Saturday, March 31, 2012

Healing Minnesota: The Two Kevins

March 31, 2012 – 1:30am
30,000 miles over Western Ontario

Let me start by saying, I really don’t have time for this.

I wish I did, but I don’t. See, a regular NBA season can get a little nutty, with the games and the travel and the laundry.  But this one of course has been more like Supermarket Sweep. Just racing through the aisles of the country cramming as many games as we can into a shopping cart until the four-month timer hits zero.

Now for me, throw in the Frozen Four next weekend in Tampa, my fantasy baseball draft (purposely scheduled I’m convinced now by my league in attempt to leave me unprepared and try to do something they haven’t been able to do with skill, and that’s end my UConn Women/Jimmy Johnson/Undertaker-at-Wrestlemania-like dynasty) and, of course, Wrestlemania itself on Sunday.

So yeah, a little over-scheduled right now.

And surprisingly, my five-month-old son and his sleep schedule seem to have no regard for this frenetic pace.

In any case, too many things happened Friday night at Target Center to not get at least a few words down on paper, or up on the screen as it were, and we fly a thousand miles east in the middle of the night for, hey what do you know, another big game Sunday afternoon against the Heat.

Especially as despite the fun and instant gratification of our favorite 140-character obsession with the blue bird has become, Twitter is amazing and getting the word out, but there often just aren’t enough words to say it right.

So first, here’s this.  Kevin Love is special.

I’m not going down this road of the Love-Garnett thing that seemed to be the topic of the 36-hour stay in the Twin Cities.  We covered it at length in the best pre-game guest segment we’ve had this year, with my former partner, and Max’s former teammate Jim Petersen.  (Here's the link:  So let's just say this.

Kevin Love is one of the top 15 players in the NBA.

Kevin Garnett is one of the top 15 players in the history of the NBA.

That’s all we need to cover for now. 

And Friday night, if you have Kevin Love on your fantasy team you got some numbers, but that was a Round One-UFC tap-out win for Minnesota’s original Kevin.

It was also his best game against his former team since the trade, and not the first time we’ve used a sentence like that about Garnett in 2012, all part of one of the most remarkable seasons in his hall-of-fame career with the position change and his 36th birthday next month.

Now, let’s put it out there because this needs to be fixed. Not tonight, but over the next few months and years because there is a latent, and mutual hostility that exists between Garnett and the franchise he carried for a dozen years. Not the fans, not the city, but with some key members of the Wolves’ front office.

And while we’ll save the reasons for now (check out that audio link if you want to hear some of them), the point is that in a few years, there simply must be a Kevin Garnett Night in that building.  I don’t mean a game, with a five-minute halftime ceremony. I mean a night, a sold-put, stand-alone night that’s a celebration of a city’s team, and the 19-year-old kid who lit it up and evolved into the player and the man that carried it on his shoulders for twelve years.

A man who, by the way, didn’t want to leave.  A man, who when it was apparent the franchise couldn’t carry his weight and needed to move on, didn’t rub anyone's face in it, didn’t get Jim Gray to show up at the YMCA to announce it, and didn’t dance with his new teammates after he made it.

It’s not hard to find people KG made enemies of in Minnesota, or anywhere really, and a portion of the criticism and the vitriol can be easily justified.  But it’s time now.

It’s time to move on from it, on every level. Garnett got his ring, the Wolves have their mojo back. Next year, with a healthy Rubio, Love, Derrick Williams and a full year for Rick Adelman, the Wolves are back in the NBA, they’re back from the relegation pool of teams that don’t get on ABC or TNT.  And they’re probably back in the playoffs.  It was a cold five years, but they’re over.

For two days we’ve been listening to this Kevin Love-Kevin Garnett comparison debate, and forget for a minute what happened Friday night, here’s the thing.  When you position comparisons that way, you’re setting it up to tear one or the other down.  It’s unavoidable. Trust me, Skip Bayless makes a very good living doing it brilliantly.

The tale of Minnesota’s two Kevin’s is a win-win. You can celebrate the Garnett Era without casting a shadow on Kevin Love. You can celebrate the present and future that the Wolves finally have, without tarnishing the legacy of their greatest player.

One day Kevin Love may change the following sentence, but he hasn’t yet. There is no franchise in professional sports where the gap between the team’s best, and second-best player is bigger than it is with the Timberwolves.  Not after Sidney Crosby won a Cup in Pittsburgh, not as long as the Colts had Unitas, the Oilers had Messier and the Bulls had Pippen.  Go on, try it in baseball, can’t be done.

Let’s bury the bad feelings, and bury the comparisons the way Kevin Garnett buried his fourth quarter shots on Friday night. Maybe the best way to enjoy Kevin Love’s future, is by making peace with Kevin Garnett’s past.

OK, if you’ll forgive me, the unforgiving to-do list beckons. I’m going to try multi-tasking by listening to Simmons’ fantasy baseball pod with Matthew Berry while watching tape on the Frozen Four teams at the same time.  Could be a brilliant use of limited time, or result in me trying to draft Edwin Encarnacion sometime during the second period of the national semi-final on Thursday night, one of the two.

But first, some kind of wacky numbers from Friday…

  •            The Celtics are now 14-7 in 21 Target Center games, easily best record in any building where they’ve played 15 or more games. American Airlines Arena is Miami is next at 12-11 (not including 1-4 in the playoffs)

  •         It was the first double-digit road win of the year, the first since one year ago today (March 31, 2011) in San Antonio and the biggest road win since a 22-point win at Golden State last February, which was (draw your own conclusions) Kendrick Perkins’  last game as a Celtic.

  •    *   The Celtics were outscored Friday by 13 (21-8) from the free throw line, and still won by 21 on the road. 

  •             Here’s the big one, let’s go boldface. The Celtics were out-rebounded by 151 in 17 March games (8.9/game) and still went 12-5. I mean, really?  That’s pretty hard to do.

  •             The Celtics have now won 13 straight win when not getting out-rebounded (16-2 on the year)

  •             Kevin Love, who averages 14 a game, had only 11 rebounds against the NBA’s worst rebounding team, just the  32nd highest total against the Celtics this year in 51 games.  What were the odds of that? Some of the luminaries who’ve had more rebounds against Boston than Kevin Love this year?  Nikola Vucevic, Amir Johnson, Trevor Booker and Jason Thompson, not to mention Samuel Dalembert’s 17.

  •        The Celtics are now 9-1 without Ray Allen, 6-4 without Rondo. But 0-3 without Paul Pierce and 0-3 without Kevin Garnett.

  •            The Celtics lost the first three games this year in which they scored 100 points (including the only meeting with Miami on December 27), they’ve now won 11 in a arrow.

And speaking of Miami…

…since many of you have asked, my completely uninformed, off the top of my head picks for Wrestlemania in Sunday…

A valiant effort by HHH falls short, and the Undertaker’s streak continues. The last time Shawn Michaels refereed a match this big, by the way, he was brilliant and nearly stole the show anyway (SummerSlam 1997 in Taker’s WWF Title loss to Bret Hart (the same night the business’ history almost changed forever on the late Owen Hart’s missed tombstone piledriver that nearly ended the Stone Cold Era before it began).

Chris Jericho wins the WWE Title from CM Punk in a phenomenal match. We get a couple of months of tremendous rematches before the Best in the World gets the belt back late in the spring.

Then John Cena and Rock, after everyone is picking Punk-Jericho to steal the show, tear the house down in the match of the show, if not the match of the year. Both cement their legacy as Cena wins clean in the middle, prompting Rock to show up on Raw Monday night and shake his hand…before delivering a rock bottom with the tag line; “See you next year…bitch.”

He won’t have to write it on his wrist, that’s for sure. * 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Statistical Immortality For Kevin Garnett, Statistical Ineptitude for His Team

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. 365 games.  It’s now happened twice in the last seven.


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.


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 reboundsA 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.

Just saying.

(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.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Deja Vu All Over Again

The Celtics are on their way to Sacramento.  To the rest of their season, and the rest of this five-year New Big Three Era.

Twitter has taken over so much of the world, so to no one’s surpsie, it ruled today’s NBA Trade Deadline, for better and worse.  At our flagship station in Boston, I was asked to give them a “heads up” on any moves the Celtics might make.

But here's the thing, with Twitter there is no more “heads up”, there is only “never mind.”

Ray Allen was traded about 3,600 times on Twitter this morning, none as it turns out, it real life.

Never mind.

In any case, just a quick reminder what happened the last time we were told the Celtics were about to trade Ray Allen, two years ago at the 2010 deadline.  In the final year of his contract, trade rumors centered on Ray the entire 09-10 season right up to deadline day.  His numbers that year before the deadline?

                                    GAMES           FG%                3FG%              FT%          20+ pts

Before 2010 Deadline        50              .447                 .333                 .894                  9

You know the rest, or maybe you don’t. But either way, Ray went on an historic tear through the rest of the season, the run to Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and all the way through the following year, passing Reggie Miller to become the NBA’s  three-point shooting champion, and going a full calendar year, at age 35, averaging the shooter’s holy trinity of 50% from the field, 40% from the three and 90% from the line.

While Kevin Martin’s shot 43%, and played fewer minutes, for Houston.

Let’s look at those numbers again now, before the deadline, and in the 30 games that followed his not being traded….

                                    GAMES           FG%                3FG%              FT%          20+ pts

Before 2010 Deadline      50              .447                 .333                 .894                  9
After 2010 Deadline        30              .538                 .412                 .961                 10

Now for good measure, let’s tack on his full 2010-2011 season, including the playoffs…

                                    GAMES           FG%                3FG%              FT%          20+ pts

Before 2010 Deadline      50              .447                 .333                 .894                  9
After 2010 Deadline        30              .538                 .412                 .961                 10
2010-2011                        89              .494                 .461                 .889                 25

So, take from it what you will.  But it’s easy, in the age of video games and fantasy drafts, to lose the human element of pro sports.  But it is undeniable.  Ray himself was adamant in 2010 that the trade rumors didn’t bother him.  You can decide for yourself.

But for those who thought the Celtics should have pulled the trigger on a Ray Allen deal today, or Pierce or Garnett or even Rondo, remember the Celtics are playing better now than they were two years ago at this time.

2009-2010 Celtics from Christmas on: 28-27 (+0.6 differential)
2001-2012 Celtics from Christmas on: 23-19 (+1.3 differential)

And we know how that turned out.

Some miscellaneous notes on the Celtics ride from San Francisco to Sacramento…

** Friday night at the building-formerly-known-as-Arco begins a most unusual stretch for the Celtics.  Waiting to hear from Elias on just how unique, but the Celtics will now play their next four games…in four different time zones.

** Milestone month continues for Kevin Garnett.  Monday night he passed Moses Malone to move into 11th on the NBA’s all-time minutes played list. If he averages 24/minutes a game the rest of the year, he’ll pass Robert Parish into the top 10.  But the big one could come as early as Friday, he’s four assists from 5,000 for his NBA career.  It will give him 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 blocks and 1,500 steals, joining a class…of no one.  It's never been done.  KG clinched the Hall of Fame somewhere around 2005.  If there’s a VIP room within the Hall of Fame?  With velvet ropes and fancy appetizers?  Yeah, he’s in there, too.

** Speaking of milestones, congratulations to Tim Duncan on moving into the top 25 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.  But don’t get too comfortable.  It won’t be a long stay.  Paul Pierce is closing fast.  Duncan won the race to Clyde Drexler and the top 25, but he won’t win the marathon.  The Celtics captain will likely pass Drexler before the Celtics return home next weekend.  103 points behind Duncan, he’ll need to average 4.3 points per game more than Duncan to move into the top 25 by the end of the year, and move directly behind, wait for it…Ray Allen.


** The win in Oakland was the Celtics’ 5th straight when scoring 100 points.  That’s not all that unusual, until you consider the C’s started this very strange year 0-3 when scoring 100.

** Yes, the rebounding numbers.  They are what they are.  The Celtics, down to one true center on the roster, a center whose primary professional minutes before this year came in Turkey and Korea, are last in the league in rebounding.  The win in Oakland last night moved them to 15-2 when outrebounding opponents, and ended an incredible run of games.  In the previous five, the Celtics had been outrebounded by 80.  80.  16 a game.  And still won three of the five.

** And making his debut in the bullet-point section, is one of the most improved players in the NBA. Avery Bradley’s meteoric rise into the rotation began with his lock down of Jameer Nelson on January 23rd.  And the numbers show it.  In the 15 games Avery Bradley has played fewer than 10 minutes, the Celtics are 5-10. When he does play 10+ minutes, the Celtics are 18-9. Making him, the anti-Gerald Green.  (At least the 2007 version.)

** And continuing a tradition started nearly a decade ago, the Celtics traveling party stopped on the road from San Francisco to Sacramento at In N Out Burger.  An unintentional yet still dead-on homage to the last 24 hours in the life of Dwight Howard.