Marcus Thornton

Marcus Thornton

The Celtics‘ primary struggles have been well documented to this point. They are very, very bad when it comes to late game execution. One of the players most people look to in those situations — including his teammates — is Rajon Rondo. But, Rondo has preformed poorly in those scenarios so far this season, something he hasn’t lost any sleep over.

Realistically, crunch time scoring is not Rondo’s forte. That’s not his fault. He’s a brilliant passer that is trying to find his young teammates who are attempting to learn on the fly while under pressure.

Another seemingly strong option late in games should be Jeff Green, who has hit some game-winners before. Green is having the career-year many have been looking for from him, at least in terms on consistency and aggressiveness, but even he hasn’t done enough to keep the Celtics from throwing away games in fourth quarters.

Here’s an idea: Give Marcus Thornton a try.

Thornton was an afterthought entering the season. He’s in Boston because his expiring contract was included in a trade that Danny Ainge used to add Tyler Zeller and a first-round pick to the tall-standing pile of assets the Celtics have collected. Thornton, a streaky bench scorer, has kept his team in games a few times this season, but even more so recently.

In Sunday’s win over the Wizards, Thornton scored 21 points in just 17 minutes off the bench. 11 of those points were during a run that broke the game open for the C’s in the second quarter, and then he added another eight points to keep the Celtics on top in the fourth quarter after the Wizards were threatening to steal the win.

In Charlotte on Wednesday, Thornton was nowhere to be heard from — until the fourth quarter, of course. Thornton scored 13 of his 16 points in the first seven and a half minutes of the final frame, then Brad Stevens went away from the hot hand. Thornton missed a couple of deep 3-pointers to bail the team out at the end of the shot clock, but the ball was primarily in Rondo’s hands (then out of his hands as a result of three late turnovers). The Celtics seemed more interested in going to the guys that should be producing.

Instead, Stevens and his team should considering running the ball through the guy that has been producing. Stevens has told the media that closing games has to be done by committee, not just one guy. However, at least on nights that Thornton has it going, he can be that guy.

This all might sound crazy. Making Marcus Thornton your go-to-guy means you are not a very good team. We all know that as currently constructed this Celtics squad isn’t going anywhere, so why not try something new? Something that looks like it might actually work.

For the long-term success of the Celtics, Ainge knows he needs to bring in additional talent — higher level talent, really. Those trades and/or draft picks are not here yet, though. Maybe the Celtics are trying to do what they did last year and get as high up in the lottery as they can in hopes of landing higher than No. 6 this time. But if they are serious about trying to turn the corner and start winning some games this season, they will see that Thornton might be their best crunch time scorer . . . for now.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

The Celtics returned home from an unsuccessful two-game road trip and got right back to practice on Thursday. They were a unique couple of games in the sense that the starters didn’t see many minutes during crunch time in Monday’s loss to the Wizards, but then were unable to keep up with the Hornets’ starters on Wednesday when they were on the floor late in the game.

There was a lot of speculation surrounding Rajon Rondo being benched for the fourth quarter and both overtimes in Washington. Many expected him to bounce back strong in Wednesday’s game, but instead he committed three late-game turnovers that potentially cost the C’s the game. Rondo seems to be putting his mishaps in the past.

“It’s not weighing on me at all,” Rondo said of his team’s struggles.

Does he feel like he’s getting too much of the blame?

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Rondo replied. “I’ve been here the longest. I’m the team captain and I’m the point guard. Just like in football, in the beginning they blamed [Tom] Brady a lot. It’s just part of it. It’s not weighing on me at all.”

Rondo doesn’t put much emphasis on trying to improve on things that went wrong after having a bad game — instead he looks forward.

“You let it go,” Rondo said of his fourth quarter in Charlotte. “I’ve been playing this game for nine years. I’m one of the best at what I do. I’m human, I make mistakes. I own up to my mistakes, this is part of the game.”

Rondo’s coach understands where is he coming from.

“I think he has an idea that as a leader and an older guy you have to be accountable,” Brad Stevens said. “At the same time, if he says, ‘Hey, this one’s on me,’ or he says something to that extent, none of us think that. We all were accountable for all the different things that went wrong in a loss or a win.”

“I think as a teammate, and as a person on the team, you appreciate that accountability, but you certainly don’t think that [Rondo is the one to blame], but it’s part of being a leader,” Stevens added.

JEFF GREEN‘S GLOVES

Although Rondo is not feeling any weight, Jeff Green has had plenty of weight on him. Well, on his hands. Green has been working to improve his ball-handling by wearing weighted gloves on each hand when doing drills after practice.

“They’re weighted gloves so it makes dribbling a little harder to control the ball, so it was all about control,” Green said.

Ball-handling, however, was not something that Stevens saw as a priority that Green needed to work on coming into the season.

“No, I think he’s always worked on it. He’s working on it right now with some funky gloves. I don’t really know what those do,” Stevens said. “But he’s better at [ball-handling]. He’s able to drive by people, he’s able to handle the ball and he can just continue to get better at it.”

But what made him decide to use the gloves?

“They were sent to me,” Green said.

Green does feel like the gloves have helped him so far — enough so that he plans to keep using them after practice for the foreseeable future.

JAMES YOUNG HURT

James Young wasn’t at practice for the Celtics on Thursday, he injured his shoulder playing in a game for the Maine Red Claws (the Celtics’ D-League affiliate) on Wednesday night. Right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to when he will be able to return.

“I guess his shoulder subluxed and they’re doing more tests to see the extent of the injury,” Stevens said. “Those can be very, very short-term things or they can be a little bit longer, but that’s the extent of what I know. He’s getting X-rays right now.”

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Marcus Thornton scored 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to claw the Celtics out of an early hole in a 96-87 loss to the Hornets .

Marcus Thornton scored 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to claw the Celtics out of an early hole against the Hornets in a 96-87 loss on the road.

Rondo finished with 12 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds — his third triple-double of the season — and Jeff Green added 16 points, but the Celtics had no answer for Al Jefferson (23 points, 14 rebounds) in the middle.

For a complete box score, click here.

SLOW START: The Celtics entered Wednesday’s game with one of the NBA’s most efficient first-quarter offenses, averaging 26.7 points on 49.4 percent shooting, but struggled in the opening 12 minutes against one of the league’s worst defensive units. With the exception of Green (3-5 FG), the Celtics started just 4-of-16 from the field, missing all five of their 3-point attempts. The end result was a 22-16 deficit, so rather than protecting an early lead, the C’s found themselves in the unfamiliar position of digging themselves out of a first-quarter hole.

BENCH PRESS

The C’s bench picked up right where it left off in Monday’s second-half comeback against the Wizards, quickly erasing the early deficit and pulling even at 32 apiece midway through the second quarter. Kelly Olynyk anchored the effort, scoring eight points in a span of just more than three minutes. While the reserves battled their way back into the game, the C’s starters couldn’t maintain the momentum, falling behind again 45-40 by halftime.

RONDO MADE JUMP SHOTS

Struggling all season to find the mid-range jumper he discovered just prior to his ACL surgery, Rondo made all four of his attempts between 10-20 feet on Wednesday. Those eight points helped Rondo achieve the 32nd triple-double of his career. The Celtics point guard still wasn’t attacking the basket, though, failing to attempt a free throw for the fifth time in his last six games.

CHARITY STRIPE

It’s a good thing Brian Scalabrine called the game alongside Mike Gorman and not Tommy Heinsohn, because Tommy would’ve blown a gasket over the free throw discrepancy between the two teams. The Hornets attempted 19 more freebies than the Celtics, although much of that had to do with Boston’s lack of aggressiveness. The Celtics attempted 22 3-pointers and settled for jumpers all night.

TYLER ZELLER > CODY ZELLER

In the battle of the Zeller brothers, Tyler got the best of his younger sibling for most of the night. Once again working well off the pick-and-roll with Rondo, Tyler collected 13 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes out of his starting center role. Cody had nine points and one board in 23 minutes. It was C’s old friend Al Jefferson, however, who Tyler couldn’t contain. Big Al had his double-double by the third quarter.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Let’s face it: This is the season of Rajon Rondo. As interesting as it is to evaluate the frontcourt progress of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley‘s offensive potential and Jeff Green‘s surprising consistency, the biggest questions the Celtics must answer all involve Rondo. Just how good is he? Will he be traded? What can they get in return? In a weekly feature on Green Street, we’ll take stock of the Celtics captain’s status every Tuesday.

RAJON RONDO TRADE VALUE

Either Rondo hasn’t fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered nearly two years ago or he’s no longer capable of carrying the Celtics offense the way he once did during four straight trips to the NBA All-Star Game from 2009-13.

We may have to accept one or the other as fact.

Rondo’s 32.1 minutes per game are the lowest of his career since former Celtics coach Doc Rivers handed him the keys to the duck boat during the 2008 playoff run, and he’s been atrocious in back-to-back performances this fall after sitting out those games last season. The Celtics have played three back-to-backs this year, and here are the point guard’s performances in those contests.

  • Celtics 106, Bulls 101: DNP. The Celtics opted to keep Rondo home in order to remove screws from his surgically repaired left hand.
  • Celtics 109, Pistons 102 (OT): 34 min, 2 pts (1-6 FG, 0-1 3P), 8 ast (4 to), 3 reb, 3 stl. At the end of regulation and for portions of overtime, the C’s deliberately kept the ball out of Rondo’s hands, even benching him for a stretch in favor of Evan Turner, a superior free throw shooter.
  • Wizards 133, Celtics 132 (2OT): 21 min, 0 pts (0-3 FG), 4 ast (3 to), 2 reb, 1 stl. Rondo did not return once Marcus Smart replaced him with 5:20 remaining in the third quarter and the Celtics trailing by 20.

As you can see, the C’s finished 2-1 in those games, only losing to the Southeast Division-leading Wizards in double overtime. Any way you slice it, there’s been a stark contrast between rested Rondo and fatigued Rondo.

  • 0 days rest (2 games): 27.5 min, 1.0 pts (11.1 true shooting percentage), 6.0 ast (3.5 to), 2.5 reb, 2.0 stl
  • 1+ days rest (15 games): 32.9 min, 9.0 pts (40.6 TS%), 11.4 ast (3.4 to), 8.1 reb, 1.6 stl

When rested this season, his averages per 36 minutes are comparable, if not superior, to his All-Star campaigns, except for the simple fact he no longer plays 36 minutes per game. Stevens has severely limited Rondo’s minutes, opting to sit him for long stretches, in an admitted attempt to increase his point guard’s effectiveness over shorter seven-minute stints.

  • 2009-13 (240 games): 37.0 min, 12.1 pts (51.2 TS%), 10.5 ast (3.3 to), 4.6 reb, 2.1 stl

Following last week’s overtime loss to the Pistons, Rondo conceded, “I’€™ve not been myself. I haven’€™t been as aggressive. I haven’€™t been making shots. I’€™ve been turning the ball over.” The biggest difference between Rondo before his knee surgery and the player who returned for the final 30 games of last season was the absence of an explosiveness that allowed him to get to the paint — even he’ll give you that much — and it’s a legitimate question to ask whether that’s limiting him now.

While Rondo is still capable of sublime performances — as evidenced by his combined 27 assists, 25 points and 21 rebounds in wins over Kobe Bryant‘s Lakers and Paul Pierce‘s Wizards — any trade partner has to be concerned about his ability to withstand an 82-game season and a potential playoff run. After all, 36 guards currently average more minutes than Rondo.

Value: Descending

It's time now to ask the Magic 9-Ball.

It’s time now to ask the Magic 9-Ball.

RAJON RONDO TRADE IDEA

For a deal that shouldn’t make any sense at all, a trade between the Celtics and Lakers involving Rondo makes all the sense in the world from an L.A. standpoint.

Somewhat hamstrung by Bryant’s $25 million price tag and in serious danger of becoming irrelevant, the Lakers are desperate to squeeze everything they can out of the final few years of the former NBA MVP’s career.

You can be sure Bryant would push for the trade, and not just because he shared breakfast with Rondo, although their relationship certainly doesn’t hurt. Kobe can sell L.A.’s financial commitment to its stars, Rondo could get the hefty contract he’ll command and their shoot-first/pass-first mentalities pair all too well.

But could the Celtics pull the trigger? In order to send his captain to the Lakers, C’s president Danny Ainge would have to be blown away by a deal, and I’m not sure a package of Julius Randle and Steve Nash‘s $9.7 million expiring contract is that deal. For starters, the Celtics weren’t sold on Randle this past summer. He also suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of his NBA career and plays the same position as Jared Sullinger.

Since their own 2015 first-round pick is tied up in top-five protection as a result of the Nash deal two years ago, the Lakers could really only sweeten the pot with Houston’s lottery protected No. 1 pick in June. That’s not all that enticing, either.

Idea: Not great

RAJON RONDO TRADE ODDS

Anybody who watched the fourth quarter and both overtimes in Monday’s loss to the Wizards had to leave wondering how the Celtics manufacture more minutes for Smart. Showing no ill effects from his ankle injury, the rookie’s energy changed the tide, anchoring what may have been the most impressive stretch of basketball the Celtics have played all season.

Playing all but 12 seconds over the final 27:20, Smart finished with 23 points (7-14 FG, 4-8 3P, 505 FT), five assists against zero turnovers, four rebounds and a pair of steals in 35 minutes off the bench. For the record, Rondo has not scored 23 points since playing 40 minutes against the Knicks on Jan. 24, 2013, the night before his ACL injury.

It may not have been a changing of the guard, but it was almost certainly a preview of what could eventually be.

The Celtics have won seven games in 19 tries this season, and an argument could be made Rondo was the difference-maker in only two of them — the previously mentioned motivated wins over Kobe’s Lakers and Pierce’s Wizards. In his past four games, he’s been benched at the end of two close contests for his inability to shoot free throws and a lack of energy.

Over the next two months before the NBA trade deadline, Ainge must continue weighing the value a 28-year-old post-surgery Rondo brings as a one-of-a-kind player on some nights against a 20-year-old Smart’s ability to impact games on both ends of the floor. And like it or not the scales might be tipping in one direction.

Odds: 20-1

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Where to even start with this game?

Where to even start with this game?

After collecting their best win of the season on Sunday, the Celtics almost did the same on Monday on the tail end of a back-to-back with the Wizards. Paul Pierce and company were looking for revenge against Boston, a team they felt they shouldn’t have lost to on Sunday, but Washington was in for more than it expected before finally coming out on top, 133-132, in a wild double overtime affair in Washington. (Click here for the full box score)

The Wizards came out hot and opened up a lead as large as 23 points. This didn’t phase the Celtics, as their bench completely turned the game around (much, much more on this later) along with Jeff Green. Boston cut the lead down and needed an Evan Turner 3-pointer with just 0.6 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime tied at 110.

The C’s dominated the early part of the overtime, led by Green, Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart. But, the Wizards came back from down seven points to tie it at 121 with under a minute left thanks to a huge 3-pointer, by who else but Pierce. After Brandon Bass missed a potential game-winner on a breakaway, the game went into double overtime.

The second overtime was almost identical. It started with a 3-pointer by Smart, like the first one did, and Boston continued to open up another seven-point lead. The Wizards fought back again, though. John Wall gave them a one-point lead with 44 seconds left on a 3-point play that put his athleticism and speed on display. It ended up being the final score of the game, as Turner was unable to connect on an isolation play and Smart couldn’t convert on a put-back attempt at the buzzer.

Pierce was huge in the win scoring 28 points on 9-for-12 shooting, while Wall was able to score 26 to go with 17 assists and seven rebounds (although he did have nine turnovers). Green led the Celtics with 28 points, but the rest of the damage in the near upset was done by the bench.

Here’s five things we learned in the epic loss:

THE CELTICS BENCH CAME UP HUGE

It can not be stressed enough how good the Boston bench was. They outplayed the Wizards starters — a team expected to contend in the East — for an extended stretch and they outplayed them badly. The Celtics‘ 82 bench points were the most in their storied history.

Brad Stevens stuck with the guys who were getting the job done, which turned out to be four bench players and Green. Here’s a breakdown of what the bench was able to do:

— Olynyk played a team-high 42 minutes and had the best plus/minus of any player in the game with a +20. He scored 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds and was a huge part of the early success in the first overtime.

— Bass scored 19 points and had nine rebounds in his 32 minutes of action. Bass was huge around the rim and played fantastic defense against strong Wizards bigs.

— Turner played 39 minutes and was crucial in keeping the Celtics in the game. Aside from the shot that sent the game to the first overtime, Stevens counted on Turner to handle the ball in key situations and often create his own shot. He finished with 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

MARCUS SMART RETURNED TO THE ROTATION AND HAD A CAREER GAME

Smart missed 10 games with a sprained ankle and had struggled to get back in the rotation since. Phil Pressey stepped in during Smart’s absence, but continued to play well after Smart was cleared to return, so Stevens continued to ride Pressey. It seems as though, that experiment has ended and the rookie will be back in the fold.

Smart gave Boston strong minutes off the bench for the first time since before he got hurt, finally looking like himself again. Smart got minutes over Rajon Rondo during all of the crucial points in the game and did a lot with those minutes. Smart, who struggles with his shooting, went 7-for-14 from the field, including 4-for-8 from downtown and 5-for-5 from the free throw line.

Those numbers were good for a career-high 23 points to go along with five assists and four rebounds. Smart’s impact, however, went far beyond the box score. He played hard-nosed defense the entire game, drawing multiple offensive foul calls on Wall. He also was a strong leader as the point guard at times with Rondo on the bench. Getting the nod over Rondo, and having success despite the loss, could be huge for Smart’s confidence going forwards.

THE WIZARDS STARTED FAST AND DOMINATED THREE QUARTERS

The Wizards only shot 25 percent and scored 15 points in the first quarter of Sunday’s game in Boston. Monday was a different story in Washington.

The Wizards took a 30-29 lead into the second quarter, shooting 13-for-22 (59 percent) in the process. Wall led the way scoring four points, but dished out seven assists in the process. Former Celtics Kris Humphries and Pierce scored eight and seven points in the quarter respectively.

The Celtics kept up with the Wiz, though, mostly thanks to 12 points from Green who seems to always play well in his hometown. Green shot 4-of-5 in the quarter and connected on all three of his free throws.

Kevin Seraphin kept pushing the pace in the second quarter, coming up with nine points on 4-of-4 shooting. The Wizards took a 16-4 run into the locker room. Pierce then one-upped Seraphin in the third quarter, shooting 4-for-4 himself for 12 points in the period. This led the Wizards to their largest lead of the night (23 points), before the Boston bench initiated the comeback. Had the starters been better earlier on, the Celtics’ bench likely would have been able to close this game out in regulation.

RAJON RONDO DISAPPEARED AFTER THE THIRD QUARTER

After putting together a couple of very solid games (aggressively putting up 17 shots in each) Rondo was practically no where to be found. He played 21 minutes on the night, but it felt like less. Rondo did not play in the fourth quarter or either overtime, something essentially unheard a star player. Rondo shot 0-for-3 and went scoreless in the game. Although he had four assists and two rebounds, Rondo did not quite play like a guy in search on a maximum contract offer this offseason.

Again, Smart playing over Rondo could be huge for this team in the long run. It shows they can have success with Smart running the show, which makes Rondo expendable if the right trade comes around. It’s only one game, but if it becomes a trend, watch out.

A NEW LOOK FOR THE CELTICS

Well, this was different. We have come to expect the Celtics to open up large leads and often give them away. Monday was the complete opposite. After digging themselves in a hole, Boston somehow got themselves out of it against a very good team on the road, doing so with its bench.

In the end it wasn’t enough, but the effort doesn’t go unnoticed. This was the first time the Celtics erased a deficit like this, which could be huge for their confidence. The C’s have an easy schedule coming up for the rest of December. Despite this loss, don’t be surprised if the Celtics get back to .500 before Jan. 1.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

It didn’t come easy, but the Celtics earned their first three-game winning streak of the season.

It didn’t come easy, but the Celtics earned their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Longtime Celtics captain Paul Pierce was on the opposing side, just his third game in Boston as a visitor. The Celtics once led his Wizards by as many as 25 points, but Washington cut the lead to one late. Boston has blown several leads throughout the season and gone on to lose games. Not this time.

Avery Bradley hit a huge 3-pointer with 37 seconds to go that put the Celtics up by four points, then lobbed one up for Jeff Green on the next play after Boston forced a turnover. The Celtics’ late-game execution got them a 101-93 win in the end. (For the complete box score, click here.)

RAJON RONDO WAS AGGRESSIVE AGAIN

After admitting that he did not feel like himself for a stretch, Rondo made sure to put his stamp on Friday’s win over the Lakers. He maintained that aggressiveness on Sunday, collecting 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for the 31st triple-double of his career.

Rondo had 11 points, five assists and four rebounds by the half, but more importantly he was shooting the ball. He made four of his first six attempts before finishing 5-for-17 in the game. Obviously, it’s nice when the shots go in, but it’s evident how much more effective Rondo is when he shoots the ball. He keeps the defense on its toes and seems to be a better overall player when he is confident in his shot.

AN IDEAL DEFENSIVE FIRST QUARTER LED TO THEIR MOST COMPLETE GAME

For seemingly the first time all season Boston grabbed a first-quarter lead without having to shoot the lights out. The C’s scored 24 points in the frame on 48 percent shooting, but it was their defense that was most impressive.

The Wizards scored a mere 15 first-quarter points, shooting just 25 percent in the process. Washington was sloppy, committing nine turnovers in the period, but their struggles can also be attributed to the Celtics‘ defense. The C’s put great pressure on  Washington’s ball-handlers and totaled five first-quarter steals in the process.

We know that no lead has been safe at the Garden this year. But it was nice to see the Celtics open up a lead with their defense and hold onto it. Washington heated up in the fourth quarter, but the C’s were still able to hold their opponent to just 36.6 percent from the field for the game.

MARCUS THORNTON SPARKED RUNS THAT BROKE THE GAME OPEN

After sitting on the bench the entire first quarter, Thornton came in and broke the game open in the second. In his nine minutes, Thornton scored 11 points on 3-for-6 shooting, making his only 3-point attempt. Thornton was also active in the paint, creating contact and finishing on all four of his free throws.

As a team, the Celtics turned their nine-point first-quarter lead into 17 by halftime, 53-36. After things got close again in the fourth, it was Thornton who came to the rescue again. He had eight points to counter the Wizards, who finally got hot in the fourth. The Celtics would not have won this game without Thornton’s contributions.

THIS WAS THE CELTICS MOST VALIDATING VICTORY OF THE SEASON

The Celtics had beaten the Bulls on the road, but it came without Derrick Rose. Their last three victories had been over the 76ers, Pistons and Lakers, who entered Sunday with a combined 10 wins. The Wizards came to Boston with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, and, although they aren’t favored, they are considered a contender to come out of the East. Add to that the Celtics making winning plays down the stretch of a close game, and this was no doubt their biggest win to date. The Celtics’ three-game winning streak improves their record to 7-11, just one game behind Brooklyn for eighth in the Eastern Conference. They will get the Wizards again on a back-to-back Monday in Washington.

BOSTON FOREVER WILL LOVE PAUL PIERCE

To the surprise of nobody, the former captain of the Celtics got the loudest ovation on the afternoon when he was announced during the starting lineups. Pierce had a nice game for the home crowd, finishing with 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Pierce was all laughs before the game, and clearly was happy to be back in a place he can call home. He still has a special relationship with the fans, and the fans give all the love right back to him. Not only did the crowd cheer for all of Pierce’s baskets during the game, but they didn’t miss an opportunity to applaud him when his name was called (even if it was because he committed a foul). He can wear as many different uniforms as he wants, but anyone in Boston will tell you that Pierce will always be a Celtic.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

As Lakers coach Byron Scott gritted his teeth through another postgame press conference, this time after a 113-96 loss to their equally struggling rivals, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stopped to ask, “Want to get some breakfast?”

He was joking, of course, about Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant sharing a morning meal at The Paramount in Boston on Thursday, a concept that might have seemed absurd when Ainge’s Celtics and Scott’s Lakers split four straight trips to the NBA Finals from 1984-87.

It’s a different NBA landscape nowadays — what with AAU, shared agents and summer workouts making bros out of foes more than ever before — and it’s a different rivalry.

“We’€™ve had our battles, but it doesn’€™t carry over,” Bryant said after his team fell to 5-15 on the season. “The stone-throwing and all that doesn’€™t carry over to these types of games.”

There were times when two straight wins over the Pistons and Lakers meant something — in 1987 and 2008, when Boston beat Detroit in the conference finals before splitting two more titles with L.A. — and both Bryant and Rondo are old enough now to reminisce.

“We just kind of talked about the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons,” Rondo said of his now notorious breakfast with Bryant, “him being a leader, leading a lot of young guys this year, and me doing the same thing, the struggles he’€™s going through, the struggles I’€™m going through as far as leading this team and just how to handle it.”

After six glorious seasons watching an insanely competitive Kevin Garnett bleed green “until we’re six feet under,” it’s hard to imagine the heart of the Celtics and the soul of the Lakers sitting down for “a basketball geek conversation,” as Bryant described it, over tea and crumpets. Then again, it’s hard to imagine KG sitting down to breakfast with anyone. I’m pretty sure he washes down the blood of nobodies with coconut water in the morning.

But Kobe’s been around long enough to remember the last time the rivalry reached a new low. It was Jan. 31, 2007, when he eviscerated the Celtics with 43 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a 111-98 victory, as “MVP” chants rained from the Garden rafters.

“€œWhen there are a lot of Lakers fans here, they cheer,” he said. “When there are a lot of Celtics fans here, they boo. And I appreciate both of them, because they really understand the game here. When they get on me and they boo, I sincerely appreciate them. That means I’€™m doing something right, and I feel part of the history of the two ballclubs when they do it. So, it always feels good. When the Celtics struggle, there’€™s plenty of other things you can do in Boston, I guess. But, that year when they were rolling, man, this place was nuts. You definitely wouldn’€™t have heard Kobe chants in 2008, ‘€™09 and ‘€™10.”

There were no MVP chants this time around, either, although Bryant received a mix of cheers and boos during his pregame introduction. A porous Lakers defense made Tyler Zeller look like the second coming of Kevin McHale and the Celtics kept the Garden crowd awake long enough for Gino to come on the Jumbotron the second time all season.

“Right now, both teams are not what we used to be, but it’€™s always an eerie feeling walking down the hall and being surrounded by green,” added Bryant. “It’€™s always a weird feeling, but it’€™s a great one, though. Growing up watching this franchise and then being a part of some great battles and being here, it’€™s a very special place, man.”

With almost 55,000 minutes on his legs, Bryant is closer to retirement at the ripe old age of 36 than he is to competing for another title, so he can look back on the rivalry now. He has a fondness for Rondo, even after the Celtics captain collected 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals in what Bryant describes as the worst Garden memory of his 19 NBA seasons — the 39-point Game 6 blowout that punctuated the C’s 2008 title.

“We see the game in a very similarly way in terms of demeanor and mentality,” said Kobe.

Not necessarily in the, “You pass the ball; I score the ball,” manner one might think, but as Bryant said this past January, “From what I understand, he’s an [expletive that rhymes with gas hole] like me.” So, while their breakfast could be interpreted as Bryant’s recruiting pitch to Rondo for one last title run, the soon-to-be free agent said otherwise.

“I think his initial interview he called me an [expletive], and I thought the same thing of him,” said Rondo, “so it’€™s just two [expletives] having breakfast.”

There you have it, folks, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry is still alive and well, apparently.

“Yes, you could say that,” added Rondo, “especially because they stole the last championship from me in 2010, so every time I play them I want to kick their butt.’€”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Enjoy your breakfast.

 

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach