2:32am - 30,000 feet above Grand Junction, CO
We may as well begin here.
At least before the Broncos sign Peyton Manning today and take any attention the Celtics-Nuggets game tonight was about to get and drive it deep into the C-block of Sportscenter.
The numbers from the Sacramento game Friday night are fresh in the air. Or more to the point, not-so-fresh. So before we get there, let’s remember how numbers can sometime paint a spectacular picture of a body of work that while celebrated, remains one of the more under-appreciated in the 21st Century of over-appreciating almost-everything.
Tonight in Denver, Kevin Garnett will pass. Often, as he has for 17 years. But this time when he does, and someone, maybe a future fellow-Hall of Famer, makes a shot, it will mean something.
Something pretty amazing.
Kevin Garnett’s next assist, as we covered in Thursday night’s blog, will be the 5,000th of his NBA career.
It will give him 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists.
Two guys have a key to that club. One is Karl Malone. The other is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Kevin Garnett also has 1,500 steals. Kareem does not.
Kevin Garnett also has 1,500 blocks. Malone does not.
And then, there was one.
We have a great deal of difficulty it seems shuffling current players into the existing deck of the greatest to ever play. We tend to hyperbolize for the sake of the moment, or be too reverent of the players we grew up watching. It’s a difficult target to hit. But sometimes, like tonight, the numbers do it for us.
Debate where he fits as long as you want. But when the hall of fame breaks off into the VIP room, with the very best of the best? Kevin Garnett gets a bracelet. End of story.
(He’s also leading the 2012 Celtics in plus-minus, leading the league in that category over the last ten games, all the while playing center for the first time in his career, two months before his 36th birthday.)
But tonight, a mile above sea level, Kevin Garnett breathes air no one else ever has.
And then there was the Sacramento game.
There have been many truly spectacular nights for the Rivers’ family. And undoubtedly many, many more lie ahead.
Friday, was not one of them.
Just minutes after Austin Rivers’ Duke Blue Devils became the 5th 2-seed in NCAA Tournament history, and the second of the day, to get upset by a 15-seed, his father’s Celtics put forth an effort that might not have won them a game in the NIT.
So let’s just get the bite-the-cold-sore, self-inflicted pain out of the way and up on the screen so we can all just move on.
Ready? It’s like bad turbulence on the plane. You just have to go through it. Here we go.
In the first 365 games of the New Big Three Era, the Celtics only had one 25-point loss, the Easter Sunday massacre in Cleveland in 2009. One...in 365 games. It’s now happened twice in the last seven.
20-POINT LOSSES – NEW BIG 3 ERA (REGULAR SEASON)
32 - @ PHILADELPHIA – MARCH 7, 2012
31 - @ CLEVELAND – APRIL 12, 2009
25 - @ SACRAMENTO – MARCH 16, 2012
23 - @ MIAMI – APRIL 10, 2011
21 - VS. SAN ANTONIO – MARCH 28, 2010
20 - VS. CLEVELAND – FEBRUARY 25, 2010
20 - VS. MEMPHIS – MARCH 10, 2010
Next, we have the 27-point deficit. In the first four years of the New Big Three Era, the Celtics had fallen behind by 26+ points four times. That’s it. That would be an average, hang on let me check the math…yeah, that would be an average of once a year. Friday night was the 5th time it’s happened in 43 games this year. And the 4th time in the last 13 games. From once a year, to once a week.
25-POINT DEFICITS – NEW BIG 3 ERA (REGULAR SEASON)
37 - @ PHILADELPHIA – MARCH 7, 2012
36 - @ CLEVELAND – APRIL 12, 2009
29 - VS. MEMPHIS – MARCH 10, 2010
29 - @ HOUSTON – MARCH 18, 2011
28 - VS. WASHINGTON – APRIL 9, 2010
27 - @ ORLANDO – JANUARY 26, 2012 (W)
27 - VS. OKLAHOMA – FEBRUARY 22, 2012
27 - @ SACRAMENTO – MARCH 16, 2012
26 @ DALLAS – FEBRUARY 20, 2012
25 - @ INDIANA – NOVEMBER 1, 2008
25 - VS. SAN ANTONIO – MARCH 28, 2010
At the start of the night, I posed the following question “how many NBA fans could name the Kings’ leading scorer off the top of their heads?” That number is a lot bigger today. Marcus Thornton became the 12th man to score 36 against the New Big Three Celtics. (Wade, LeBron (5 times), Kobe, Monta (2), Caron Butler, D-Rose (2), A. Stoudemire, John Salmons, David West, Dirk and Durant). But Thornton was the first to get at least 35 points and 5 steals. It hadn’t been done against Boston since Kobe Bryant went for 38 and 5 steals in February of 2007.
Let’s not forget Jason Thompson, who entered the night averaging 8 points and 6 rebounds a game. His 21-point, 15-rebound night was the 16th time this year a Celtics opponent has grabbed at least 14 rebounds. A Celtic has done it exactly once. And that Celtic, was the point guard. Rajon Rondo’s 17-rebound, epic triple-double against the Knicks two weeks ago.
And just for fun, only once in the first 41 games had the Celtics given up 51% or better from the floor. Golden State and Sacramento did it in consecutive games.
But let’s point out the following…in Thursday night’s entry here I made note of something I thought was interesting, and even adding in the horrific numbers from Friday night, it still looks like this….
Team A: 28-27 (+0.6 differential)
Team B: 23-20 (+0.6 differential)
Team A is the 2010 Celtics from Christmas Day on. The team that had a double-digit lead in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Team B? The 2012 Celtics from Christmas Day on.
(The Team A/Team B thing is of course copyright Matthew Berry of ESPN, who I’m still not speaking to after I let myself buy in to the Michael Vick fantasy strategy last fall even though my head said not to…life lesson.)
Anyway, the point is that the Celtics enter Saturday just 1½ games behind Atlanta for the 6th spot and Philadelphia for the division lead. With the Pacers bad loss in New York, they’re only 2½ in front of the Celtics. That means a 15-8 type close to the season for the Celtics? And after all these ugly numbers, they’d not only avoid Miami and Chicago in round one, they could easily end up with home court.
And if there’s ever been a day to believe in lower-seeded teams, this would be it.