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

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Game 5 is about respect for Boston

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Game 5 is about respect for Boston

BOSTON – From the outset of this season, the Boston Celtics were swimming upstream when it came to getting respect. 

No matter how many wins they racked up, no matter how many upsets they managed to pull off, they were never going to do enough to satisfy the court of public opinion which wanted one thing and one thing only from the NBA: A third installment of Golden State against Cleveland in the NBA Finals. 

The Warriors did their part by running through the West with 12 wins in as many playoff games. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will try to not just stave off elimination tonight, but continue to delay what so many believe is an inevitable Golden State-Cleveland Final.

Boston’s Al Horford understands that while the league this season has seen lots of individual success as well as teams that have overachieved, the thirst for Golden State versus Cleveland remains stronger than ever. 

“We understand that’s what everyone has been talking about since the beginning of the season,” Horford said. “For us it’s just to focus … and play the Celtic way. And just come out here and fight and we’ll take it from there.”

The Celtics did that in Game 3 with Avery Bradley delivering one of the more memorable shots in the Brad Stevens era, a game-winning three-pointer that hit the rim four times before falling with 0.1 seconds to play as Boston squeaked out a 111-108 win.

Boston did a lot of good things in Game 4 and seemingly went into the half sensing that maybe just maybe they would even up the series at two games heading back to Boston for tonight’s Game 5 matchup. 

But Kyrie Irving picked up the slack for a foul-plagued LeBron James, lifting the Cavaliers to a 112-99 win which puts them now just a win away from advancing to the NBA Finals. 

Not only have folks both in the media as well as fans who have rooted for this series to be over, even merchandise sellers like Dick Sporting Goods have anticipated this series as already being over.

“It is what it is,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “It’s been like that all year; a lot of guys counting us out. At the same time, we’re trying to put ourselves in position to win each and every game.”

While that has been the goal, it certainly hasn’t worked out that way in this series. 

Despite Games 1 and 2 being at the TD Garden, the Celtics lost both games by a total of 57 points. 

And while they won Game 3 and had the Cavaliers on the ropes in Game 4 before losing, they know their chance to play NBA Finals spoiler is just about up. 

“We know that’s the Finals that everybody wants to talk about, what everybody is looking forward to,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “We understand it. But we work just as hard as these guys. We just have to keep going out there and working. We’re not going to give it to them, and stuff like that. We just have to make it tough on them.”

Red Sox' seven-run rally in seventh keys 9-4 win over Rangers

Red Sox' seven-run rally in seventh keys 9-4 win over Rangers

BOSTON -- Chris Sale was perfectly happy to sit back and watch the Red Sox hitters do the work this time.

Sale cruised into the fifth inning, then was rewarded in the seventh when the Boston batters erupted for seven runs on their way to a 9-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night.

Sale (5-2) struck out six, falling short in his attempt to become the first pitcher in baseball's modern era to strike out at least 10 batters in nine straight games in one season.

But he didn't seem to mind.

"It was fun," said the left-hander, who received more runs of support in the seventh inning alone than while he was in any other game this season. "You get run after run, hit after hit. When we score like that, it's fun."

Dustin Pedroia waved home the tiebreaking run on a wild pitch, then singled in two more as the Red Sox turned a 3-1 deficit into a five-run lead and earned their third straight victory. Sam Travis had two singles for the Red Sox in his major league debut.

"I was a little nervous in the first inning," he said. "I'd be lying to you guys if I said I wasn't."

Mike Napoli homered for Texas, which has lost three of four to follow a 10-game winning streak.

FOR SALE

Sale, who also struck out 10 or more batters in eight straight games in 2015 with the White Sox, remains tied for the season record with Pedro Martinez. (Martinez had 10 straight in a span from 1999-2000.)

After scoring four runs in support of Sale in his first six starts, the Red Sox have scored 27 while he was in the game in his last five. He took a no-hitter into the fifth, but finished with three earned runs, six hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings.

"Guys pulled through for me when I was probably pretty mediocre," he said.

NO RELIEF

Sam Dyson (1-5) faced seven batters in relief of Martin Perez and gave up four hits, three walks - two intentional - and a wild pitch without retiring a batter.

"Martin threw the ball really well and I came in with two guys on and couldn't get an out," Dyson said. "Sometimes they hit them where they are, and sometimes they hit them where they aren't."

Asked if he felt any different, he said: "Everything's the same.

"If I get my (expletive) handed to me, it's not like anything's wrong," he said. "Any more amazing questions from you all?"

SEVEN IN THE SEVENTH

It was 3-1 until the seventh, when Andrew Benintendi and Travis singled with one out to chase Perez. Mitch Moreland singled to make it 3-2, pinch-hitter Josh Rutledge singled to tie it and, after Mookie Betts was intentionally walked to load the bases, Moreland scored on a wild pitch to give Boston the lead.

Pedroia singled in two more runs, Xander Bogaerts doubled and Hanley Ramirez was intentionally walked to load the bases. Dyson was pulled after walking Chris Young to force in another run.

Austin Bibens-Dirkx got Benintendi to pop up foul of first base, but Napoli let it fall safely - his second such error in the game. Benintendi followed with a sacrifice fly that made it 8-3 before Travis was called out on strikes to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rangers: 2B Rougned Odor was shaken up when he dived for Betts' grounder up the middle in the third inning. He was slow getting up. After being looked at by the trainer, he remained in the game.

Red Sox: LHP David Price made his second rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket, allowing six runs - three earned - seven hits and a walk. He struck out four in 3 2/3 innings, throwing 89 pitches, 61 for strikes, and left without addressing reporters. 3B Pablo Sandoval also played in the game, going 2 for 4 with two runs.

"He felt fine physically," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, who added he would talk to Price on Thursday morning to determine how to proceed. "We had a scout there who liked what he saw."

UP NEXT:

Rangers: Will send RHP Nick Martinez (1-2) to the mound in the finale of the three-game series.

Red Sox: LHP Drew Pomeranz (3-3) looks to snap a personal two-game losing streak.