Kobe loves Rajon

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Kobe loves Rajon

Last year, right around this time, then-Pacers GM and always-Celtics deity Larry Bird was a guest on Bill Simmons podcast. If you somehow missed it, you can listen right here, and you most definitely should.

Seriously, what are you waiting for?

Anyway, the one part of Bill and Larry's conversation that's always stuck with me is the following:

Simmons: If you could choose any current player that you'd like to play a season with, who would it be?

Bird: "Well, probably Kobe, because of the fact that ... well, of course he wouldn't have been shooting as much as he does now ... but his desire to win, his dedication, to always get better, uh, and he's just, he's just tough. He's just a tough cat."

At the time, for obvious reasons, Bird's answer shocked me. Kobe? A Laker? How could he? After all he'd been through with the Celtics . . . After all the hate he'd fostered for the Purple and Gold . . .

Of course, I understand him respecting Kobe's game, but I figured Bryant would be the guy that Bird would want to compete against, not play with.

But hey, what can you do? Get mad at Larry Bird? I don't think so. If anything, it just increased the level of respect I have for Kobe. In fact, since hearing Bird's answer, I feel like I've come to better understand what Bryant's all about, what makes him tick, and why, although he's certainly not void of criticism, he's far more deserving of our admiration.

Anyway, I was reminded of this whole story last night, when Bryant sent out this tweet to his more than 1M followers:
Gotta give well wishes to Rondo. One of my fav players in the world. My prayers r with u lil bro. I'm here if u need me respect Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 28, 2013Of all people, right?

And it's not like Kobe just said, "Get well soon, buddy." Even that would have been enough to get your attention. To leave you thinking, "Oh, wow. I can't believe Kobe would reach out to Rondo like that." But what he actually said is mind-blowing.

Of course, Kobe doesn't see Rondo every day. In fact, he's only played against him in two NBA Finals, and then twice a year in games that qualify as two of the biggest in any Celtics season. For that reason, he's likely only seen motivated Rondo. Focused Rondo. The Rondo that we all know can go toe-to-toe with just about anyone in the game. Would Kobe say the same thing if he shared a locker room with No. 9? Would KG and Pierce call Rondo "one of my fav players in the world"?

I think they'd say something along those lines, although probably not as emphatically. Then again, in terms of attitude and perception, Rondo's probably more like Kobe than he is Pierce or Garnett.

And while some might consider that a bad thing, I know one guy who would disagree.

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

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.