Levine: Focus on what's in front of us

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Levine: Focus on what's in front of us

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Back in 2007, the Celtics didn't face a legitimate NBA contender until the ninth game of the season, when they went down to Orlando and lost 104-102 in overtime.

In the eight games prior, the C's went undefeated, but during that stretch needed overtime to beat the eventual 41-41 Raptors, and also narrowly edged the Heat who would finish with the worst record in the NBA (15-67) by one point at the Garden.

This after a preseason where the C's shared a life-changing trip through Italy, were unscathed in the injury department, and had already found and entirely embraced the magic of Ubuntu.

After the loss to Orlando, the C's earned an inspired win a week later against the Lakers, but then lost their first game against the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers, and then lost their first game against the powerhouse Pistons.

I think you get my point. But just in case, here it is.

From the Celtics perspective, Miami's struggles, in the first game of its own Big Three era, will have very little effect on the course of this NBA season. The Heat weren't a team on Tuesday night; they were just 15 guys wearing the same uniform. They were awkward, disjointed and all together out of whack. The fact that, despite all this, the C's still found themselves in a one-possession game with a minute left to play might be a little disconcerting, but, hey, it was their first game, too. And anyway, they came through at the end as we learned in June, that's really, and sometimes unfortunately, all that matters.

But the point is that the squad Boston saw on Tuesday is not the same one it will see a few Thursdays from now in Miami or on February 13 back in Boston or, very likely, in the playoffs this May. So while there's every reason to celebrate the C's memorable, if not entirely aesthetically pleasing, start to the new season, let's celebrate it for the right reasons.

Not because it means that LeBron and Wade won't click, or that Bosh is a bust or the Heat bench can't hack it or that Pat Riley should "Stan Van Gundy" Erik Spoelstra. Is there a chance all that comes to fruition? Sure. But it's just as likely that 'Bron and Wade learn to compliment each other, Bosh embraces his role, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers stabilize the Heat bench and Spoelstra becomes the next Pat Riley. We have no clue.

So, let's just take the opponent out entirely I know that's hard, and not nearly as fun and focus on all the positives that are there, and will remain, regardless of which team is on the other side.

Positives like Kevin Garnett, who didn't finish with the prettiest of box scores 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting, 10 rebounds and 7 turnovers but showed flashes of energy and athleticism that can't help but get us excited for what he's now capable of, a full 17 months removed from surgery. As crazy as it sounds, for me the most inspiring play of KG's night actually came on a missed dunk. It was at the 3:50 mark in the second quarter, when Paul Pierce missed from three-point range, the ball clanked off the rim and Garnett exploded the kind of explosion we hadn't seen since before his injury grabbed the rock in one motion, at the height of his leap, and attempted to ferociously send it home. Again, he missed the dunk. But the move was a thing of beauty.

Positives like Glen Davis, who it seems, will be a staple of Boston's crunch-time unit. Last night, Big Baby found the perfect mix of aggression on the offensive end taking it to the hoop, taking that open jumper, establishing himself as a threat while still keeping within the framework. He played 29 minutes (more than he played in any game last season), had 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, five rebounds, no turnovers and still takes a charge better than anyone else on the team.

It's always dangerous to get too high on Davis. His history of questionable off-the-court instincts and unstable emotions will always linger. But with this being a contract year, and with him being year older and wiser, he's apt to develop into the most consistent weapon on an already impressive bench.

Same goes for Marquis Daniels, who showed us last year how quickly things can go south but seems to have embraced his second chance with the C's. So far this season, it's been the New Adventures of the Old Marquis. He's been everything Boston thought it was getting when it signed him in the summer of '09. The eight points were nice, and they came in the manner you expect from "The Old" Marquis. The C's didn't run any plays for him, or even have to worry about getting him involved; he does that by being his tenacious self. The big takeaway with Daniels was his defense; the way he stepped up and checked Wade when the starters were on the bench. If the Celtics are going to miss Tony Allen this season, that's where it will be in helping out on the other team's top shooting guard or small forward but for one night, that wasn't an issue. That's thanks to Daniels.

Ray Allen's long-range shooting and Paul Pierce stepping up in the clutch were two other bright if not entirely surprising spots, but the night's biggest positive has to be Rajon Rondo.

Could any other guard in this league have a 2-for-9 shooting night yet still dominate a game the way Rondo did? Could any other point guard drop 17 assists without anyone noticing? Could any other player go an entire night with the defense playing five feet off of him yet still get to the basket when he needed to?

Listening to Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal talk about Rondo after the game, it was like they just went through a religious experience. And you get the sense that might be a common theme as the year goes on. Rondo's the fastest guy on the court, but he still sees the game in slow motion. He sees things other guys don't. And that vision is only expanding each night. It's going to be fun.

And honestly, so was watching the Celtics bring the new Big Three back down to Earth; a lot of fun. But in looking at the big picture, I'll get a lot more satisfaction in what the Celtics did, as opposed to what the Heat didn't.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

BOSTON – This is not how this is supposed to work.

When the regular season ends for high draft picks, there’s usually a nice, warm island awaiting their arrival in late-April when the regular season ends.

But this was no typical rookie season for Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

And as we have seen, Brown isn’t your typical rookie.

Drafted with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-7 Brown found himself in the rotation on a Celtics team that advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before having their season end at the hands of the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The path towards individual and team success is littered with struggles and potholes of strife along with the pain of disappointment cluttering up things as well.

From within that rubble lies promise; the kind that has Celtics Nation justifiably excited about the future of Brown with the Celtics.

But Brown isn’t about the future, folks.

“I’m excited about the now,” he said. “I’m excited about this summer. I try not to look too far ahead. Everybody talks about the future and how much potential we have; I’m worried about the now. I want to be part of the now. That’s all I’m focused on.”

That kind of focus is among the many reasons that despite being a rookie, his teammates quickly sensed that the now-20-year-old had his sights set on not just talking about cracking the rotation but actually putting in the work that would leave head coach Brad Stevens no choice but to play him.

“He’s going to be really good,” said Boston’s Gerald Green. “If he keeps his same mentality; he’s humble. And continue to work on his game and continue to learn.

Green added, “he couldn’t be in a better place, than being here. With his talent and his work ethic, he’s going to be great.”

But like most rookies, Brown’s play was anything but a steady on-the-rise movement.

His first NBA start came on the road at Cleveland on Nov. 3.

Boston lost the game, but Brown won over many with his career-high 19 points while spending a good deal of the night guarding LeBron James.

In his next four games, Brown scored a total of just 17 points.

And in Boston’s first-round series with Chicago, Brown's role shrunk in the last four games – all Celtics wins. In those games, he played a total of just under 10 minutes.

So what did he do?

He got back in the gym, continued to work on his game and do a better job at making the most of the minutes he received.

More than anything else, Brown attributes his improved play as the season progressed to simply figuring out the NBA landscape as far as what he could do and what he needed to work on, to get better.

Which is why there are many who believe that Brown will be a much better player than the one we saw this season.

That said, he still had decent numbers – 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, coming into the NBA,” Brown said. “Throughout the year, I don’t think people expected me to contribute as much as I did. Now just getting to the Eastern  Conference finals and losing, it builds a hunger you know;  I have a bad taste in my mouth. Gotta put in work during the offseason and come back stronger.”

Like Brown, Al Horford came into the NBA as a high draft pick who wound up in the playoffs that rookie season.

Horford can totally relate to Brown’s comments about not knowing what he was getting into.

“The first year you’re really feeling everything out,” Horford said. “Jaylen has an understanding now of what the league is about. It’s a lot for a rookie to handle. Now he has a better idea (so) he can just focus on getting better, working on his game and I expect him to be much better his second year.”

Brown will have the knowledge gained from being part of a team that came within three wins of getting to the NBA Finals.

To come that close is tough to accept, but Brown sees it all as part of a bigger plan for him and his role with the Celtics moving forward.

“I can use it as fuel. I’ve been learning all year,” Brown said. “I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, I’ve had opportunities, I’ve had mistakes. So I’ve been learning and growing and improving all year and I’m going to continue to grow and improve and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong.”

And that process Brown speaks of has certainly been aided by being in a successful situation like Boston compared to some other lottery picks who saw lots of playing time but showed minimal growth playing lots of minutes.

“Being on a winning team and developing good habits, learning how to win, play the game the right way … learning that at a young age is really going to help me,” Brown said. “A lot of young guys, they don’t learn that early. They have to figure it out three, four, five years in. I’m happy I learned it now.”

And while the learning will continue on for Brown during this offseason, it won’t be nearly as tough now than it was when he came into the league.

“I know exactly what I’m preparing for,” Brown said. “I expect a really different result.”

Brown added, “I want to be ready for whatever is thrown at me; no excuses whatsoever.”

Now that’s how this is supposed to work!