30 years with Mike and Tommy

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30 years with Mike and Tommy

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

In honor of their 30th anniversary, heres a fun fact about the broadcast team of Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn:

Every once in a while, Tommy gets mad at the refs.

What happens is that at some point there will be a call that goes against the Celtics. Lets say Paul Pierce is guarding LeBron James out on the perimeter, and James takes Pierce to the hole (obviously a regular-season game). LeBron goes up, the whistle blows and its a foul on Pierce.

Tommy gets angry.

Maybe hell let out a loud Awwww! or take a deep breath and dramatically sigh into the microphone. Maybe hell get real animated, say something an official and excitably ask for the replay.

But whatever he does, its not an act.

Even though Tommys on TV, when it comes to plays like this, its not about the camera. Hes just a guy who really loves the Celtics. He loves them more than you do. Its been 55 years since he made his debut with the franchise, and over that time hes played, coached, covered, lived and died with the Green. Hes had a hand in all 17 championships.

Imagine how insane it would be if Paul Pierce was still affiliated with the Celtics in the year 2050 . . .

In 2050, he still wouldnt have as many years in green as Tommy does now.

Heinsohn might be the Celtics color commentator, but hes also their living history. So when the Celtics are screwed by a bad call, Tommys offended.

At which point, Mike Gorman steps in.

Gorman teamed up with Tommy in 1981, the same year Danny Ainge joined the Celtics, and three years into the career of Larry Bird. And while building his relationship with Heinsohn, Gorman a lifelong Celtics fan had the good fortune of broadcasting one of the most memorable stretches in NBA history. The Big 3, Celtics vs. Lakers, Bird vs. Magic, 1986!

I was born in 1980, so I dont remember too much about Gormans early years with Tommy and the Celtics. But Ive been able to relive a lot of them through Bird.

Gormans voice is the soundtrack to so many great Bird highlights. The crazy shots and buzzer beater that well continue to watch over and over until the aliens invade.

Like that game against the Blazers in January of 1985.

The Cs are down one with two seconds left. Bird runs to get the inbound pass on the baseline, but by the time he catches it hes already stuck; double-teamed in the corner by Jerome Kersey and Clyde Drexler. Bird fakes once, which doesnt do much, and then takes one dribble, fades back and throws up an off balance heave from behind the back board (one step in front of the three-point-line). SWISH, and the Celtics win.

Larrys momentum sends him into the front row, and as he emerges from the crowd, fans draped all over him, Gorman adds the kicker:

ALLLLL-RIIIGHT!!

It was during moments like that when his genuine love for the team really showed. Short, quick but 100 percent natural phrases like Got it! or Yeah-EH! that never overshadowed the action, but always captured the emotion. Gorman wasnt reciting zingers hed written in his hotel room the night before; he and Tommy were sitting next to you on the couch. He reacted the same way you did. And over time, that caught on.

In fact, as the face of the Celtics changed with the retirement of the Big Three and the death of Reggie Lewis, Mike and Tommy were the two constants. (Later, there was a brief scare when that guy with the gray goatee stepped in for Mike, but it was just a false alarm.)

The Celtics had eight straight losing seasons after Reggie died. There were a couple real bad ones in there, too Acie Earl and Eric Montross can do that to you. Mike and Tommy were the two voices assigned to guide you through that awful mess, and for eight straight seasons, they somehow did it. I never thought jinxing free throws would be that much fun, but I laughed every time.

That was most of the 90s.

The surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals 02, gave the team a little momentum, and the new and improved Mike and Tommy, now 20 years fine-tuning their connection with the city and understanding of each other, were ready to take it to another level.

Both these ideas existed before the 2002 playoff run, but it was that stretch that took I love Walter from cult following to borderline epidemic, and turned Tommy Points into an actual, sponsored award.

By then, Gorman had mastered the art of playing Tommys straight man. He knew how to play off Tommy's passion while steering the ship back on course. He learned the questions to best draw out Tommys years of basketball knowledge, and Tommy still had that all fresh in the holster. Both of them were well-versed in Celtics history, but now they had a whole bunch of history that theyd experienced together. Which wed experienced with them. You didnt just watch the Celtics on TV. You also watched Mike and Tommy. It was a show within a show, and they both nailed the parts.

When the Celtics bottomed out in 2006-2007, they sent Heinsohn to the lottery to pick up Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. He was the face of the franchise. Meanwhile, as they announced the picks, Gorman wasnt at home on the couch or stuffed into the media room. He was with Doc. He was on the inside. Mike Gorman was a Celtic, and continues to be.

Obviously, that was an awful night for the team, but a few months later everything changed. In August, after the deals for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett had been made, Gorman was on his way to an event at the State House, and ran into some traffic:

"I was running a little late and there were about six cars in front of me who were all going to take a right," he said that fall. "I wanted to go straight. So I swung out into the passing line to go by the cars and about three cars into it, out stepped a state trooper from the sidewalk. He put his hand up to stop me. I was putting down my window thinking, 'What am I going to say?' and he got about 10 feet away and said, 'What do you need, Mike?'

I wanted to pick up the phone and call Wyc and say, 'We're back!' "

And they have been ever since.

Through another title run, two trips to the Finals and another playoff push ahead, the latest era of Celtics dominance is still going strong, and for the 30th year, Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn are the guys talking us all through it, putting on a show and having a hell of a time doing it.

The faces and voices of the team they love, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Unless maybe you're an NBA ref.

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

Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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From now until the opening of training camp, we'll be asking a question about the Celtics and the upcoming season. Today: Is the honeymoon over for coach Brad Stevens?
 
BOSTON – When the Celtics convinced Brad Stevens to leave behind an incredibly successful college coaching career at Butler (two national title runner-up finishes) to become their head coach in 2013, the Celtics were immediately credited with having added one of the brightest young basketball minds to the family.
 
Three years into the job and Stevens has shown tangible improvement with Boston having won more games from each season to the next.
 
But this 2016-2017 campaign will be unlike any that Stevens has had while at the helm in Boston.
 
While the expectations each year have been greater than their immediate predecessor, Boston now finds itself going into the season as one of the hunted in the East as opposed to being well entrenched among the hunters.
 
Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook released its win total odds last week for NBA teams., predicting the Celtics (51.5) will be one of five teams (Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers were the others) expected to win at least 50 games.
 
But as we all have seen, expectations and actual results don’t always mesh.
 
Stevens has enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from the franchise and fans throughout his first three seasons.
 
But if Boston fails to live up to the increased expectations, does that mean the honeymoon for Stevens is over?
 
While anything is possible when it comes to Celtics Nation, it will take more than one sub-par season for him to lose the support of the team’s fan base.
 
Here are three reasons why regardless of how the Celtics fare this season, "In Brad we trust" will remain in effect.
 
YOUNG NUCLEUS
 
Boston has a roster full of what league execs like to refer to as "Young Veterans."
 
A great example of this is 27-year-old Isaiah Thomas who is heading into his sixth NBA season.
 
Thomas, a first-time all-star last year, has seen enough of the league to not be confused with a youngster. That said, he’s still young and has enough upside to where you can’t classify him as a grizzled veteran, either.
 
Because that makes up the majority of this Celtics roster, it speaks volumes about how this group still has a tremendous amount of room to grow going forward.
 
And because of that potential and Stevens’ track record of getting the most out of his players, you won’t see him or the Celtics panic if this season doesn’t play out the way they envision it.
 
STRONG FOUNDATION
 
In Stevens’ first year coaching the Celtics, there was a definite talent gap between what Boston put on the floor and what they had to deal with on the opposing bench.
 
And yet there they were most nights, fighting and clawing their way towards a competitive game that no most nights ended with a loss.
 
The silver lining in that 25-win season was how this Celtics team played with a never-give-up mentality, a trait they saw first-hand from their coach Brad Stevens.
 
Regardless of whether they were up 25 points or trailing, Stevens maintained an even-keeled demeanor that quietly accomplished a number of things.
 
For starters, it provided a sense of confidence among the players that their head coach wasn’t going to get rattled by a rough night or a stretch of rough nights.
 
Regardless of the results, Stevens was going to continue working towards getting better.
 
That was his approach when they were struggling to win games, and it remained in place last season when they spent a good chunk of the year ranked among the top teams in the East.
 
So with that being established as part of the foundation under Stevens, that foundation combined with better talent collectively led to more wins.
 
EVEN-KEELED LEADERSHIP
 
Stevens and the Celtics are now at a crossroads in which the steady improvement we’ve seen now must take that all-important next step and become one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
 
Again, it is much easier said than done but as every Celtics player will tell you, is definitely doable.
 
While Cleveland remains the standard bearer in the East, it is very wide open afterwards with Boston, Toronto and Atlanta the most likely teams to contend for the No. 2 spot in the East.
 
The mood is always a positive, upbeat one on the eve of training camp.
 
But the Celtics have more reasons than usual to be optimistic about their upcoming season which kicks off with training camp this week.
 
They have better depth with the additions of rookie Jaylen Brown and veterans Gerald Green and four time all-star Al Horford. Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all return with the mindset being to build off of what worked for them last season.
 
And then there’s Stevens who has quickly established himself as a bright, up-and-comer in the coaching world.
 
But at some point, all that promise and potential he has shown as a coach has to ultimately lead to big-time production.
 
And the pressure that comes with that tends to build when the honeymoon that all coaches enjoy, is officially over.
 
Stevens is getting close to that point, but he isn’t there yet.
 
Much of his success will still be based on players striving towards reaching their potential.
 
Because of that, he won’t catch too much heat if the team underachieves in what will be a season in which the expectations have never been higher.
 
But that’s OK.
 
Because regardless of how the stakes may be, Stevens will continue to be an even-keeled, level-headed leader that Celtics Nation won’t turn its back on anytime soon.

NBA Question of the Day: How will Ben Simmons do?

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NBA Question of the Day: How will Ben Simmons do?

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From now until NBA training camps open, we'll be asking questions about the league and its upcoming season. Today: How will No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons do with the Philadelphia 76ers?

BOSTON – If you spent any time watching Ben Simmons beyond the 10-15 second highlights late at night, you would have seen a player whose potential as an NBA star is kind of scary.
 
There’s having size as a playmaker, and then there’s the 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons, who is as close to being a Magic Johnson clone, from a playmaking standpoint, as we’ve seen since the original 30-plus years ago.
 
Still, the Sixers of today will never, ever be confused with the 1980 Lakers.
 
The supporting cast was in place to help facilitate Johnson’s transition from college stud to NBA superstar.
 
In the case of Simmons, his success will be heavily predicated on two specific circumstances being created by the Sixers in order to fully take advantage of his strengths as a player.
 
WHERE DOES HE PLAY?
 
As tempting as it might be to have a 6-10 point guard on the floor, the Sixers know they can’t do that.
 
And the reason is pretty simple.
 
The reason you don’t see 6-10 (or 6-9 or 6-8 for that matter) point guards is because in order to play the position they have to be able to defend it, too.
 
Can you imagine Simmons trying to guard Isaiah Thomas with regularity for a game?

And if you get into the habit of cross-matching up all game long, it just opens a Pandora’s box of potential defensive gaffes with players either trying too hard to compensate for one another, or not recognizing when to help.
 
Simmons’ court vision is too great to not at least position him to be something of a point-forward. The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to do that with Giannis Antetokounmpo which thus far, has produced mixed results.
 
Regardless, the Sixers have to get the ball in Simmons’ hands and position him to make plays for his teammates. For all of his strengths, playmaking is what makes him a special talent. To not play to that strength and help him develop that even more so, would be stupid. 
 
 
WHO DOES HE PLAY WITH?
 
Philadelphia will once again lose a lot of games this season and that can certainly wear on the psyche of a young player like Simmons. It becomes even tougher when he’s making the right plays, getting the ball to guys where they can be most effective and the results are missed shot after missed shot.
 
It is absolutely imperative that the Sixers surround him with nice mix of guys who can shoot and/or finish at the rim.
 
Because with Simmons’ size and court vision, players with those skills as strengths will get opportunities to do what they do best.
 
Last season, the Sixers were in the bottom-10 in 3-point shooting (33.9 percent, 24th in the NBA) and field goal percentage (43.1 percent, 29th).
 
But here’s one of the dilemmas Philadelphia is facing.
 
They want to play faster which they were able to do last season as their PACE (number of possessions per 48 minutes) of 100.23 was the sixth-best in the NBA.
 
But this roster isn’t built to run a lot AND be effective offensively.
 
Look at last season.
 
They ran as much as any team in the NBA, and yet the Sixers had a league-worst offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 96.6.
 
And all that running seemed to wear them down more than their foes.
 
Their defensive rating was 106.7 which ranked 25th in the league.
 
With Simmons likely to start at small forward, he’ll be joined by Nerlens Noel and either Jahlil Okafor or Joel Embiid in the frontcourt. Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell and Sergio Rodriguez are fighting to be the starting point guard. 

There are a number of directions Philadelphia can go at shooting guard (Hollis Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot), none of which are great choices frankly.
 
And while there’s no lineup that will fit perfectly with Simmons’ game, there are several that could make his rookie experience a horrible one not only in terms of wins and losses, but also in his overall growth and development as a player.
 
And let’s be clear about something.

If the Sixers are going to ever become relevant in the NBA other than being a punching bag for other teams and an easy punchline for late-night comedians, Simmons is going to have to be that game-changer.
 
Indeed, he is the best hope to be the unifying force for a Sixers franchise that has lots of quality pieces that, for now at least, don’t have a natural fit.