The return of a rivalry


The return of a rivalry

Last night, I tweeted about a brief run-in I had with Pau Gasol at a local Starbucks.

Heres the tweet:

@rich_levine: Just ran into Pau Gasol at Starbucks and jokingly asked if he was apartment hunting. He hadn't heard the Rondo rumor, so it was pretty awkward from there.

Just for fun, heres the full story:

It was about 5:30 pm, and I was sitting at a table, working (aka playing Words with Friends) with my back to the door. All of sudden, I felt this enormous presence.

I eventually saw him, too. But I felt him first. From the second he walked in you could just sense that there was a giant in the room.

When I looked up, my initial reaction was: Damn, that guys huge.

One second later it was: Hey wait, that guys Pau Gasol!

He was there with a friend looked like a trainer and the two stood, speaking Spanish, as they waited in line to order. After they did, his buddy went to the bathroom, leaving Gasol to wait for his Raspberry Passion Tea Lemonade about two steps from my table. (Just kidding, but that would have been amazing)

Anyway, about five minutes before he walked in, I'd been reading about the ridiculous Pau-for-Rondo rumor. I figured he'd heard about it, too. So I thought I'd be friendly and crack a joke:

Rich: "You here apartment hunting?"

Gasol: "Excuse me?"

Rich:: "Are you here apartment hunting?"

Gasol: "Uhhh"

Rich: "Oh sorry, man. I'm just joking about that crazy Rondo rumor."

Gasol: "Umm, which one is that?"

Rich: "Oh, you didn't hear? They have you being traded for Rondo now Never stops, right?"

He finally lightened up and let out a smile

Gasol: "Haha. Oh yeah. There are a lot rumors. But no, I'm not apartment hunting."

I laughed, threw my coffee at him and told him to get out of Boston.

Nah, I wished him luck. And that was that.

But then something interesting happened.

Gasol didn't leave.

When the coffee came, he and his buddy took their drinks, grabbed a table and just sat there talking for about 30 minutes. Right in the middle of a Starbucks in the heart of Boston.

I guess this shouldn't be a big deal. Maybe it means we've grown as a society. But I couldn't help but think: Would Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Michael Cooper or Kurt Rambis ever have felt comfortable hanging out like this in a Boston coffee shop?

Would Gasol himself have felt this comfortable even as recently as last year?

No way. So as Gasol sat there in peace aside from this one jerk who cracked a joke about trade rumors there was only one thought on my mind:

"Man, we're LONG overdue for a CelticsLakers game."

In reality, tomorrow marks exactly one year since the last meeting between these rivals, but doesn't it feel so much longer than that?

After all, the last time these two played, Kendrick Perkins was Boston's starting center and Phil Jackson was the Lakers coach. On top of that, Lamar Odom was the clear Sixth Man of the Year, Brandon Bass was Glen Davis and Metta World Peace was Ron Artest.

When they last met, the Celtics were 38-13 and a half game up on Miami in the East. The Lakers were 36-16, and second to only the surging Spurs in the West.

They were both on top of the world, on top of their games and, we thought, headed for their third Finals match-up in four years.

But it never happened, and since then, so much has changed. First, they were both eliminated, rather handedly, in the second round of the playoffs. Then the lockout came and choked the life out of the entire league. After that, both teams spent the abridged training camp stuck in Chris Paul drama. Consequently, each began the shortened regular season in shambles.

There was a time not so long ago, when the Lakers were all we really worried about here in Boston. Likewise, the Celtics were the chief concern out in LA. But in the year since that last meeting and even more in the 20 months since they met in the Finals that has certainly changed. For one, because each team has found plenty of internal issues to keep them occupied. And second, because these days, neither the Celtics nor the Lakers are a team that others particularly worry about. In one year, in the eyes of many, the once respective conference favorites are now barely contenders.

As a result, the build up to this year's LakersCeltics game hasn't been quite as intense as we've grown accustomed to these last four years. Sure, the hate's still there, but it's not overflowing.

Not yet.

But here's what's so great about this rivalry:

Once the ball goes up tonight, none of that other stuff matters. It doesn't matter that Perk's gone or Phil's gone or that both teams are currently more worried about staying above .500 than raising another banner.

Once it's on, it's on. And all the ill will that's been built up over the last few years the last 30 years the last 50 years will come soaring back. Just like it never left.

Call me crazy, but after tonight, win or lose, something tells me that Pau Gasol won't be so comfortable in a Boston area Starbucks.

That is, unless he's already been traded for Rondo.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Pregame number: Al Horford to the rescue


Pregame number: Al Horford to the rescue

Tonight’s pregame number to watch is 45.4%. That was the Celtics' score frequency on pick and rolls finished by the screener last season, which was the worst rate in the NBA.

Score Frequency: The percentage of possession in which the team or player scores at least 1 point.

The major problem for the Celtics last season was personnel, as Jared Sullinger finished the most pick and roll plays for the C’s after setting a screen, and he was -- to put it nicely -- freaking terrible. Sullinger was the second-worst roll/pop man in the league, averaging a paltry 0.87 points per possession.

Fortunately, the Celtics replaced Jared Sullinger with four-time All-Star Al Horford, who is one of the elite roll/pop men in the NBA. Last season, Horford finished fifth in the NBA averaging 1.13 points per possession as a roll/pop man and boasted a more than solid 57.1 eFG% on those plays. 

eFG% (Effective Field Goal Percentage): Measures field goal percentage adjusting for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. The equation is ((FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

If you watched the preseason, then you already know the kind of impact Horford can have on the Celtics half court offense. So keep an eye out for those pick and rolls tonight and throughout the season, and we should see that 45.4% Score Frequency jump somewhere closer to 50%.

Bills promise to retaliate if Patriots run through their warmups again


Bills promise to retaliate if Patriots run through their warmups again

FOXBORO -- The Patriots, led by Tom Brady, are looking to stay above the fray when it comes to any sort of extra-curricular back-and-forth with the Bills this week. 

The Bills? They appear ready to throw down -- or start a shoving match, or yell and scream at someone -- again at a moment's notice. 

Three Buffalo players were fined following their Week 4 win over the Patriots because they were involved in a scuffle with Patriots players and coaches after rookie Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett and rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell ran by a Bills warmup drill. 

A few defensive backs took exception to how close Brissett and Mitchell came to their area, and safety Robert Blanton shoved Brissett to get the scrap started. 

According to reports out of Buffalo, mulitple Bills players have insisted that they won't hesitate to retaliate if the Patriots buzz by their drills again.

Of course, the difference this time around will be that Brady will be the one who might jog by, not a rookie about to make his second NFL start. Would the Bills treat him the same way they'd treat a 20-something kid who is new to the league? 

Immediately after the Week 4 loss, Patriots players were not pleased by what happened before kickoff. Not only did what happened with Brissett not sit well with them, the fact that Patriots coaches were shoved by Bills players irked them as well.