Posted Mar 8 2011 11:51AM
MILWAUKEE -- If any NBA team should have been crying in recent days, it should have been the one in the visitors' dressing room at the Bradley Center the other night. The Boston Celtics were playing the Bucks in their sixth game in the 10 days since the trading deadline that convulsed their roster and jolted those left behind.
Going by the Miami Heat's "Band of Brothers" stab-at-a-theme this season, the Celtics had just emerged from a nasty custody battle, separated suddenly from five siblings (Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, Luke Harangody, Semih Erden) who had been with them for months or, in some cases, years.
Tears over losing games? Try losing friends, teammates, family.
Here they were, the mighty Celtics, a championship contender built at least in part on chemistry, going forward on that delicate front as if a cartload of chimpanzees had been turned loose in the lab. To the right, to the left, everywhere you looked, stalls that had been filled by buddies were either vacant or sublet by strangers.
Rajon Rondo and Perkins -- the George and Lenny, or Felix and Oscar, of the squad -- used to "locker" side-by-side throughout the league, borrowing each other's deodorant, sharing each other's food, sometimes finishing each other sentences. Now splitsville.
Others had been through the dill before. Kevin Garnett once put a towel over his head and sobbed, effectively kicking away a game at Houston, when a teammate from his previous life, Dean Garrett, got traded unexpectedly one night.
Three years ago, the NBA was introduced to the word and concept of ubuntu, an African concept focusing on a person's allegiance to the group. Embraced by Boston head coach Doc Rivers, it took teamwork and loyalty to a new level. "I am what I am because of who we all are" is the essence of ubuntu, and it helped the Celtics win a championship in 2008 and get back to the Finals last spring.
Yet here they were, heading down the stretch in 2010-11, changing up the "we" as if it were a new pair of socks.
To much of the outside basketball world, Boston president Danny Ainge went fixing what hadn't seemed broke. He snuffed Rivers' rallying cry of the past three postseasons ("This starting five has never lost a series"), doing to Perkins for all time what the big center's right knee had done in Game 6 against the Lakers in June. He gave concerns about the franchise's future -- Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will eventually exit, after all, and Perkins was going to be difficult to re-sign -- equal standing with the present.
Ainge tweaked and tinkered enough to make Miami look like some paragon of continuity and seniority, thrusting some of the insta-team challenges that have stymied the Heat so far at his own club. Watching Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Troy Murphy and Sasha Pavlovic cavort with "Celtics" across their chests Sunday night, sometimes all at once, was to be reminded of Jerry Seinfeld's line about sports, "We're rooting for laundry."
Funny thing was, the Boston dressing room was not awash in tears. Whatever bawling might have gone on in Denver 10 days earlier, at the end of a long trade-deadline day, swiftly gave way to balling.
"Nope, for me it's not [hard]," Celtics sharpshooter Ray Allen said. "Whenever you make trades, you just ... I trust our organization that they want to win. That's the one thing -- it's an amazing, amazing thing when you look up and you've won the championship. You look at everybody that you're on board with, and you know everybody wants to go the same route and do the same things. It's not b.s., it's not talking. Because I have been around people who talk about wanting to win the championship, but they don't put forth the actual habits and disciplines to do it. That's what everybody does in this organization and they've been doing it since I've been here."
Said Pierce: "It's a process. We're definitely missing a beat. But we're a veteran group with a great core of guys that keep firing away. So hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we can get some guys [back] who are out injured. Get the new guys more minutes. Get 'em more and more experienced in practice and games. We're only going to get better from here on out."
The resiliency that Erik Spoelstra craves for his crew in Miami, that all coaches want, was at full throttle for the Celtics. Bouncing back from an emotional hit is one thing, bounding like a Wham-O Super Ball is quite another. In civilian life, moving on from a broken heart so quickly would be dismissed as a rebound relationship. But with Boston and its new guys, it's a rebound, defense and matchups affair.
Already, Krstic has shown a knack for finishing at the rim and a willingness to actually pop on pick-and-pops that has Rivers excited. Pavlovic, whose defense traditionally has been limited to (maybe) outscoring his man, already has surprised with his bent knees and hustle. Murphy hasn't done much yet, but Green's immediate impact has outweighed that several times over.
The head coach gushes about the lineups he can deploy thanks to the lanky 6-foot-9 forward's skill set, and even Garnett -- who typically abhors change of any sort -- has moved on to Celtics 2.0. "I'm tellin' you, man, every time I see Jeff Green I'm more impressed," he said. "The versatility of this guy is so unbelievable. He's just helping so much right now and ... Must be that Georgetown education some."
The Celtics still have a rosy view that O'Neal Memorial Hospital (Shaq and Jermaine) finally will be closed for good in time for the postseason. Now, the thrill of these marvelous new toys has sprayed a "Kendrick Who?" glaze over Boston's mission.
Oh, the players -- and Rivers and Ainge -- still miss their pal Perk. But it's pretty clear now what sort of family the Celtics have had as their role model. Less Waltons, more Corleone.
"You have to accept change when it happens," Pierce said. "Integrate it. Because we try to keep a family atmosphere around here. So when new family members come in, we have to welcome them with open arms and they have to make the adjustment to how we do things in our household."
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
|Pacers on George Hill's Status|
David West, Frank Vogel and Lance Stephenson talk about George Hill's status for Game 6.
|Knicks: Pressure in Game 6|
Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith talk about the pressure on the Knicks in Game 6.
|Pacers on Game 6|
David West and Lance Stephenson talk about the chance to close out the Knicks in front of their fans.
|All-Access: Indiana Pacers|
During their Conference Semifinal series with the Knicks, the Indiana Pacers allowed an all-access look inside team practice.
|Grizzlies vs. Thunder Series Recap|
The Memphis Grizzlies knocked off the top seeded Oklahoma City Thunder to advance to the Western Conference finals.