Boston and Cleveland measure themselves against the other, and as the Celtics look up Friday morning
Over the previous two years when both teams were whole and in synch -- which neither had been lately coming into this game -- they had been two contenders seeking to dominate each other defensively, like opponents in an NFL championship game from the 1960s.
"It reminds me of how we played,'' Rivers said of his era, "like the New York-Chicago matchup [in the late days of
Then, all of a sudden, the Cavs overcame a torrid Boston start to destroy the Celtics 60-32 over the second half to conclude a revealing
"We haven't had much success here,'' James said after producing 36 points and nine assists with two turnovers. And yet he did not behave as if something important had been achieved. "It's not about which teams you beat,'' he went on. "It's about playing well, keeping your momentum up all year, and playing well going into the playoffs.''
Now that is a scary thing when a 25-year-old plays with the wisdom of someone five years older and puts it all in perspective afterward like he's 35. The Celtics, ironically, need to develop that perspective, but the only way to embrace it is to live by it. The NBA does not believe in Cinderella stories, as this league demands and rewards consistency of effort and success over the length of the interminable season.
"I know you guys are tired of writing it in your columns, I apologize for all that,'' he said. "At some point there has to be some action, you're right, you're totally right. Doc has a saying, 'You have to run through the whole race,' and we've got to do that. Until we players decide to do that, we're going to be in this predicament.''
But here are three things to remember before you kill off the Celtics. (1) On opening night they were the team that overcame an early 14-point deficit to win at Cleveland for the first time in 12 visits, which at that time set off alarms around the Cavaliers. (2)
That's as far as hope for this team goes. No one should be predicting good times to come for the Celtics; this is nothing more than a warning to not bury the patient too early.
He was looking forward to his matchup with Rondo, who had taken over Williams' place as a reserve point guard on the All-Star team. "He dominates the ball, so you've got to be prepared for a lot of pick-and-roll,'' Williams said. "You try to take him out of his comfort zone. Make him make a few jumpers -- and hope he makes a few jumpers, and he'll want to shoot the ball more.''
That optimism backfired on him early as the Celtics ran out -- literally -- to a 21-12 lead with Rondo responsible for all of the points, hitting 5-of-7 shots and assisting on the other five baskets. Williams was so yielding defensively that he was benched in the eighth minute.
The truth is that a team effort was needed to cut off Rondo's lanes to the basket, and a team effort indeed met him and began to turn him away. The Celtics, predictably, slowed and then stopped running altogether as James began to take over at the other end. From an early 20-point deficit, the Cavs pushed themselves out front in the fourth quarter and then pulled away on a trio of threes from Williams, who was inexplicably left uncovered by Boston's hopelessly disorganized transition defense. The flurry was preceded by an airballed three from Rondo, true to Williams' intentions.
"After the game I told him, 'Welcome back. Welcome back, Mo,' '' James said.
Williams (7-of-13 overall in 31 minutes) wound up equaling Rondo's 19 points on six fewer shots and in 14 fewer minutes. Afterward I reminded him of his predictions. "Oh, yeah,'' he said, lighting up. "Write that.'' No kidding.
As strong as the 6-foot-11 Garnett looked at times in the first half, he was outplayed at both ends by the 6-11 Brazilian. He outscored Garnett 14-10 while taking three fewer shots. Varejao went 6-for-7 with startling versatility, whether he was canning an open 19-footer, scoring across the lane or tip-slamming a teammate's miss. He has turned into an effective passer, and his defense is more aggravating than ever in ways that no one can appreciate better than Garnett. Varejao blocked three shots, flopped at midcourt to draw a foul and was crucial in shunting Rondo's drives.
If Garnett cannot reclaim his title from Varejao as the most active big man on the floor, then the Celtics have no hope in an eventual playoff rematch, if they should get that far.
The promise of James' talent and the curse of possibly losing him to free agency this summer have driven Cleveland to pursue an expensive now-or-nothing approach, even though he remains, by his potentially unprecedented standards, an unfinished talent (another fright for his opponents). The complementary acquisitions of
The Celtics are under similar pressure, but it isn't nearly as severe throughout their organization as the need to succeed that is driving these Cavaliers. Of course, the Celtics must win now because the air is running thin for Garnett, who at 33 has been limited by knee problems over the last year, and 34-year-old
Before the game I asked James if it's possible to have too much talent, which is a concern some around the league have raised now that Cleveland has squeezed Jamison into a frontcourt replete with Shaq, Varejao, and
"It's a good problem to have,'' James said in the early evening.
Later that night he picked up that point. "Someone asked if we had too many bigs,'' he recalled, and now it's clear they don't. They are deep, versatile and yet humble enough to play hard around the game's greatest talent. The Celtics may have hopes of catching and overtaking them, but the former champions have been made to realize now that their opponent is no stationary target. The Cavs are rising and rising fast.
Well put, Dan. My point is that both sides need a partnership. I thank you for spelling out the price the players would pay in order to be so engaged.
The free-agency era in sports is relatively young and still evolving, dating back to the
All season I've agreed with your point of view that the Nets ought to be performing better. But maybe you and I have been giving them more credit than they deserve. I know
The Nets can springboard back to the playoffs next season around a new rich owner, max cap space, a high lottery pick, those young players and the promise of an eventual move to Brooklyn. But I regret making excuses for them. If they become the NBA's worst team by losing 74 or more games, then they'll have earned that record and all of the ridicule that goes with it.
I hear you, Jeff, but you ought to have more faith. You Cavs people are more insecure than Red Sox fans used to be.
Here's one thing I don't understand: Why isn't job experience a commodity when it comes to running an NBA team? Isn't it natural to think that Jordan will grow better at his job the longer he does it? Instead of always looking for new faces to run NBA teams, I don't know why former GMs and franchise presidents aren't recognized for their experience. It takes a couple of years for rookie GMs to become trained for the job. Usually they learn the hard way by making mistakes, and sometimes they're fired before they can profit from that education. I'm not saying everyone should get a second chance, but I do think if Jordan becomes Charlotte's majority owner, then he'll apply his experience in a positive way. It's not fair to think of him as the same guy who hired himself to play when he was president of the Wizards.
The Knicks' coach can't wait for July 1, when New York will have more than $30 million in cap space.
"He's undersized, he can play '4,' though. Would that cut him down? I don't know. He's developed his 15-foot shot and he shoots the ball really well in that [distance], so I see him as a very good player on a very good team.
"Now, maybe he doesn't put up 20 on a good team. Maybe he does have 12 points and 10 rebounds, and now you have to determine what that is worth. But I know he'll be a positive force on any team he plays for."
"Getting that cap space is what we set out to do. It was our main goal other than to develop as many guys as we could. We developed David Lee into an All-Star and we got Gallo and
"Losing tears up any coach," he said. "But losing at other teams is maybe even worse. If you're [with] the Phoenix Suns and you lose a game, it's like, Oh my God. Here, you take it in stride a little bit knowing the grand plan is what we're doing.
"I signed on knowing this could be a reality. But I didn't really believe it: I'm thinking, We'll switch it around, we'll win anyway. But after we made the trade with
"I don't really get a whole lot out of losing. You re-examine everything, you see a lot of different things. It's just the life experience. But I wouldn't recommend losing to learn something, because that doesn't help anything.
"The only upside is the experience the young players are earning. Every game we're competitive, it hurts when Wilson and Gallo go down and miss a big shot. OK, you missed a shot here, we lose, big deal. But being in those situations and being able to react defensively or offensively is very crucial for their development."
Earlier this season I asked Bird if fans in Indianapolis respect his privacy. "It's better here than anywhere I've ever been," he said, while emphasizing that he wasn't a recluse in the past. "I go out. I don't stay at home just because I'm worried about somebody coming up to me. I never was like that. My thing earlier in my career at Boston -- it was all new, and Boston's completely different than anywhere I've been."
So you've made peace with your celebrity? "Well, yeah, after 30 years," he said, laughing. "You know, I was very uncomfortable because I was pretty shy early on, but [the attention] is just expected now. It's part of the game. But it always amazes me: I haven't played for 17 years and they still talk about the days we played and comparing us to guys who play now. It's always been interesting to me.
"It's always been amazing to me, but fans are fans, I guess. If you really think about it, all the guys who are in their 60s and 70s and 50s now have seen us play, and there's a majority of them still alive. It really meant something to them. A lot of the letters I get and the support I get are from people who watched my whole career or seen me play in Boston. If you play in a place like Boston, it's different from anywhere else."
As a matter of common sense, the most famous athlete on the planet used to be
I remember speaking a decade ago with one of the top sportswriters in England about the importance of
It is just so arrogant to imagine that hundreds of millions of people in China or South Africa or great swaths of Eastern Europe and Russia have ever noticed anything Tiger Woods has done at the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship. Probably he is more famous now around the world because of his affairs than he was because of his play. The man is a golfer, and golf makes as much sense to billions and billions of people as cricket makes to Americans.