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Sugar Ray

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Let's dispatch with the obvious, ok?

Yes, it's only eight games.

I mean of course it is.

But the eight games, the two weeks are all we have. And if you can't enjoy the fact that your Boston Celtics are the best team in the NBA, then you're not getting enough iron in your diet or something.

If you're using this time here and now to worry about the inevitable losing streaks (check your schedules for March 14-22), the inevitable injuries (they will happen) and the sub-par nights from the top three that will dot the marathon (all part of the process), you probably sit around inside on sunny days because eventually, it's going to rain.

How good have they been? I'm not suggesting the Celtics are dominating or anything...but Don Shula thinks their record should have an asterisk.

(We kid because we care, Coach. Love your steakhouse, by the way.)

Through these two weeks, Kevin Garnett is the league MVP and Paul Pierce has been Paul Pierce. Eddie House is living a shooters dream, and making defenses pay for doubling down. Kendrick Perkins is skating his wing, Rajon Rondo who "can't shoot" is hitting better than 50% from the floor and has taken up residency among the league leaders in steals - a home he'll occupy all year. The C's don't win in Toronto without James Posey, and maybe not in New Jersey without Big Baby.

Oh right, and then there's Sugar Ray.

Ray Allen vs. the Nets

Ray Allen went the distance against the Nets, playing all 48 minutes in New Jersey.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty

And I don't mean the guy that brought the Contender to the Garden last week. I mean the one who's going to make the team that plays at the Garden contenders all year.

I'm not sure when I started calling him that during games, I think it was during the lockout season of '99. But if you wonder why, you've never seen him shoot.

And if you'd forgotten just how very good Ray Allen is, or just how much of a star he is in this league, you're not alone. I'd forgotten too.

Double ankle surgery can do that. A lot of 10:30pm starts in meaningless west coast games can do that as well. Out of sight, off of TNT and out of mind in today's NBA.

But as much as this remains Paul Pierce's team to captain, and his nine years in green have made him part of the tapestry of Boston sports, and as much as KG fever has gripped the Hub, jump starting the energy and enthusiasm that's been sapped from Celtics Nation slowly over the last two decades, Ray Allen has taken his place at the Celtics' head table in the same way he's taken everything else he's accomplished in his basketball life.

With quiet precision.

There are two kinds of competitors in the world. The ones who announce their intentions at the highest decibel. And the ones who are long gone with your wallet in their pocket before you have any idea it's missing.

Ray Allen is quite simply a stone-cold killer.

His demeanor never seems to change. His game plays more like a clinic. His interviews, even on the court after hitting a game winner, sound more like seminars. It seems like he should be talking to Tim Russert, not Tom Heinsohn. He can beat the press, or do Meet the Press.

All summer people pondered how the "big three" would mesh, wondering how it could possibly work. Well, it works when your best players do whatever needs to be done. For five games, no one's exemplified that better. When the Celtics have needed a bucket, he's gotten one. If they've needed a scorer on the floor with the second unit, he's done that. If they've needed someone to step up and play big minutes because of injuries, on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, against a rested team with a big three of their own?

How about 48 minutes at New Jersey.

If you thought the complete game was a lost art in baseball, in the NBA, it went the way of the setshot and the short-shorts long ago.

Why did he do it? Simply, because it needed to be done.

Pierce will remain an icon and a lightning rod. The legend of Garnett, mark my words, is in the early stages of a journey that will end alongside the very best to wear the Celtics uniform.

But as the #34 and #5 jersey sightings continue to grow exponentially around town, and Boston continues to take its rightful place back at the epicenter of NBA culture, let's not forget the rest of the equation.

For three months now, all three have had to answer questions, mostly the same questions, about fitting together, about taking the last shot, all of it, over and over. They understand why, they know the game. But it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that it's what makes them different that makes it work.

And while the squeaky wheel gets the media grease in the NBA, there's nothing about Sugar Ray's game that's ever going to squeak. It's too smooth.

It's only five games, but the Celtics are slicing through the NBA, just like Ray Allen has for a dozen years.

With quiet precision.

*****

The Doctor Is In

It's hard, when you listen to talk shows or log onto websites, not to be struck by how vitriolic the rhetoric often is. The ease with which criticism is delivered. And how harsh its edges often seem. But while it's easy to write that off as people that "don't get it," I think we own some of the blame.

As an NBA team, we operate in what I call a velvet-rope existence. The flights are chartered, the five-star hotel lobbies are secured. The odds of having a face-to-face conversation with Paul Pierce at say, the Stop and Shop checkout line? Not real good. Players and coaches have never been more sheltered from fans, and vice versa.

Combine that with the explosion of fantasy sports, where every player becomes a series of numbers in a box score, to be added and discarded with the click of a mouse, and it's never been easier to think of the people you see through the television screen, the people you hear described on the radio as being, you know, people.

It takes something very dramatic now, often very tragic, to break through that barrier, the one that prevents people sometimes from seeing players and coaches for the very real human beings they are.

Doc Rivers standing on the sidelines coaching the Celtics last Saturday night in New Jersey, hours after burying his father in Chicago, was one of those moments.

It wasn't always this way; it's a unfortunate by-product of the evolution of professional sports. When Gil Hodges' wife gave berth fifty years ago, when he was the All-Star first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, her labor was community news. It was followed in the local paper, discussed at the barber shop, and when Gil was spotted on the streets of Brooklyn, or the subway on the way to Ebbets Field (as inconceivable as that seems today), it wasn't uncommon for him engage in conversation with fans about these most intimate of details. Players on a pro sports team weren't just a part of the community, they belonged to the community, like the postman or the dry clearner.

Way too often now, you get much more of an "us" and "them" feel.

During the 2005-06 season, when Doc was flying back and forth to Orlando to see as many of his son Jeremiah's games as a high school senior as he could, it was the soup of the day on the talk shows for a while, you may remember. Should he or shouldn't he, that kind of thing.

At the Garden one night, one of my all-time favorite humans, the Globe's Jackie MacMullen asked me what I thought about it. It being the idea that the coach of an NBA team would fly himself all over the country during the season's few off-hours, to watch his son play basketball.

I told her, paraphrasing a line from my favorite writer Aaron Sorkin, that I thought it was an extraordinary act of discipline, commitment and sacrifice...and a rather ordinary act of fatherhood.

It is hard sometimes, to see through the forest of the velvet-rope existence, to the trees of the very human stories all around us.

But when Doc Rivers manages to pay the ultimate respect, both to his family and his team, on the same day? When you realize that real life goes side by side with an NBA season? That it doesn't wait for the All-Star break? It humanizes even more the game we love. And reinforces that connection that at times it seems gets lost.

It makes you respect the man in the uniform, the man on the sidelines that much more.

And maybe as a result, love the game just a little bit more too.

FOR THE GEEK SIDE OF YOUR BRAIN...

For 19 seconds in overtime at Toronto on November 4th, the Celtics trailed. It was the only 19 seconds the Celtics trailed all day. For eight seconds last Friday, from Udonis Haslem's free-throw make until Paul Pierce's game winner, the Celtics trailed. Heading into Orlando for the early Eastern showdown game, they are the only 27 seconds the Celtics have trailed after halftime...in any game. On November 14, the Nets led the Celtics for 19:16 of the first half, the longest span of time the C's have trailed. In fact through eight games, the Celtics had played 389 minutes and only trailed for 34:48. Or 8.94% of the minutes they've played.

Over the past seven seasons, there had been just four Celtic single-game performances of 19 rebounds or better, topped by Al Jefferson's 22 at the Palace in January. Kevin Garnett did it twice in his first four games.

Celtics High Rebound Games Since 2001
22 Jefferson @ Detroit January 13, 2007
21 Blount vs. Orlando March 1, 2004
20 Garnett vs. Washington November 2, 2007
19 Perkins vs. Philadelphia November 30, 2005
19 Pierce vs. New Orleans/Oklahoma City November 1, 2006
19 Garnett vs. Atlanta November 9, 2007
18 Jefferson @ New Jersey March 3, 2007
18 Walker vs. Indiana November 14, 2001
17 Blount @ New York March 9, 2004
17 Gomes @ Portland February 23, 2006
17 Jefferson @ Atlanta January 15, 2007
17 Jefferson @ Indiana January 30, 2007
17 Jefferson vs. New Jersey February 9, 2007
17 Jefferson @ Phoenix February 21, 2007
17 Jefferson @ Houston February 26, 2007
17 Gomes vs. Minnesota March 4, 2007

In the last seven seasons (500 games), the Celtics had never shot better than 60 percent from the floor. Last week they did it in back to back games.

Celtics High Field Goal Percentage - Last Seven Years
.645 vs. Denver November 7, 2007
.612 vs. Atlanta November 9, 2007
.600 @ Atlanta April 1, 2005
.592 @ Indiana April 12, 2006 (L)
.592 vs. Seattle March 9, 2007
.591 vs. Detroit January 7, 2005 (L)
.590 vs. Memphis November 9, 2005
.581 @ Utah February 21, 2006
.580 @ Charlotte March 14, 2005
.575 @ Milwaukee April 13, 2005
.577 vs. Seattle December 10, 2003
.575 @ New York December 14, 2002
.575 @ Memphis January 5, 2007

The C's had recorded 10 wins of 20 or more points in Doc Rivers first three years as coach (246 games). This year, he's done it in four of the first seven games he's coached. The C's also led by 23 at New Jersey in his fourth game, only to win by 11. The largest margin (34) remains his first win as Celtics coach in New York three years ago.

Biggest Wins of the Doc Rivers Era
34 @ New York** November 6, 2004
32 vs. Portland February 10, 2006
28 vs. Portland November 17, 2006
26 vs. Indiana November 15, 2006
26 vs. Denver November 7, 2007
25 @ New York March 29, 2006
23 vs. Atlanta November 9, 2007
21 vs. New Jersey February 2, 2005
21 vs. Atlanta March 14, 2007
20 vs. Houston November 13, 2005
20 @ Philadelphia December 13, 2006
20 vs. Charlotte March 4, 2005
20 vs. Washington November 2, 2007

** Doc's first win as Celtics coach

You can hear the voice of the Celtics, Sean Grande along with Cedric Maxwell call each and every game on the WEEI Celtics Radio Network. You can send him .