Bruins

Former foes are now friends as Celtics

191544.jpg

Former foes are now friends as Celtics

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com

After 14 seasons in the NBA, Jermaine O'Neal was met with familiar faces when signed with the Boston Celtics this summer. There were guys he had known since high school, like Kevin Garnett. There were players he had shared All-Star teams with, like Paul Pierce and Shaquille O'Neal.

Then there was Kendrick Perkins.

O'Neal and Perkins have had their share of battles over the years. It was only two seasons ago that they exchanged words and were separated by teammates and coaches. Of all the members of the Celtics, O'Neal was the most skeptical of how he would gel with his once-heated opponent.

"Me and him have had so many altercations when we played against each other," O'Neal told CSNNE.com. "You always wonder when you go to a team where you've had some run-ins with some guys, how will guys take to you?"

But his biggest concern would turn out to be his biggest surprise.

O'Neal had already been with the team for two weeks when Perkins, who had recently undergone knee surgery, entered the locker room.

O'Neal didn't anticipate what happened next.

"We clicked from Day One, really," he said. "He came in right away, shook my hand, welcomed me there."

In that moment, any differences the two had in the past were gone. They were on the same team sharing the same goal.

"I just wanted to let him know it's on the court, it's not outside of that," explained Perkins. "I'm a great teammate, but when you're on the other team, I'm really going at your head. But I wanted to show him there isn't any tension outside of basketball, no beef or nothing, and just kind of welcome him with open arms."

O'Neal and Perkins bonded over the course of training camp. They got to know each other during team-building activities, including group dinners and movie viewings. O'Neal came to realize that he and Perkins were never really that different in the first place.

"He believes in his team, whatever's best for the team," said O'Neal. "I think he understands my thought process and my approach to the game about winning. And that's what it's about."

The pair had faced off numerous times since Perkins entered the NBA in 2003. Even though O'Neal had been in the league for seven seasons by that time, Perkins never backed down to the veteran. If anything, he stepped up his intensity.

"We've just had some conflicts and we'd get tangled up," said O'Neal. "It's one of those things where I'm very aggressive, he's very aggressive. If you've got two very aggressive people, then something has to fold. And it's just one of those things where nobody wanted to back down.

He continued, "I think the last time I really remember getting into it with him was when I was in Toronto (as a member of the Raptors). It was kind of a stand off where we both came face-to-face, literally nose touching and everything. But that's what warriors do. If that's your position with the team, to be that enforcer and set the tone defensively, then that's who you are. That's who I've always been with my teams."

Perkins now looks back at the incident and shrugs it off.

"Yeah, I do remember that," he said. "I don't even know what happened. We were just caught up in the moment. A couple times we got tangled up, all of a sudden, you never know. But at the end of the day, we both respected each other. It was just the heat of the battle."

Doc Rivers wasn't surprised by O'Neal and Perkins' hostile past. He knows Perkins' competitive nature and dedication to the Celtics. At the same time, he wasn't surprised by how quickly they put their history behind them.

"We don't like anybody on the other team," Rivers said. "The outside guy is always a little iffy when he comes to our team, especially if we've had it in with him. But then they find out, wow this is the greatest group. They get along great. So that's what's happened already . . . Once you're on our team, you're part of our group."

This isn't the first time O'Neal and Perkins have bonded with former foes. Last season, Perkins clicked with Rasheed Wallace when he joined the Celtics. O'Neal did the same with Udonis Haslem when he was traded to the Miami Heat in 2009. In both cases, the rivals became close friends.

"Hes great," Haslem said of ONeal. "With me and JO, it was hard for us to get along because we were just alike. When you have two guys who aren't going to back down and they come chest to chest, nobody's going anywhere. When a guy's not on your team, those are the things you go through. Then you love to be in the battle and have a guy like that on your side. You respect him a lot more because they're just like you."

The similarities between O'Neal and Perkins made O'Neal a good fit for the Celtics as they looked to fill the void left by Perkins' injury. Like Perkins, O'Neal is dedicated to defense. And like Perkins, O'Neal has accepted his role on the team.

But this lent itself to the question, how would this affect Perkins' role when he returns to the court? O'Neal has been asked about this before. Prior to being struck by the injury bug himself (knee), he was a candidate for earning the starting center role while Perkins rehabbed.

Some wondered, how would Perkins take to his new teammate who could potentially snag his minutes? Perkins' answer is clear.

"The only thing is when you feel threatened, then you have a problem with not helping somebody," said Perkins. "I don't feel threatened by any means, so I don't have a problem with helping him. It's all about the team. At the end of the day, I know where I belong so I just leave it at that."

Rather than view O'Neal as competition, Perkins helped him get acclimated to the Celtics. He filled him in on how the team works, Rivers' expectations of the players, and the subtleties of the system.

"I was pleasantly surprised that he has been the guy that he has," said O'Neal. "Because you don't get very much out of him. He doesn't say very much during the games unless you get into it with him. But when he's in the locker room, he's always talking, always joking. So he's definitely the guy that I've been surprised I've gotten along the best with so far."

For seven years, O'Neal and Perkins barely spoke to one another. Now that they are both wearing green, they hear each other loud and clear.

"Here there's just one language - win, win, win, championship, championship, championship," said O'Neal. "And that's all that we talk about."

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcameratonba

Haggerty: B-game Bruins aren't going to cut it in the playoffs

Haggerty: B-game Bruins aren't going to cut it in the playoffs

BOSTON – Here’s the stark piece of reality for the Toronto Maple Leafs in this playoff series against the Bruins. 

The two games where the Leafs claimed victory in this best-of-seven first round series have featured two things: A superhuman performance by Frederik Andersen between the pipes, and a Bruins team that didn’t wield their ‘A’ game even as they still dominated for stretches, kept it close and made the Leafs hang on for dear life in the third period. 

That was the formula behind a Game 3 win for the Maple Leafs in Toronto, and that was once again the hockey script behind a 4-3 victory for the Leafs in Game 5 at TD Garden on Saturday night where the Bruins onslaught included 20 shots on goal in the third period. Both of the Toronto wins have felt more like they escaped than accomplished anything significant, and the Bruins certainly have learned they can’t afford to keep submitting their ‘B’ game if they want to close out the Maple Leafs in this series. 

“We knew they were going to play that way. Shame on us for not coming out better and having a better first ten minutes,” said Bruins rookie D-man Charlie McAvoy, who didn’t have a particularly strong game for the B’s in Game 5. “We knew they were going to come like that with their backs are against the wall, and they’re going to continue to come like that. So we got to go back and make sure we’re prepared to start the next game. 

“We knew they were going to come out hard. We just got to match that intensity, you know? A couple good bounces for them, couple good plays and we’re down 2-0 early, so we’ve got to assess that. But we’ll be fine. We’re as confident as ever in here. I thought we really held the play starting there when Backs [David Backes] got us on the board in the second all the way through the end of the third. I thought that we carried the play and the shots, you know? We definitely showed that and we’re fine. We have positives we can pull from this game and we’re going to be fine for game 6.”

Sure, there were positives in the Bruins fourth line kicking in a couple of goals, the Bruins once again amassing 40 plus shots against a Toronto defense that can’t consistently slow them down and once again David Backes cleaned up with a power-play goal battling at the front of the net.

But the negatives far outweighed the positives for the Black and Gold in a missed opportunity at home. Whether it was the Bruins defense losing battles all around the front of the net, Tuukka Rask getting pulled after a “meh” effort where he surrendered four goals on 13 shots or the Bruins only cashing in one power play with six golden chances to score on a middle-of-the-road Toronto penalty kill, it was clear Boston wasn’t at their playoff-best on Saturday night.

“It clearly wasn’t good enough,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We let them get to the top of the paint for a couple of goals that we’re generally solid on. We had a couple of 2-on-2’s that turned into two very good chances. So clearly, we’ve got to address that. Those aren’t odd-man rushes, that’s not stretch plays, that’s just basic two on twos that we need to communicate better, square up better and defend better. “Then obviously, you want a save, as well, mixed in in those, and that didn’t happen either. So the stuff that we’ve done lately…defend and get saves? That didn’t happen early on. We found our legs eventually and fought our way back in, but the start wasn’t good enough.”

Once again it was a game similar to Game 3 with the Bruins top line getting held off the scoresheet in Patrice Bergeron’s return from injury, and that line also got dinged for a couple of goals versus Mike Babcock’s mixed-and-matched lines. But once again that line had 18 shots on net, 33 shot attempts and both David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand had high-quality chances that needed spectacular saves from Andersen in order to swing it in Toronto’s favor. 

In other words, nobody is under any illusions the Leafs are going to consistently stop that group. 

The Leafs have proven they can win two playoff games with the formula of hanging onto Andersen for dear life and feasting on a Bruins team when they show the playoff sharpness of a pair of dull, safety scissors. They might even be able to win a third following that kind of unsustainable formula if the Toronto’s inconsistent goalie snaps his personal pattern of alternating good and bad games in this series. 

But Toronto isn’t going to win four games in a playoff series against Boston provided one simple thing happens: The Bruins bring their ‘A’ game and decide they want the series to be over. Five games into the playoff series it’s readily apparent Boston is better, deeper and certainly the better-rounded, two-way hockey team when compared to a young, inexperienced Maple Leafs. If the Bruins start on time, play sound defense and bring the kind of singular focus that’s been the hallmark of their best performances during a 50-win regular season, the Leafs aren’t going to go 2-for-2 with two chances for the Bruins to close the first round out in this coming week.

Certainly, some of the issues in this Toronto series may become very real problems if/when they square off with the Tampa Bay Lighting in the second round, but that’s a different story for a different playoff round.

Right now it all comes down to the Bruins leaving their ‘B’ game behind for the rest of this series, and kicking the habit of feeling like they can always come back against other teams in the third period. It made for some adrenaline-pumping comebacks during the regular season and it caused some serious heartburn for the fan bases of the opposition.

But it’s no way to go through life if you want to have a long one in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that’s something the Bruins are still counting on heading into Game 6 in Toronto on Monday night.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Rask on Game 5 loss: 'I could've stopped more pucks with my eyes closed'

Rask on Game 5 loss: 'I could've stopped more pucks with my eyes closed'

BOSTON -- It may not have been quite as bad as Tuukka Rask made it out to be, but the Bruins goaltender knew he wasn’t good enough in Game 5.

Rask allowed four goals on 13 shots before being yanked in favor of Anton Khudobin as the Bruins fell behind 4-1 in what wound up being a 4-3 loss Saturday night at TD Garden, sending the Stanley Cup playoff series back to Toronto for Game 6 on Monday. He was badly outplayed by Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, who made 42 strong, clutch saves at the other end of the ice.

The Bruins entered the game with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to close out the Leafs, but the players in front of Rask weren’t much better, getting off to a sluggish start in the first period that ultimately doomed them despite a massive third-period push. Still, it was the goalie who faced the music most directly after the defeat.

For someone who's noticeably sidestepped personal responsibility for goals allowed at times in his career, Rask, the last Bruins player to speak to the media after the game, took it all on his shoulders.

It was pointed self-criticism and a real show of leadership and accountability from Rask, who clearly wasn’t okay with the way he played.

LEAFS 4, BRUINS 3

“I probably could’ve stopped more pucks with my eyes closed," he said. "That’s about it. It’s on me . . . 

“I felt good [going into the game]. Sometimes you track pucks better than other days. Today, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t tracking the puck very well and it happens sometimes."

He didn't get a lot of help; the Bruins allowed a couple of goals in close to the Boston net in a sleepy first period. But it was the second period where things really fell apart .

David Backes scored a power-play goal that cut Toronto’s lead to 2-1 and got the fans back into the game. Then both the Bruins and Rask faltered in the next minute.

A bit of a sloppy line change and some poor coverage on a transition play gave speedy Tyler Bozak a quality chance, and the Toronto forward managed to beat Rask one-on-one. It completely wiped out the momentum Boston had been generating leading up to its first goal, and it sucked the energy right out of the building.

That goal, scored 51 seconds after Backes had put the B's on the board, was on Rask, and it was a big part of what led coach Bruce Cassidy to pull him when he allowed a power-play goal to James van Riemsdyk just 1:19 later.

“I didn’t think [Rask] had it tonight, so we went with Anton," said Cassidy. "And then there’s always [the fact that a goalie change] gets the rest of the team’s attention, as well. So, it’s both [things].

“I don’t want to measure, or quantify what percentage of each, but clearly if I thought he was on then he wouldn’t have got pulled. I guess I’ll put it that way.”

DJ BEAN

Rask’s save percentage for the series against the Leafs dropped to a “meh” .904 after the Game 5 debacle, and it was -- unfortunately -- right on the heels of a magnificent 31-save effort in Boston’s big Game 4 road win in Toronto. That was a big performance, in which Rask was justifiably prasied for coming through in a key playoff moment, but just 48 hours later he was fitting himself for goat horns.

That’s the life of a goalie in the playoffs.

“Yeah, that’s the way it is," he said. "You play good, you kind of put it behind you; you play bad, you put it behind you. You just stay even no matter what happens."

He's clearly ready to put Saturday behind him.

"[We’re] moving on to the next one and we’ll finish it out in Toronto,” said Rask.

And as for Saturday?

"That’s hockey. Sometimes you’re awesome, sometimes you’re not.”

In Game 5, Rask was not. Now he and the Bruins will get two more cracks at reversing that in a best-of-seven series where they still have the upper hand, even after Saturday's big miss.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE