Game Notes: Celtics at Sixers
Feeling the Celtic vibe.
The Celtics defeated the 76ers behind Paul Pierce’s 31 (30 minutes), Tony Allen’s 18 and Glen Davis’ 15. Bad loss for the Sixers, who fell to 40-41 and are now heading into Cleveland tonight. Boston on the other hand—inexplicably—is somehow flying under the radar as most pundits have penciled in the Cavs and the Lakers.
Do not sleep on this team.
KG will be back and will play with a vengeance very few athletes know. I guess most folk can’t see farther than their face, but forget what you heard. This team is ready. They were hungry after getting smacked in the face Sunday by Cleveland and took it out on the Sixers without Ray Allen and KG. When the second unit is looking to dominate just like the first team, you better watch out. Despite all the injuries and Ray Allen’s suspension, the Celtics have been just as steady as last year in winning 61 games. Yes, Cleveland stands in the way, but do not dismiss the hunger, professionalism and experience of a team looking to take no prisoners right now.
Lets get to the quotes. First stop was Doc Rivers. Doc is one of the best in the business because he’ll laugh and joke with you but also will give you the serious stuff when you need it. He’s definitely a prankster for sometimes he’ll say something and then say he was just playing. You should have heard his description of Ray Allen’s “elbow” to Anderson Varejao. Trust me, it was funny.
SLAM: Coach, last year was special. You were expected to win it all and did. The road was tough, but you got it done. How does last year compare to this season in terms of intensity and discipline?
Doc Rivers: I think it’s special this year. Look, the reason last year was special was because we won. If we would have gotten to the Finals and not won, it wouldn’t have been special. When I look at this team and I look at injuries we’ve had all year, and I look at that we are just four or five games off last year’s pace? I’m really impressed with that. Three weeks ago, everyone just assumed we were the third seed—no Leon Powe, no Kevin Garnett, no Scalabrine. We only had three bigs left on our roster for that entire stretch. We were even with Orlando at the time and everyone just assumed we’d give in. We didn’t. Our players were nice in that stretch. They really earned a second seed. I’m really proud of them for that.
Speaking of Powe, I first met him playin’ the sideline at Chris Webber’s Bada Bling a couple of years back. Speaking to him off the record, he was just glad the Celtics were giving him a shot. That was then. We all know what he does on the floor now. He blew up in the Playoffs and had a couple of epic dunks sandwiched around more profound games in the Finals.
SLAM: Leon you blew up last year. Speak on this year.
Leon Powe: This year we are a little more experienced. That’s what keeps me grounded. Believing in myself and my abilities. Going through all that last year with all the ups and downs definitely helped this year.
Andre Iguodala (25, 7 dimes, 4 assists) is beginning to impress. He had another nice dunk where he looked as if he was kneeling though a tunnel along the baseline with full intentions of bangin’ it on somebody’s head when he came out and he certainly did. In his mind, that play didn’t happen because there was no win. He missed a tough shot from way beyond the arc at the buzzer, but it shouldn’t have come down to that. This team did not execute down the stretch in ways they should have. He’s upset this team has lost six straight after clinching a playoff spot. It’s safe to say that Dre didn’t have much to say.
Andre Iguodala: “We should have won the game. They used the second unit the majority of the game. (Locking down the six seed) It doesn’t really matter. We just have to be ready to play, not matter who we play in the Playoffs. Both teams are going to be tough. If we don’t play at a high level, we’ll be going home. We have to be ready, no matter what.”
I asked his coach, Tony DiLeo what exactly he was looking for on that last play:
Tony DiLeo: “Well we have a play where we try to get Andre the ball right around the basket and Paul (Pierce) defended that pretty good. We wanted to try to just get him the ball right near the basket so he could then just make a move, power up, and get a good shot. Paul defended that pretty good, then Andre had to come up to get it, so they gook us out of where we wanted to do that. Paul did a good job.”
Paul Pierce was also killing the Sixers with deadly lasers from behind the arc, and he did it so peace. If this were a typical regular season game, he would have had at least 45. Before you looked up, he had 31 (12-16, 7-9 from beyond). This was all done while guarding Andre Iguodala. What a player. He will not be faded.
SLAM: Being one of the leaders of the team, was it important for you to set an example for the younger players with so many of your teammates out? You obviously shot the ball well and played great defense on Iguodala when it counted.
Paul Pierce: I’m just trying to help my team win the ball game. We needed more scoring. Guys out with injury and Ray suspended, so I had to score the ball more than normal. I wanted to step up to the challenge and play within our system. A number of guys are stepping up. It was good to get Leon (Powe) out there tonight. Gave us some energy even though he was sick this morning. I’m just trying to give the game what it needs.
SLAM: Heading into this part of the season, what do you think is the major difference?
PP: Not the mindset. The mind is the same; the goal is the same. We have a better understanding of the goal. Now that we won the championship, it was a good experience with what we went though last year. We were uncertain, but now we know what we are capable of. This is not a team that’s over confident, but it knows its capabilities.
SLAM: Crazy to think, but it’s almost like this team is an afterthought even as defending champions and considering the year you’ve had. Doc was talking earlier about how proud he was of this team and not really off the pace of last season. Seems like everyone is talking Cleveland and Los Angeles.
PP: That’s good! We gonna fly under the radar. Despite our injuries, we still won 60-plus games. We still have a chance until somebody knocks us off.
As far as my shooting tonight, I love the City of Brotherly Love. I shoot great in this arena for some reason.
SLAM: (The Sixers fan in me is swoll and the frustration spoke…but with a smile) It’s probably because Larry Brown should have drafted you.
PP: [Cracks up] I thought he was too. Kansas guy.
You know how long I’ve waited for that confirmation? Not drafting Paul Pierce was just unacceptable, but I digress. The ever-maturing Rajon Rondo had a chill 11 points, 7 boards and 2 assists. Like I mentioned last year, this locker room is straight military minded. There’s really not any laughter besides that of the younger players. With KG and Ray out and PP in the shower, Rajon was the unquestioned leader. He’s gonna be a good one.
SLAM: What’s the difference between this year and last year?
Rajon Rondo: Smarter. More knowledge of the game. More confident
SLAM: Last year it was all about the Big Three except for cats like me and some others. This year it seems to be all about the Cavs/Lakers (somehow, I’ve fallen for the hype). The leadership dynamic. You’ve quietly had a great season. Are you more of a leader?
RR: I have become more of a leader, maturity wise, accepting constructive criticism and knowing what to expect out on the court.
SLAM: This locker room. Your mindset.
RR: Being more focused and serious before the game. More focused during the shoot around. Being more of a vocal leader. Watching film. The little things.
SLAM: Doc’s influence. The point guard common bond.
RR: There’s a lot of influence. He sees it all out there on the floor. He’s always talking to me. This morning he talked to me about how things may change this summer and he may want me to run the offense during summer league. He was an all star. Great experience. He’s been around the game for 20 years plus. He definitely knows the game.
SLAM: Growing up in the game. The love. Did you visualize…
RR: No, not this early.
SLAM: That’s what I’m talking about. You feel the vibe. How about the immediate playing time?
RR: That was the goal. It didn’t happen the first year. After a trade that summer, things turned around and I got to start.
SLAM: I asked Gabe and Bill about the first time they put on a Celtic uniform. Firstly, did you envision playing for the Boston?
RR: I was just excited to be in the NBA. I didn’t think about the team at first. The tradition of the Celtics and coming from a storied program like Kentucky, of course, but it was just exciting to put on a NBA uniform.
SLAM: Any particular team that you followed growing up?
RR: No one. I loved football.
SLAM: What position?
RR: Quarterback, cornerback and receiver.
SLAM: Being from the state, was Kentucky the school you always wanted to attend?
RR: I went away to Oak Hill my senior year. I was far away from my Mother and I wanted to come back home. She wanted to see me play every game.
SLAM: What runs deep entering the Playoffs? Where’s ya head?
RR: Stay focused. No outside distractions. Know your opponent like the back of your hand. Stay positive. It was tough for us last year winning the championship. It was not easy. It’s a tough road, but you have to handle it personally.
Kendrick Perkins (I swear he reminds me of Biggie) is just that dude doing whatever it takes to keep this team on top. He’s gifted enough to do more offensively, but he’s cool with letting the leaders of the pack set the tone and let the game come to him. Tonight he had 6 points, 12 rebounds, 4 dimes and 4 blocks.
SLAM: Seems like you’ve been around forever, but are still a young player in this league. What’s it like being a defending champion?
Kendrick Perkins: Different. Every game is like a playoff game. Teams give us their best shot every night. Everyone wants to beat you. It really was a tough season for us because of that.
SLAM: Everything is locked up at the top. Was tonight a different type of game to play?
KP: Normally I would say yes, but we just had a national game where we pretty much got embarrassed in Cleveland. After that game, you could tell on guy’s faces that we were coming out with a vengeance. I knew guys wanted this win tonight.
SLAM: Is this what you saw for yourself coming into the League? Defending champion and still relatively young?
KP: I never thought I would win a championship this early in my career.
Rondo cracks the leadership whip with an unmentionable. KP responds with a “You wanna answer my questions?”
SLAM: Big man skills in this league. How do you take it to the next level?
KP: Work hard everyday, as hard as possible. I want to get better daily. Other than that, I’m just trying to learn from KG to keep an open mind. The biggest thing is keeping it movin’ every single day in every single year. You have to improve in each area.
SLAM: Who where those dudes you looked up to? Who made you wanna rock?
KP: You know the answer. I’m from Texas. Hakeem Olajuwon. Shaq fan for sure. David Robinson, Tim Duncan.
SLAM: Facing those guys on the court, with the exception of Dream of course, what were you feeling?
KP: At first you are star struck but then it be really cool. Just my rookie year though.
Stephon Marbury was brought in to give the Celtics some boom off the pine. This dude gets constantly booed here unlike any player except Kobe Bryant. I don’t even think some of the fans know what they are booing him for. Anyway, we’ll see if this move pays off as the Playoffs get into swing. I have to admit, I would like to see Stephon get a ring because of what he does for the community. All that other stuff is immaterial in my mind. He does it for the people and that’s what we ask for right?
SLAM: What do you want to give to this team as you head into the Playoffs?
Stephon Marbury: I’m just hear to help. Anything that I could possibly do. I’m coming in on the second unit and trying to dominate for the 16 minutes that I’m out there in that short period of time.
SLAM: This is where you always wanted to be (title wise). This team. This moment. What is it?
SM: Man, I’m happy! I’m elated by it. Like you said, it’s a great opportunity to just have this opportunity. It just sheds light on how they feel about me as a basketball player and as a person in integrating someone new into their system so late in the season. They are basically saying I’m one of the pieces that can fit.
SLAM: Some would say the C’s weren’t expected to win this game because of so many players being out. What type of win is this?
SM: We never thought that. We never thought we were gonna lose ’cause guys wasn’t playin’. Winning a game like this shows the character of this team on both sides of the floor.
Pregame, I talked to a couple of the young players on the squad—Bill Walker and Gabe Pruit. Crazy as it sounds, but they are toddlers to this scene and I don’t mean that in no way disrespectful. What I mean is the way this locker room setting differs to others. Their lockers are next to each other and they were yuckin’ it up with some of the locker room attendants over the Dave Chappelle Show. I let them have their fun and jumped in just when I knew they were in a good mood.
SLAM: Fellas give me something on the first time you put on the uniforms. Growing up a Sixers fans, I hated that kelly green with a passion but as I grow older, I’ve learned to have an appreciation for the nostalgia.
Gabe Pruitt: I always do too. Every time I put on this uniform, you get a different feeling. I just want to make sure I perform in it well.
Bill Walker: To me, being a rookie and just coming in, talking about Celtic pride and playing for a good organization? There are a lot of standards you have to uphold. For me, I have to work hard every day and listening to the advice of Paul Pierce, Ray, Kevin, Rondo and Perk (Kendrick Perkins) and try to get better faster. I want to have the upper hand eventually as well.
SLAM: When you first laid the uniform out…
BW: Yeah it’s crazy. All the tradition and seeing all the other player’s jerseys in say Foot Locker and then seeing mine with my name on the back? Oh, I grew up watching Ray, Kevin and Paul. I still got He Got Game. Feel me? So I come in here and put the jersey on—man, this is crazy—I’m here, this is real. I look at it every day. I take a while to put my jersey on.
SLAM: Everybody wants to get into the League. Were there certain teams you wanted to play for?
GP: I grew up a Lakers fan. To me, it’s just making it into the NBA. It didn’t matter what team I played for. It’s just being here and saying I’m in the NBA.
SLAM: What was it like being a Laker fan and then playing here?
GP: Especially last year when I got a chance to play in the Championship. I have old takes lying around. It was kind a weird facing the team I grew up watching Kobe and all those guys. Now I’m on the other side.
SLAM: It’s on now right?
GP: [Laughs] Yeah you know it.
SLAM: You were here last year Gabe. You saw all that powerful stuff going on leading up to that June confetti shine. What’s in like now? What’s the wave like this year?
GP: From last year to this year? I know what to expect. I watched out team go through the valleys to get the championship. I know what it takes. I’m more aware of what’s gonna happen in these next 40 games in 40 nights.
SLAM: How about you Bill? I was a little disappointed with the draw Kansas State got in the tournament against these guys (USC, with OJ Mayo and also where Gabe went). Being a rookie and landing on a team poised to defend, what’s the appreciation?
BW: I just talk to my friends. I talk to Mike (Beasley). I talk to OJ man. You never know how much of a blessing you have until you hear it from some guys who are going through something totally different. This is a unique opportunity. First year in the League just off the squeak and having an opportunity to get a ring. Some guys play their whole careers, have great careers and never get a ring. That says enough of itself.
SLAM: You both have ridiculous talent. Getting to the point where you are showcasing that talent for the world.
BW: It’s a lot of work that goes into it. When I was in college and wanting to go to the League, you never realize the in and out everyday stuff you have to do to become a great pro. Some guys don’t want to put that work in. Every day you have to put it in your mind to go in here and work, waiting on your chance to come and when it happens. You have to take advantage of your opportunity.
GP: Work. Stephon Marbury, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen. You have to work or they will tell you that you aren’t working hard enough. You see how hard they go every day. You have some time, but it’s never free. If there’s two hours most cats are chillin’, then go hard for an hour. That time separates the good from the great.
SLAM: Driving it home. A lot of guys in your position will sit on their laurels and chill. You are on the Celtics. You are defending a title. Gettin’ that money. (Walker is shaking his head in disbelief). It happens. I see it all the time covering the League.
BW: All the money and stuff is great but who just wants to be a nobody? Who just wants to sit down? We get paid but we do it for the glory man. You want to get the crowd hype by making a big play that leads to a win. The money is gonna come.
SLAM: The Playoff atmosphere. Was it anything you anticipated or was it heightened to sickdiculous levels?
GP: It was nothing I thought it would be. It was times ten. The fireworks. The fans were always amped on every possession. You couldn’t hear yourself. Every game was down to the wire. This is where you see flashes of the greats taking shots. Paul Pierce hitting game winners. Ray Allen hitting game winners. This is the time where you see all that. The Boston crowd. I asked guys on other teams if they ever heard anything like the Boston crowd and they say there’s nothing like that.
SLAM: I worked Game 1 when Paul Pierce went down. I rock with the Sixers. I’m from here. When he came back out of that tunnel?
GP: How the crowd just went bananas?
GP: Man, I remember that time. My body shook like, Ooooh!
BW: He was straight ballin’!
SLAM: Yeah when he hit the two threes?
GP: I can’t wait to see that again.
SLAM: At that time Bill you were getting ready for the Draft.
BW: I was watching that on TV. Believe that.
SLAM: Did you say damn, I might play for that team next year?
BW: I never thought I’d be here. They didn’t work me out.
GP: Me neither.
BW: Things happen. I remember watching that game and thinking you know what? I’m going back to the gym. That was just crazy man. Crazy!
* There was a fan I had to give some shine. His name is Keith Gibson. He made this great t-shirt for Marreese Speights that actually resembled a jersey painted on with a white t under it. Very good artwork. His Dad passed away on Easter and all he wanted to do was give Speights this shirt. It wasn’t about the autograph. I could see him welling up with just the thought of Speights getting this shirt, so I had to oblige him. When I gave it to M-16, he was visibly flattered.
SLAM: Keith, why are you such a hardcore Sixers fan?
Keith Gibson: First and foremost, I’m a Sixers fan to the heart. I make these shirts with my heart. When people say they can’t, they shouldn’t, and they won’t, watch us. C’mon Philly!
As a writer and doing what I do and want to do as a reporter, your eyes search and scour the building looking for people to interview. Out of the corner of my eye I see braids. Beautiful braids and those braids were very close by. I thought to myself that can’t be Cheryl Miller can it? Word? She is the GOAT. Anyone who questions this better go see the doctor—a real one. Candace is nice, but Cheryl put the game on fire. She was Johnny Storm’s female counterpart. Yes with an S on her chest twice as next. Her ‘82-83 team was, in my opinion, the best women’s college basketball team of all time. She was three time POY and as close to perfection the game is finally realizing in Parker. There was no WNBA, but the show she gave the world during here years starring as the Lady of Troy had me wanting more. I love the women’s game. Men can learn from the precision, the discipline and the fire. They work hard because the money isn’t a factor. It’s all about the love. Fellas, you can get lost in her eyes too but trust, she would murder you on the floor.
SLAM: Cheryl, I gotta go with USC ’82-83 as the best team of all time with you as the GOAT. Was Cynthia Cooper a big part of that team.
Cheryl Miller: She came off the bench. We were pretty dynamic with the McGee twins (Pam and Paula), myself, Rhonda Windham, Cooper coming off the bench. Of course I gotta pat ourselves on the back, but there’s a lot of teams who could fit into that argument.
I then ask the question that still hurts deep. Even though the Women of Troy won two National Finals during her collegiate years, that last lost still stings. My bad Cheryl.
SLAM: It hurt me to see you lose to Texas.
CM: My senior year.
SLAM: It crushed me. You were that woman who transcended gender in sports because you made people want to watch the women’s game. Thanks for turning me on to your talent. My daughter appreciates it. Trust.
CM: At the time, Texas was having a great year. They were undefeated (the first to do so). Kamie Etheridge and her teammates very good. It was their time. They did a great job. It’s not the fondest game in my memory now, but that’s why you play ‘em. It was a great experience. I had a great four years there.
SLAM: Who was the player or players who influenced you the most growing up?
CM: The biggest for me and only because of where I was locally was Ann Myers. I hate using the word UCLA but Ann Myers was a really good point guard. She played hard, defensively, diving for loose balls. There was a lot of heart whether they were 20 up or 20 down. She was just a great pioneer on and off the court. That’s who I really wanted to emulate.
SLAM: Candace Parker’s influence is unquestioned. Do you put her in your class?
CM: Oh my gosh yes! Before she won her gold medal or before the championships, I remember such a buzz. I haven’t seen that for a very long time for a player coming in. What I love about Candace is that she’s a better person off the court. Don’t let the frame fool you. She’s beautiful but she can be nasty [on the court]. I think she’s great for women’s basketball. I wish here nothing but the best.
SLAM: Is there anyone in school now you feel can take their talent to the next level and eventually become a star in the WNBA?
CM: I like Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery from Connecticut. Right now? There’s no one like a Candace Parker. She’s the face of women’s basketball.
SLAM: Men want to see the boom, the highlight, the athleticism, the dunk. Is it necessary for women to take that dynamic and add it to the game so there’s broader appeal?
CM: Is it nice? Absolutely. I don’t think it’s necessary for women to have that credibility because most basketball purists love the women’s game. I’m a fan of it. When I saw Candace drive the baseline and dunk on people, again, it’s nice but not necessarily needed.
SLAM: Have you seen Brittney Griner? Do you follow her at all?
CM: The girl in Texas?
SLAM: Yes. Headed to Baylor.
CM: Yeaaah. I’m seeing some of the things she’s doing and I’m looking forward. She’s gonna make things interesting.
SLAM: Will we ever see a woman coach or player be considered for the NBA?
CM: I definitely think we’ll see a women’s coach but as far as a player? I doubt it. It’s just the physical difference. Unless you get someone like a Candace Parker but a little bigger and starring at the point. Right now, there’s just a gulf physically between men and women.
SLAM: Something that interests me and something I personally feel could add something physically to the women’s game is implementing a 8-10 second rule in half court. Could not having such a rule be attributed to women’s size?
CM: That is a great question. I really don’t know how to answer that. I think women’s basketball has certainly come a long way. The talent is off the board. The athleticism is so much better. When I played, you had UCLA as a powerhouse. Tennessee becoming a powerhouse. You had Long Beach State. You had Louisiana Tech. You had Old Dominion. Now, it’s up for grabs. When Baylor comes in and wins a championship with Kim Mulkey it speaks to the parity of women’s basketball.