Rivers: Smith, Rondo both leaders, but Rondo's path tougher

976565.jpg

Rivers: Smith, Rondo both leaders, but Rondo's path tougher

ATLANTA There's rarely a day that passes where there isn't a story out there about an NBA player beefing with his head coach, having a run-in with a teammate or some other knuckle-head like act being committed.

For years, Atlanta's Josh Smith was among the players you could lump into that category.

But this season, the 27-year-old is showing the kind of growth and maturity on and off the court that has helped elevate the Hawks' status and his stature as a leader.

Smith comes into tonight's game against the Celtics averaging 17 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.45 steals. In addition to stuffing the stat sheet with all those numbers, the 6-foot-9 Smith is also averaging 2.31 blocks per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

He is the only player in the top-10 blocked shots leaders who is under 6-10.

"Numbers-wise, he's an all-star," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "From what I know, he just seems like he's been a leader, a positive influence on the team. No emotional hijacks, he's been phenomenal for their team."

Smith evolving into a leader is in some ways similar to that of Boston's Rajon Rondo, Smith's former teammate at Oak Hill Academy.

"I think we still forget he (Smith) was young when he came to the league," said Rivers, referring to Smith being 18 years old when the Hawks drafted the Georgia native with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft. "It takes time. Not only the basketball part, but your maturity and your leadership and all that. So it looks like he's getting it."

And while Rivers agrees that there are similarities in the maturation of Smith and Rondo, he's convinced that the road Rondo has had to go has been tougher.

"Rondo's the point guard of the team, a team that has not just Hall of Famers, but HALL OF FAMERS!" Rivers said. "You're talking about Paul (Pierce), Kevin (Garnett) and (former Celtic) Ray (Allen) and you're the guy that has to tell them, 'no you can't have the ball this time.' That's hard for someone, anyone. I just think it's a little different. But in a lot of ways it's the same with their youth."

Brady allows himself to enjoy win: '[Bleep], you've got to be happy now'

Brady allows himself to enjoy win: '[Bleep], you've got to be happy now'

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady can be his own worst critic. That's why last week, after beating the Texans in the Divisional Round to move on to the AFC title game, he wasn't thrilled. He didn't play up to his standards. The offense struggled at points. He wore his frustration like a five o'clock shadow.

Winning is not everything for Brady, most weeks. He has an idea of how he should perform, how the Patriots offense should perform, and when those ideals aren't met, he's generally displeased. 

PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17

On Sunday, after beating up on the Steelers, 36-17, that wasn't the case. It was a sound performance, but it wasn't perfect. It was explosive at times, but it shined a light on areas where the Patriots will need to continue to improve. 

Despite its imperfections, Sunday was no time to brood about plays missed or lessons learned the hard way. Screw it, Brady seemed to say. They were going to the Super Bowl. It was OK to smile.  

"It was a good day," Brady said. "I mean, we're going to the Super Bowl, man. [Expletive], you've got to be happy now."

The Super Bowl berth is the ninth in franchise history -- more than any other club -- and the seventh with Brady and coach Bill Belichick. By throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns on 32-of-42 passing, Brady tied Joe Montana for the most postseason games (nine) with three touchdown passes. 

Brady will also claim the record for Super Bowls played when he and the Patriots head to Houston. And if they win, he'll tie Charles Haley for most Super Bowl wins for a player (five).

Those are lofty numbers made even more significant, perhaps, due to the fact that Brady wasn't allowed to start this season as his team's quarterback. He was asked during Sunday's postgame press conference if it was personally satisfying to get back to the Super Bowl despite having to serve a four-game suspension due to Deflategate.

"Well, that's because of the hard work of a lot of people from my coaches to my teammates to our families that support us," he said. "It takes a lot of people, a lot of hard work and a lot of effort over the course of many months. This didn't start at 6:40 tonight.

"This thing started in April. It really started before that in free-agency when we were picking up guys like [Chris] Hogan and drafting guys like Malcolm Mitchell and guy who were in rehab like [LeGarrette Blount] and [Dion Lewis] and [James Develin] and Nate [Solder]. It's a lot of hard work. There are only two teams left standing, and I'm happy we're one of them."

They're going to the Super Bowl. He has to be happy now.