Celtics' rookies

Plenty of on-the-job training for Celtics' rookies

BOSTON – With all the changes the Celtics went through over the summer, seeing more rookies on the floor this season was a given.
 
But six?
 
Yes, only three games into the season and the Celtics have played more rookies than any team under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens.

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And in the 102-92 victory at Philadelphia on Friday night, the Celtics (1-2) played almost as many first-year players (five) as veterans (six).
 
The youth movement here in Boston has been sped up a bit by the season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward, compounded by a left ankle sprain to Marcus Smart that Smart said won’t keep him out any more than Friday night in Philly.

Even if Smart is back in the Celtics lineup Tuesday night against New York, that doesn’t change the fact that Boston will continue to need rookies to step up and contribute going forward as they did on Friday.
 
And while there’s an old adage about experience being the greatest teacher, Boston’s youngsters are going to have to fast-forward past some of those on-the-floor growing pains for the Celtics to stay among the top teams in the East.
 
“Everybody talks about young players having to learn by going through experience,” said Stevens. “Why don’t we just watch film and learn? Learn from things we can control and in the interim, let’s beat the age thing. Let’s not talk about the age thing. Let’s talk about how we can be better at what we can control and how we can learn and grow every day and expedite the learning curve.
 
Stevens added, “because they are going to get opportunities all the way down the line, let’s not focus on trying to learn from experience; let’s focus on learning from every day and see if we can get a little bit better every day.”
 
The one rookie who has had no problem adjusting to the NBA game early on has been Jayson Tatum.
 
Selected with the third overall pick last June, Tatum has been among the NBA's most productive rookies in this first week of the season.
 
Tatum’s 35.3 minutes played per game is tops among all rookies. His 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds rank seventh and fourth among his first-year brethren.
 
Stevens loves what he has seen thus far from Tatum, but believes he’s capable of making an even greater impact sooner rather than later.
 
“I like him to shoot it on the catch more,” Stevens said. “Because he has tremendous touch. When he shoots it in rhythm with confidence, the ball finds the net. He’s one of those guys; he’s a natural scorer. But his ability to read the game … he’s very intelligent. It’s been more evident on the defensive end. He’s gonna pick his spots offensively now. But we want him to be aggressive and first and foremost, be a threat to shoot it every time he catches it.
 
Stevens added, “I guess it should feel pretty good when you’re 19 years old and your coach is begging you to shoot it.”
 
How quickly Tatum and the rest of Boston’s youngsters grow into the roles they will be asked to play this season can do nothing but help the Celtics adapt to what has already been a season with major changes needing to be made.
 
“You saw [against Philadelphia], we had Shane [Larkin], we had Guerschon [Yabusele], we had guys coming in that played the game at a high level and we need them to contribute,” said Boston’s Kyrie Irving. “For me to see that and witness that, it makes me nothing but proud and happy to have teammates that are ready to play. It’s not always going to look perfect because we’re still gaining knowledge about one another. But as long as we’re out there competing, having each other’s backs, that’s all that matters.”
 

Kyrie Irving fined $25,000 for his inappropriate language with a fan

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Kyrie Irving fined $25,000 for his inappropriate language with a fan

BOSTON – As expected, the NBA has fined Celtics guard Kyrie Irving $25,000 for using “inappropriate language” toward a fan at the Friday night game in Philadelphia.
 
The incident occurred at halftime as Irving and his teammates were heading to the locker room, trailing by four. Boston went on to win 102-92 for their first victory of the season.
 
A fan yelled, “Hey, where’s LeBron?” to which Irving replied with a lewd suggestion to the yeller.
 
The Celtics practiced on Saturday with Irving addressing the incident.

When asked if he had any regrets about the incident, Irving replied, “Hell no. Man enough to record it on video, that’s on him. I’m glad he got his ad name out there, and his five seconds of fame and it’s gone viral. That’s social media platform we live on.
 
Irving added, “I take full responsibility for what I said. You move on.”
 
When asked about the incident on Saturday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he had not seen the video but was aware of it.
 
“People make mistakes; hopefully learn from them and move on,” Stevens said. “There’s a right and wrong. And if you’re in the wrong you have to own up to it and that’s that.”

It was the second such fine levied by the league in as many days. 

New Orleans center DeMarcus Cousins was fined $25,000 for "inappropriate language" toward a fan when the Pelicans lost 103-91 at Memphis on Wednesday.