Feb. 5 Shootaround -- Paul Pierce prepares for final game in Boston
No. 1: Pierce says goodbye to Boston — Paul Pierce had a legendary career with the Boston Celtics, helping return the franchise to championship glory. But eventually he was traded to Brooklyn and is now playing his final season with his hometown Clippers. Today the Clippers take on the Celtics (2:00 p.m. ET, ABC), and Pierce will play his final game in Boston. He’s already preparing for what should be an emotional afternoon:
Pierce, who is retiring at the end of this season after 19 years in the NBA, shook his head and then shared his thoughts on playing his last game in Boston on Sunday — barring an unlikely meeting in the NBA Finals — as a seldom-used forward with the Clippers.
“I lived right down the street from the Forum. I grew up watching the Lakers on Prime Ticket,” Pierce recalled. “I couldn’t stand the Celtics. I was all about Magic, Kareem, Worthy. I hated Larry Bird.
“It was a tough pill to swallow to be drafted by the Celtics. I didn’t even work out for the Celtics during the draft process. Then when I got picked by them, I didn’t know what the hell to think.
“So, man, this whole thing has been ironic, just how my career went. You’re a Lakers fan and you’re a Boston Celtic and you win a championship in 2008 against the Lakers. It’s just like it was supposed to happen this way.”
Pierce and his wife, Julie, visited some of his old haunts Friday and Saturday, soaking in a city he grew to love and one that loved the 6-foot-7 small forward back after he was drafted 10th overall by the Celtics in 1998.
“I think he’s soaking it in everywhere,” said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, who does plan on playing Pierce Sunday. “He really appreciates the game now.”
Pierce is the second-leading scorer in the history of the fabled Celtics franchise. His 24,021 points are behind leader John Havlicek (26,395) and ahead of Bird (21,791).
“I think that was probably the highlight of his life, when he was able to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and it was a championship with the Celtics,” Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, said in a telephone interview. “Listen, I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and I grew up a Lakers fan too and was drafted by the Celtics. Jerry West was one of my favorite players growing up. But that’s just how it is. The team you play for is the team you fall in love with. Paul is a true Celtic fan and legend now and I think he bleeds more green than he does purple.”
Pierce reached the Finals twice, both times against the Lakers. He won the MVP award when the Celtics defeated the Lakers in 2008.
He was the lightning rod on a Celtics team with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.
“He’s one of the Celtics greats,” Rondo told a reporter in Chicago. “He was my vet coming in, showed me what it takes to be a professional, how a future Hall of Famer works and how he leads every day.”
The pressure Pierce felt playing for the Celtics was immeasurable. He could look in the stands and see Celtics legends like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Havlicek at games. Pierce could look to the rafters and see all those retired jerseys and championship banners.
“I played under the lights of retired numbers, a lot of legends, man,” Pierce said. “So that right there is pressure in itself when you’re out there trying to hold the franchise down and you see the numbers and then you look up and Bill Russell, Cousy, Havlicek and all them are in the stands and you’re trying to live up to the expectations that they put [for] the franchise.
“That’s a lot of pressure putting on that uniform as a franchise player. But I’m happy that I was able to deliver a championship and people loved the heart and passion I put into the game out there.”
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No. 2: Pop just keeps winning — The San Antonio Spurs under coach Gregg Popovich are famous for their no-nonsense approach to the game, which includes winning at a record pace. With last night’s win over Denver, Pop became the winningest NBA coach with a single franchise, passing former Utah coach Jerry Sloan. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Spurs look at the win as nothing special:
Manu Ginobili knew how important Gregg Popovich is to the San Antonio Spurs even before the coach set the NBA record for most wins with a single franchise.
Popovich earned his 1,128th victory Saturday night, leading the Spurs to a 121-97 victory over the Denver Nuggets. He passed former Utah coach Jerry Sloan for the mark.
“The record is just a number,” Ginobili said. “He didn’t need that record to define what he means for this franchise, the NBA, in the last 20 years. The fact that he’s been the coach of the team for so many years is already an impressive accomplishment.
“If you add five rings and this type of record, having 70 percent or more winning percentage, it’s incredible what he’s done. He’s going to keep doing it. I’m pretty sure he’s going to get some more.”
Denver coach Mike Malone also had high praise for Popovich.
“It speaks to the fact that he’s arguably the greatest coach the NBA has ever seen,” Malone said. “It speaks to the commitment that they have made to him here in San Antonio, the longevity. Pop is a tremendous coach and the greatest accomplishment is not just the success, but also the sustained success they’ve had over and over again.”
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No. 3: Timberwolves face life without LaVine — Just hours after learning they would be without guard Zach LaVine for the rest of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves had to play against the Memphis Grizzlies. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they had trouble finding the requisite motivation, as Jace Frederick writes:
No one likes to see a teammate go down. Karl-Anthony Towns said he cried after hearing the news. Many players took to Twitter to voice their support for the young guard.
Who knows, maybe that got the best of the Wolves for much of Saturday’s contest. After building a 31-15 lead against a Grizzlies team that sat three major contributors for planned rest days on Saturday, Minnesota was lackluster for the next two frames as Memphis rallied and built a lead that ballooned as big as 11 points in the third quarter.
A quick burst late in the third trimmed Minnesota’s deficit to just 69-67 going to the fourth, but Memphis pulled away late to beat the Wolves 107-99.
“It was a tough day, yeah, it was a tough day,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But we still have to be ready to play. We all felt the disappointment in it, but no one is going to feel sorry for us.”
The loss was Minnesota’s third straight and ended the Wolves’ recent run of success at Target Center. All momentum from the Wolves’ recent stretch of seven wins in 10 games seems to have dissipated.
Minnesota looked like a different team over the final three quarters. After recording 10 assists in the opening frame, the Wolves had 12 over the final three.
“The ball stopped moving,” Thibodeau said, “so that was a problem.”
“I think we came out in the first quarter with a lot to prove with Zach on our mind,” Towns said. “I don’t know, maybe we got worn down with emotion, but we just didn’t execute. For us, I think we used Zach as an inspiration in the first quarter, got to a big lead and then we got too comfortable.”
Thibodeau spoke to his team shortly after receiving news about LaVine before Saturday’s contest.
Thibodeau talked about the advances in medicine in recent years and the likelihood LaVine would return to form sooner rather than later.
“Every day you talk about the things that are important to the team,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, as I mentioned, how strongly they care about Zach and he’s a great teammate, and we have a really good group of guys. So we addressed that first.”
After that, the attention turned back to the floor.
“We talked about it as a team,” Thibodeau said. “You don’t replace a player like Zach individually. You have to do it collectively. It’s our group, we feel that we do have more than enough to win with.
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No. 4: Latest on Boogie — We’ve heard plenty of hints and rumors about DeMarcus Cousins perhaps being on the trade block, or perhaps being an untouchable piece. In a column today from Ailene Voisin, she says the Sacramento front office has differing ideas:
The plan of attack should be obvious by now. Divac should be immersed in conversations with those of his peers intrigued by Cousins and burning up his cellphone battery working over the skeptics. Celtics. Lakers. Cavs. Mavs. Suns. Magic. The list surely will expand before Feb. 23, with Boston, L.A. and Phoenix armed with an array of young assets to facilitate a prudent, deliberate, long overdue Kings rebuild.
“We don’t talk specifically about conversations with other teams,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough said Friday at G1C, “but I do inquire about any star player that either is available or we think is available, and we’ve built an asset base of draft picks and young players to work with. We have all of our own draft picks going forward, and we have two of Miami’s first-round picks. We also have $13 million in cap space available, so we’ve positioned ourselves to be in the mix for elite players, though it’s more likely to happen in the offseason. But we’re open to it. We’ve been patiently waiting.”
Speculation about a Cousins-Suns pairing generated such a buzz in Phoenix last week, the Arizona Central website polled its readers. Asked if the Suns should trade for Cousins, the 400 respondents replied accordingly: 43 percent voted yes, 32 percent said it depended upon the deal, 17 percent said no, and 8 percent said the Kings would not trade him.
If you are the Kings? Unless McDonough at least mentions Devin Booker’s name – and he didn’t – you table the chat for the next day and the day after that. A combination of T.J. Warren, Alex Len and at least one first-round pick is nothing more than an appetizer. But you keep calling. This is another grueling campaign. When they go low, the Kings need to go high.
And they have to stay on message. Within the past two weeks, three different team executives complained the Kings once again were sending mixed signals. Divac was receptive to moving Cousins, while Ranadive was still meddling and still leaning toward keeping Boogie.
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls assistant Randy Brown says he’s not eyes and ears for the front office … The Cavs reportedly aren’t in any hurry to sign one of the veterans they worked out last week … Cory Joseph is trying to play his way back into the lineup in Toronto … Kristaps Porzingis thinks he has a shot at winning the skills challenge at All-Star weekend … Zaza Pachulia’s son has clearly watched a lot of Warriors games