Unsung hero of game 1: PJ Brown?!

Midway through the 4th quarter of last night’s game 1, as PJ Brown grabbed a huge rebound, one of six he had (along with 2 points, 2 assists, an impressive blocked shot, in 21 minutes—third-most he’s played in a game this season), I started to write a long comment on Lang’s post about what type of crazy look I would’ve given anyone in January if they tried to tell me PJ Brown would be Doc Rivers’ go-to guy behind Kendrick Perkins and playing crunch-time minutes in the NBA Finals…and getting a full-on standing ovation with 1:49 left in the opening game.

Then I scratched the comment idea, given that PJ had just provided me with perfect “day-off column” fodder. I mean, until the Celtics talked him into joining them in February, dude was all but retired. Not the most exciting transaction, of course, and I’m certainly ambivalent about the Celtics anyway, but I do have a soft spot for PJ from my long-ago days of rooting for the Nets. PJ’s rookie year out of Louisiana Tech, ’93-94, found him a key cog of a maddening but very fun Nets team that won 45 games and looked like it was turning the franchise in the right direction. Of course, Chuck Daly left, and Butch Beard came. Then Derrick Coleman left and Amen Gilliam came. It was typically ugly early 90’s Nets nonsense, but PJ and Chris Childs went all out on a nightly basis and someone like me, who watched as many Net games as possible at that time, had to root for him. Just as PJ was coming into his own, the Nets let him walk to Miami as a free agent, where he was a steady force on the Pat Riley Heat teams. I pretty much stopped caring about what dude was up to, but I knew he was as steady as a mailman (not The Mailman, but a mailman; he came to work every day).

PJ spent several years with the Hornets and then the Bulls last year. Throughout his 15-year career he played in plenty of Playoff games (81), but never got as far as the conference finals. Needless to say, PJ feels grateful for this latest twist. “I noticed the ovation and I appreciated it,” PJ said before the Celtics practiced today. “This is a great situation for me. I’m close to an NBA title that has been a dream of mine since I got drafted in 1992 [PJ played a year in Europe before debuting in the L the next season]. I think it shows that hard work pays off. I’m following a routine I’ve been doing my whole career, watching film and staying prepared. Now I’m getting to do it on the grand stage.”

From the nosebleeds last night, it looked like Lamar Odom was getting out-positioned by PJ, which had me thinking: Old dude using his wily tricks to out-fox the younger power forward (Lamar also had 6 rebounds, though he played 39 minutes). Lamar wasn’t really having that when I asked him about PJ today, saying it’s more of a team thing. “Look, it’s not like they had a guy with 18 rebounds. They are great at team rebounding,” LO said. “It’s because they have three great offensive players you have to watch at all times, so we have a tend to over-rotate, and worry about what’s happening out here [gesturing to the wing, about 20 feet from the basket].” In other words: boxing out PJ Brown is not Lamar’s biggest concern.

Back with PJ, I wondered how he considered his tactics. “Ask this guy over here,” he said, gesturing at Will Perdue, who is covering the Finals. “I played against a guy he knew well, a guy named Dennis Rodman. I’m not going to give away all my secrets, but I have always been a student of the game and learned from guys like Rodman, Charles Barkley and Rick Mahorn. I’m an 80’s-style player.”

Very appropriate for an 80’s-style series.