Boston Bruins

CelticsLakers: Two games in one

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CelticsLakers: Two games in one

There are two story lines that I want to avoid in the aftermath of last nights Celtics victory.

1. Is Boston better without Rajon Rondo?

Thats because if I think about the answer for even five more seconds, my eyes and all my teeth are going to fall out. Seriously, my teeth. You understand.

2. What does the future hold for Kevin Garnett?

Thats because the answer is unchanged, and unchanging. If it's up to me, then I'm going to retire a Celtic, Garnett said last night. Well, guess what? Its up to him. Hes going to retire a Celtic.

With those two out of the way, there were two other story lines at work last night, and Im trying to decide which one is more important. (OK, thats lie. Ive already decided. But I want to lay them both out before announcing where I stand.)

The first story line is about right now. It's about a team thats won six straight to climb three games over .500 and back into Eastern Conference playoff race.

The second storyline is about . . . well, pretty much forever. Its about one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports, jam-packed with players and personalities that will go down as some of the greatest in NBA history.

The first story line features the Celtics playing their best basketball of the season despite every reason that would support them doing the opposite. It leaves them only a game and a half behind Atlanta for the sixth seed and only three games behind the Bulls for home court advantage in the first round.

The second story line features numerous moments during last night's game when I looked out on the court and couldn't help but think: "Wow. Kobe Bryant. Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce. Steve Nash. The remnants of Dwight Howard. This is the kind of thing I'll tell my kids and grandkids about. This is serious NBA history."

The first story line is powered by one of the most memorable and exciting runs of the Celtics season. A dominating stretch over the last seven minutes of the third quarter which quickly turned an 11-point lead into 26, and just about knocked the Lakers unconscious.

The second story line focuses on what went through everyone's mind at least one point during the crazy run: "This feels just like 2008." Game 6, to be exact. And while that's both a sad and completely ridiculous comparison given what was at stake last night, that's still how it felt.

The first story line wants to talk about Paul Pierce leading the way during that unbelievable stretch; scoring 11 of his 24 points and adding three assists over the seven-minute span. It's interested in Pierce continuing to step up in ways that many believed he was no longer capable, and suddenly looking like a guy who might be able to carry this team, even if it's just for one more year.

The second story line can't stop obsessing over how that third quarter ended for Pierce on top of the key, with everyone cleared out, going one-on-one with Kobe Bryant. Pierce vs. Kobe. How often do we get to see that? How many times will we ever see it again? Pierce missed the shot, which was unfortunate (or maybe fortunate because otherwise the Garden would have spontaneously combusted), but the image of him and Kobe facing off like that will stick around for a while. It was great. And regardless of the score, you could tell they both enjoyed it.

The first story line follows Kevin Garnett, who's moving better, and doing so more consistently than he has all season. Still affecting the game in ways that only he can. The first story line is blown away by the fact that that Garnett's the one who looked 27 years old last night, while Dwight Howard operated with the explosiveness and passion of a worn down 18-year vet.

The second story line has only one number in mind: 25,000 and the reaction in the Garden after Garnett achieved a level of success shared by only 15 NBA players before him. It's about Pierce standing on the sideline during the ensuing time out and leading the crowd in a long ovation, in celebration of 25K but also everything KG has done for this team and city. It's Garnett finally after Doc was done speaking standing up and thanking the crowd with a wave and a series of salutes before shaking off the excitement and going back to work.

But seriously, check out this list: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Dominique Wilkins, John Havlicek, Alex English, Reggie Miller and Jerry West.

That's the company that Garnett will now keep within the annals of NBA history. And when you consider that only six of those 15 players finished with as many rebounds as Garnett currently has, and that none of those six can match his career assist total, you realize just what a legendary figure this guy is. Literally one of the best athletes and greatest leaders to ever wear an NBA uniform.

And last night alone, this legend was out there with Kobe Bryant, who's already scored 30,000 points, has five rings and won't be satisfied until he's passed Michael Jordan in both categories.

With Pierce, who's currently 1,497 points short of 25K, but an all-time great either way. Even if he doesn't finish with a ring count that's comparable to other Celtics legends, The Truth's imprint on the record books is only matched by Havlicek. As of this morning, Pierce is the Celtics all-time leader in three-pointers made, free throws made and steals. He's second all-time in points scored. Third in games played. Third in minutes. Fourth in assists. Fourth in blocks. And seventh in rebounds. (Quick reminder that blocks weren't a real stat during the Russell Years so he's not included on the list.)

With Steve Nash, one of five players in NBA history with 10,000 career assists. One of two players with a career foul shooting percentage in the 90s. One of only 14 players and one of only two point guards to win multiple MVP awards. One of the most unique players in recent NBA history, and a future Hall of Famer.

With Dwight Howard, who

OK, I'm not exactly sure what to say about Howard right now, because the whole thing is just depressing. There are no good guys. It's all bad guys. And through all the drama, it's fair to wonder if this might be the beginning of the end for Howard. For years, he existed almost exclusively on his superhuman size, strength and athletic ability. He was an unstoppable and indestructible force. Do you know how many games Howard missed during his first seven seasons? Eight. He played in 566 of 574 games.

Then he missed 12 last year after back surgery. He's missed six this year between his back and shoulder. During an interview with Stephen A. Smith last week, Howard admitted that he can't even sit down anymore without his legs going numb. He's falling apart. And all that's left is a big guy with an aching body and limited basketball skills.

Will he ever be the same again?

I don't know. But he's still a Hall of Famer. There were five of them out there last night. And the second story line doesn't want to take that for granted. Seriously, how cool is that? And just think how much cooler the memories will be in another five, 10 or 20 years.

Smack!

The first story line slaps you in the face and brings you back to 2013. To a team that continues to defy odds and turn heads in the wake of losing their All-Star point guard and most dominant rebounder. The first story line wonders how the Celtics can possibly maintain this success. Whether Pierce and Garnett who could barely run up and down the court a few weeks ago can keep everything together between now and April and still have enough for another long playoff run. Has Jeff Green officially turned the corner? Courtney Lee, too? Can the Celtics count on Avery Bradley or is it just a matter of time before another injury stirkes?

Has this team come together for good, or are they maybe peaking too early?

These are somewhat serious and sobering questions, but on the bright side, it's pretty cool that these questions actually matter again. That the Celtics have come back from the dead for roughly the 39th time in the last six years and have brought fun, inspiring and team-oriented basketball back to Boston. That we can at least entertain the idea of them making noise in the playoffs.

Can they win it all? Probably not. It's very unlikely. But even in the worst-case scenario, the second story line puts everything in perspective and can help ease at least some of the pain.

In turn, we can go back to screaming about what's really important:

ARE THE CELTICS BETTER WITHOUT RAJON RONDO?

I need your final answer in five seconds. 5, 4, 3 . . .

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

Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

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Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

BOSTON – At this point in training camp with just a couple of preseason games to go, Monday night’s performance might have represented the exclamation point on Anders Bjork’s impressive drive to win an NHL roster spot. The 21-year-old Bjork has scored other goals during this preseason, but Monday night’s tally in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was his first while skating with prospective linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I think we had more ice time together, which helped us get more comfortable and helped me kind of learn their chemistry a bit more,” said Bjork, who finished with 21 goals and 52 points in 29 games for Notre Dame last season. “Obviously, they have a ton of chemistry and they’re very easy to play with, of course, but you know, it’s nice to get more shifts with them and kind of pick up on their patterns and stuff like that.”

In fact, it’s become easy to see Bjork now winning the right wing spot with No. 37 and No. 63 after watching them work together in perfect concert for Boston’s third goal of the night.

Already up by a 2-0 score, Marchand turned over a puck in the Chicago defensive zone while on the forecheck hunt, and managed to work it over to Bergeron for a quick, backhanded saucer pass to the slot area. The alert Bjork stepped up into the high slot and one-timed the puck past Corey Crawford to give the Bruins a three-goal lead on Monday night, and allow all involved a sigh of heavy relief that Boston has found at least one rookie ready to hold down top-6 NHL job.

“He’s got that speed and the smarts to get open and then find the openings in the quiet ice. It was a great play by him just to get open, and for me to see him. He made it really easy,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He skates well, he made some great plays, we just need to keep talking and finding each other more and more on the ice.”

Given the overall scope of Bjork’s performance in camp, his steady presence on a line with Bergeron and Marchand during the preseason and his speedy skill set, the rookie is stating a strong case that he’s ready for NHL prime time. It would be a major training camp shocker to this humble hockey writer if Bjork is anywhere other than in the Bruins lineup when they drop the puck against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 5.  

“Yes, it does [look like Bjork is NHL ready]. The competition will stiffen for him and we’ll keep evaluating that. Still, he’s got skill, speed, and courage. He gets to the dirty areas. He’s hard to play against [and gives] second effort on pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s not one-and-done with him. And for a young kid, that’s special, to be able to hang in and there and battle for those turnovers. That’s usually the part of the game they have to continue to grind on them.

“But he’s got a lot of that. Maybe that’s Bergy and March’s influence, I’d like to think they have some of that, because that’s their game. Marchy never quits. Bergy never quits. They’re going to be a hard line to play against if they are that dogged on the puck every shift.”

There are still two preseason games remaining before the real thing, so it makes little sense for the Bruins to pronounce Bjork ready for NHL duty until the time comes. Bjork’s combination of blazing skating speed, decision-making and confident swagger on the ice have pushed him to the top of Boston’s prospect list when it comes to being closest to play in the NHL. All were on display in his 12:48 of ice time with a goal and a plus-1 rating to go along with two shots on net, a hit and a takeaway while playing the fast, aggressive hockey that Boston prefers these days.

Bjork could have even had a second goal after he intercepted an Erik Gustafsson outlet pass, but missed the net high with a shot in close while going for his second goal of the game. All in all, it was another hurdle cleared by a talented Notre Dame standout that certainly feels like he’s destined to make the opening day roster, and equally ordained to start in a top-6 right wing role with arguably the best duo in the entire NHL.

It will be interesting to see just how good Bjork can be on a daily basis at the NHL level, and if he can get into becoming the 20 goals/50 points range player that should be in his future.  

Now it’s up simply up to Bjork to finish up strong in the preseason when he’s paired with Bergeron and Marchand, and continue on the straight-ahead path toward cracking the Bruins roster for years to come. It would appear he’s poised to “pop” in training camp just as Brandon Carlo did a year ago, and stand as one of those talented youngsters ready to help bridge the gap between talented rookies and established core veterans.

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Kyrie Irving says details of relationship with LeBron is 'not anybody’s business'

Kyrie Irving says details of relationship with LeBron is 'not anybody’s business'

CANTON, Mass. – LeBron James has embraced the fact that Kyrie Irving has moved on, but you get a sense that there’s still a bit of ‘what if. . .?” that James is still thinking about.

"I was wondering if there was something I could have did better to make him not want to be traded," James told reporters during Cleveland’s Media Day on Monday. "Is it the way the season finished, or, was it me coming back in the first place? Was it the coaching changes or the GM change, or, I don't know. I had so many different emotions go through my head."

When told about James wondering if there was something he could have done better to not make him ask for a trade, Irving responded, “Yeah.”

Irving declined to get into specifics, saying, “If we ever have that conversation, I don’t think it’s for anybody but me and him.”

He added, “Even if there are things, it’s really not anybody’s business. It’s between two men. That’s really where it is.”

Irving, a four-time All-Star in his six seasons with the Cavs, asked for a trade request in July.

Cleveland talked to several teams, and were seemingly focused on trying to send him to a team in the Western Conference.

While there was considerable interest, the Cavs didn’t see any deals come across their desk to their liking which is when they rekindled conversations with Boston.

After initially coming to terms of a trade, Cleveland was concerned that Isaiah Thomas’ still-on-the-mend hip injury was more serious than they had initially thought and asked for additional compensation in the form of a first-round pick.

The Celtics indicated during their initial talks that Thomas might not be ready at the start of the season. His timetable still remains uncertain, but reports out of Cleveland indicate that he may be ready to play prior to January.

Both Boston and Cleveland found a happy medium with the trade eventually being Irving to Boston in exchange for Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 unprotected first-round pick from Brooklyn along with a 2020 second-round pick Boston got from Miami, that they conveyed to the Cavs.

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