CelticsLakers: Two games in one

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CelticsLakers: Two games in one

There are two story lines that I want to avoid in the aftermath of last nights Celtics victory.

1. Is Boston better without Rajon Rondo?

Thats because if I think about the answer for even five more seconds, my eyes and all my teeth are going to fall out. Seriously, my teeth. You understand.

2. What does the future hold for Kevin Garnett?

Thats because the answer is unchanged, and unchanging. If it's up to me, then I'm going to retire a Celtic, Garnett said last night. Well, guess what? Its up to him. Hes going to retire a Celtic.

With those two out of the way, there were two other story lines at work last night, and Im trying to decide which one is more important. (OK, thats lie. Ive already decided. But I want to lay them both out before announcing where I stand.)

The first story line is about right now. It's about a team thats won six straight to climb three games over .500 and back into Eastern Conference playoff race.

The second storyline is about . . . well, pretty much forever. Its about one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports, jam-packed with players and personalities that will go down as some of the greatest in NBA history.

The first story line features the Celtics playing their best basketball of the season despite every reason that would support them doing the opposite. It leaves them only a game and a half behind Atlanta for the sixth seed and only three games behind the Bulls for home court advantage in the first round.

The second story line features numerous moments during last night's game when I looked out on the court and couldn't help but think: "Wow. Kobe Bryant. Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce. Steve Nash. The remnants of Dwight Howard. This is the kind of thing I'll tell my kids and grandkids about. This is serious NBA history."

The first story line is powered by one of the most memorable and exciting runs of the Celtics season. A dominating stretch over the last seven minutes of the third quarter which quickly turned an 11-point lead into 26, and just about knocked the Lakers unconscious.

The second story line focuses on what went through everyone's mind at least one point during the crazy run: "This feels just like 2008." Game 6, to be exact. And while that's both a sad and completely ridiculous comparison given what was at stake last night, that's still how it felt.

The first story line wants to talk about Paul Pierce leading the way during that unbelievable stretch; scoring 11 of his 24 points and adding three assists over the seven-minute span. It's interested in Pierce continuing to step up in ways that many believed he was no longer capable, and suddenly looking like a guy who might be able to carry this team, even if it's just for one more year.

The second story line can't stop obsessing over how that third quarter ended for Pierce on top of the key, with everyone cleared out, going one-on-one with Kobe Bryant. Pierce vs. Kobe. How often do we get to see that? How many times will we ever see it again? Pierce missed the shot, which was unfortunate (or maybe fortunate because otherwise the Garden would have spontaneously combusted), but the image of him and Kobe facing off like that will stick around for a while. It was great. And regardless of the score, you could tell they both enjoyed it.

The first story line follows Kevin Garnett, who's moving better, and doing so more consistently than he has all season. Still affecting the game in ways that only he can. The first story line is blown away by the fact that that Garnett's the one who looked 27 years old last night, while Dwight Howard operated with the explosiveness and passion of a worn down 18-year vet.

The second story line has only one number in mind: 25,000 and the reaction in the Garden after Garnett achieved a level of success shared by only 15 NBA players before him. It's about Pierce standing on the sideline during the ensuing time out and leading the crowd in a long ovation, in celebration of 25K but also everything KG has done for this team and city. It's Garnett finally after Doc was done speaking standing up and thanking the crowd with a wave and a series of salutes before shaking off the excitement and going back to work.

But seriously, check out this list: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Dominique Wilkins, John Havlicek, Alex English, Reggie Miller and Jerry West.

That's the company that Garnett will now keep within the annals of NBA history. And when you consider that only six of those 15 players finished with as many rebounds as Garnett currently has, and that none of those six can match his career assist total, you realize just what a legendary figure this guy is. Literally one of the best athletes and greatest leaders to ever wear an NBA uniform.

And last night alone, this legend was out there with Kobe Bryant, who's already scored 30,000 points, has five rings and won't be satisfied until he's passed Michael Jordan in both categories.

With Pierce, who's currently 1,497 points short of 25K, but an all-time great either way. Even if he doesn't finish with a ring count that's comparable to other Celtics legends, The Truth's imprint on the record books is only matched by Havlicek. As of this morning, Pierce is the Celtics all-time leader in three-pointers made, free throws made and steals. He's second all-time in points scored. Third in games played. Third in minutes. Fourth in assists. Fourth in blocks. And seventh in rebounds. (Quick reminder that blocks weren't a real stat during the Russell Years so he's not included on the list.)

With Steve Nash, one of five players in NBA history with 10,000 career assists. One of two players with a career foul shooting percentage in the 90s. One of only 14 players and one of only two point guards to win multiple MVP awards. One of the most unique players in recent NBA history, and a future Hall of Famer.

With Dwight Howard, who

OK, I'm not exactly sure what to say about Howard right now, because the whole thing is just depressing. There are no good guys. It's all bad guys. And through all the drama, it's fair to wonder if this might be the beginning of the end for Howard. For years, he existed almost exclusively on his superhuman size, strength and athletic ability. He was an unstoppable and indestructible force. Do you know how many games Howard missed during his first seven seasons? Eight. He played in 566 of 574 games.

Then he missed 12 last year after back surgery. He's missed six this year between his back and shoulder. During an interview with Stephen A. Smith last week, Howard admitted that he can't even sit down anymore without his legs going numb. He's falling apart. And all that's left is a big guy with an aching body and limited basketball skills.

Will he ever be the same again?

I don't know. But he's still a Hall of Famer. There were five of them out there last night. And the second story line doesn't want to take that for granted. Seriously, how cool is that? And just think how much cooler the memories will be in another five, 10 or 20 years.

Smack!

The first story line slaps you in the face and brings you back to 2013. To a team that continues to defy odds and turn heads in the wake of losing their All-Star point guard and most dominant rebounder. The first story line wonders how the Celtics can possibly maintain this success. Whether Pierce and Garnett who could barely run up and down the court a few weeks ago can keep everything together between now and April and still have enough for another long playoff run. Has Jeff Green officially turned the corner? Courtney Lee, too? Can the Celtics count on Avery Bradley or is it just a matter of time before another injury stirkes?

Has this team come together for good, or are they maybe peaking too early?

These are somewhat serious and sobering questions, but on the bright side, it's pretty cool that these questions actually matter again. That the Celtics have come back from the dead for roughly the 39th time in the last six years and have brought fun, inspiring and team-oriented basketball back to Boston. That we can at least entertain the idea of them making noise in the playoffs.

Can they win it all? Probably not. It's very unlikely. But even in the worst-case scenario, the second story line puts everything in perspective and can help ease at least some of the pain.

In turn, we can go back to screaming about what's really important:

ARE THE CELTICS BETTER WITHOUT RAJON RONDO?

I need your final answer in five seconds. 5, 4, 3 . . .

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

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Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

During our series discussing the 1986 Boston Celtics, we have sat down with many players from that championship, along with members of the media that were close to the team.

This week features a few of the opponents that were very familiar with the 1980’s Celtics  - Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins, former Celtics coach (and Hawk) Doc Rivers, and Lakers great James Worthy.

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

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Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.

Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.

But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.

In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.

“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”

That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.

Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.

“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.

From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.

“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”

Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.

“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”

“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”

It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.

“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”

Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.

“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”

Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.

“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.