Celtics

Sorting through Matt Cooke's proclamation

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Sorting through Matt Cooke's proclamation

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

My best wishes to Matt Cooke's family.

His wife, Michelle, nearly died last spring because of a clogged exit valve in her kidney -- a terrifying experience for any person. I'd imagine. I don't actually have any idea what that's like. I don't know the depth of Michelle or even Matt's pain, nor do I know what trials his family went through because of her health scare.

I can only hope things are better.

On an unrelated note, I hope with wrathful seriousness Matt Cooke's promise to change his hockey style is honest.

He tries to link the two together -- Michelle's illness and his disgraceful, dangerous hits -- and Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux is supporting it.

As a fan of hockey, I don't think I can.

"I don't want to hurt anybody," he said in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He added that he plans to change "(his) approach" to hitting.

The suffering of the woman he married, the strain on their children... Cooke says it gave him perspective. So much so, that after he hit Ryan McDonagh with an elbow to the head March 20 (the first game his wife was healthy enough to attend since January 1) he was inspired to watch 20 hours of hits to "learn how to deliver a legal check."

This is viewed as a turning point, as an exercise in maturity.

"No more elbows. No more blindside shots. No more of the hits that have garnered him the reputation as the NHL's dirtiest player, a so-called cheap-shot artist who has been suspended four times for illegal hits in three seasons since joining the Penguins," Rob Rossi writes.

I wonder why it had to take so long.

I wonder if Marc Savard has heard about this. I wonder if he's thrilled that Cooke has "seen the light." I wonder if Savard plans to send the Penguins forward a note, something like, "Good for you, man. We all grow at different times. Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way."

Or maybe Savard is pissed off. Maybe he's frustrated it took a personal trauma, instead of the one inflicted on Savard, for Cooke to want to reevaluate his reckless habits.

Again, I can only guess. Not much has been heard from Savard since he was shut down.

So I wonder what to think. Do you celebrate a villain for turning penitent, no matter how late it happens or why? Ignore the promise until it's fulfilled?

Or is it too late for some? Are some pasts unforgivable?

It's difficult to distill the hockey lesson from Matt and Michelle Cooke's.

The latter is heartbreakingly relatable. Readers can empathize, if not because the specific illness but because of a grandfather who had a stroke, an aunt who had cancer, a cousin who was injured in an accident and needed help caring for his children.

But some won't sympathize.

Partially because the two sides of Matt Cooke -- personal and professional -- have never synced up. Hockey fans are told the man isn't a monster because of the Cooke Family Foundation of hope (created because his niece was born without a heartbeat), because he calls home first after every game and because of "tender scenes" between he and his family exposed by "HBO 247".

Some of those fans aren't moved, though. Especially because Cooke's stake in each instance of compassion is obvious: he cares for those close to his heart; the instinct to protect his pack is strong.

But what about those who don't share his blood?

That's what McDonagh, Savard, Fedor Tyutin, Alexander Ovechkin, Steve Montador, Evander Kane, Keith Yandle, Erik Karlsson, Rick DiPietro, Andrei Markov, Artem Anisimov, Chris Osgood, and others might want to know. They might not think so highly of a bedside promise -- those that can fade as the pain does.

I'll wait and see what happens.

I can only be hopeful that Matt Cooke's vow to clean up his game is sincere. As long as he's a member of the NHL, that's all I can do.

I'm just not sure it can do anything for Marc Savard.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Heat in Miami. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Will Celtics be drained by emotional comeback win Monday in Dallas?

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

The Boston Celtics remain a team whose collective talents are far more valuable than their individual abilities.

But there are going to be nights when someone has to shoulder a larger burden of the team in order to win. More often than not, that “one” will likely be No. 11, Kyrie Irving. 

We saw in Dallas what can happen when Irving feels he has little choice but to put the team on his back and carry them to victory. 

The Celtics were desperate for a spark against the Mavericks and found it in Irving, who scored 47 points in leading the Celtics to a come-from-behind 110-102 overtime win. 

It remains to be seen if the Celtics will require a similar Herculean effort tonight when they take the Miami Heat with a chance to extend their winning streak to 17 straight. 

This team isn’t one to dwell on success in the past, even if the past was just 24 hours ago. But there’s no getting around how what happened on Monday night might impact what we see against the Heat. 

Boston expended a tremendous amount of energy in rallying from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter at Dallas, the kind of effort that may be difficult to replicate against a Miami team that you can count on to play hard from the opening tip to the final horn. 

Irving’s performance was one of the rare instances this season when Boston clearly could not have won without their top scorer having a big game. 

“When we needed it most, he made big shot after big shot,” said Al Horford. “He had such good rhythm, I was thinking, ‘just let him keep it going.’ He just kept being aggressive, taking really good shots. He recognized he needed to be extra aggressive, especially at the end and score the ball for us.”

Scoring could potentially be at a premium against Miami which allows 102.5 points per game which ranks ninth in the league in fewest points allowed. Also, the Heat will test Boston’s perimeter defenders. Miami comes into tonight’s game averaging 11.1 made 3-pointers per game which ranks ninth in the NBA. 

The Heat are led by Goran Dragic who is averaging team highs in scoring (18.3 points) and assists (4.7) this season. 

These two squared off earlier this season in Miami with the Celtics coming away with a 96-90 win as Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum led the way with 24 and 20 points, respectively. In that game, the Heat were without starting center Hassan Whiteside, who will be in the lineup tonight as the Heat try to bounce back after losing three of its last four games.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE