Dunking on Ray Allen

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Dunking on Ray Allen

Last night in Atlanta, the Celtics earned themselves a much-needed win.

It was their first since the trade deadline and their third in six tries on this extended road trip. Subsequently, the victory brought Boston within a game and a half of the all-important sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, and will likely (or hopefully) give them an extra jolt for the last leg of this trip.

At the very least, it provided everyone involved with a much-deserved break from the madness.

Did you really want to spend the next two days discussing Boston's three-game losing streak and the race to add a useless big man?

Nope. And thanks to last night's win, you won't have to. (Actually, no guarantees on the big man.)

Anyway, all in all, it was a pretty painful game. It looked frighteningly similar to what happens these days when when my friends and I try to play pick up. Seriously, the Celtics and Hawks looked like a crew of slow and out of shape 30-somethngs running around trying not to get hurt. For most of the night it was hard to watch.

That it is, until Jeff Teague did this:

1. The Dunk

I feel like every night, there's at least one moment when the basketball gods deliver a cold and clear reminder that the clock's running out on the Big 3.

And last night, Teague's dunk nearly knocked me unconscious.

First, just watching KG chase him down the court. I'm sitting there thinking: "Come on. Run back on defense!" Then I realized he was running.

In Ray's case, getting dunked on isn't a huge deal, seeing he was never really known as a ferocious shot blocker, but here's what I found disturbing:

Allen was at half court before Teague even reached the three point line.

Seriously, take one more look at the video. Look at the head start Ray has on defense, consider that Teague is also dribbling a ball(!) and shake your heads in unison. Damn.

The only thing that could make that dunk more depressing is if you watched it while listening to this.

2. The Disrespect

I can't get too get carried away over Teague's celebration, because if he'd done it against any other team, I probably would have thought it was great.

Really, what did he do?

He held the finish a little too long.

He took a slight step in Ray's direction.

He yelled.

OK.

At this point in the game, the Celtics and Hawks were just about going at each others throats. The caliber of play may have been gross, but the intensity was at an all-time high. I mean, so many of the faces have changed, but somehow it still felt like the 2008 playoffs. I don't care how long it's been. The seeds of hatred that were planted during that series still very much exist.

So, in the heat of battle, Teague threw down explosive and demoralizing dunk, in front of his home fans (all seven of them), and got a little carried away. Whatever. Do I wish he'd just turned to the crowd, thrown up his hands and run the other way? Of course, but it was a great dunk, in a huge moment. We've seen a lot worse. It doesn't bother me.

But it did bother the Celtics, and changed the course of the game.

(Quick question: Is Teague's reaction less acceptable because the scream was directed at a legend like Allen? From our view, maybe. But at the same time, it's not fair to expect these guys to hold the Big 3 in a higher standing in the midst of competition. That's what the Big 3 wants them to do; it's a psychological advantage. And one that, if plays like this are any indication, is fading by the day.)

3. The Run

After Teague's dunk, the Celtics trailed 47-39, and looked to be on the ropes. Instead, the jam triggered Boston's most inspiring stretch of basketball in nearly a week.

At its most impressive, the run registered at 34-11. It helped Boston turn an eight-point deficit into a 15-point lead, and even though they nearly choked it away at the end . . . they didn't. It was enough, and it's the reason Boston wonstole that game.

We're about six weeks away from the start of the postseason, and the Celtics have already been hit with the cliched "Team nobody wants to play" label. And runs like this one will perpetuate that. If you'd turned on last night's game in the middle of third quarter, you wouldn't have had any idea that the Celtics are where they are. You wouldn't have seen a team that was still fighting to make the playoffs, and had been written out of the championship conversation. You would have seen a TEAM. Six or seven guys who were entirely on the same page, focused on winning, and ready to play with anyone. For that brief run, they were the Celtics again.

Of course, it didn't last very long, and there's no rhyme or reason as to where and when those Celtics will re-emerge. But the knowledge that somewhere, deep down, those Celtics still exist, should be enough to have any potential playoff opponent wishing they were matched with someone else.

4. The Question
Why does it still take something like Teague's dunk to kick the Celtics into gear?

Is there not enough urgency already?

What will it take for this team to feel like they need to come out and give a complete effort every single night, regardless of what the other team is doing?

OK, that was three questions.

5. The Nobody

By my count, last night Jeff Teague became the third "nobody" of Kevin Garnett's time in Boston.

First, there was Charlie Villanueva, who KG called a "nobody" at the tail end of the cancer patient saga. Shortly after that, "nobody" was Joakim Noah (after he called KG "a very mean guy" on the radio). Then, last night, Garnett was asked about Teague's dunk and ensuing celebration: "I don't know who you talking about," Garnett said. "That guy's a nobody."

When the quote first came out, I was a little embarrassed for Garnett.

I was thinking, "Really? This again? You know very well who Teague is: He's the starting point guard on a playoff team in your conference. About a half hour ago, you had a pretty sweet view of the back of his jersey as he was leaving you in the dust. Enough with pretending you don't know guys. Or how about coming up with another line?"

But the more I thought about the situation, I understand where he's coming from.

First of all, it's not like KG started his interview by declaring Teague a nobody. He was asked about a play in which a much younger, less-accomplished player disrespected Garnett and his teammates in front of the basketball world (and a handful of Hawks fans). What's he going to say?

Also, if we're being realistic, who is Jeff Teague to Kevin Garnett? I mean, to basketball fans, Teague is a young, confident point guard with a lot of promise, but how many guys like that has KG seen come in and out of this league over the last 17 years? In the mind of one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived, who's this cocky, big shot point guard who's barely played 150 games in an uneven NBA career? He's a nobody. At this point in KG's career, he's got no time for guys like Jeff Teague. Not until he's got more than a few good months and a dunk on his resume.

Until then, KG has more important things on his mind.

For instance, how to make the most of his likely last two months in a Celtics uniform.

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

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

CLEVELAND – For about 30 or so seconds following Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland, Al Horford was not Al Horford.

He’s a passionate player, but seldom is it on display in as outwardly a fashion as it was following their Game 3 victory.

In an interview with CSN’s Abby Chin after the game, Horford tried to put into words what the victory meant.

But the aggressive high-fives to teammates passing him by, the intense way he looked into the camera … that spoke volumes about what this game meant to the veteran big man.

“It’s big, it’s big!” Horford said in between high-fives with Jonas Jerebko and other Celtics who came past him.

“A lot of people doubting us out there!” Horford said, staring intently into the camera as if he was saying, ‘yeah, I’m talking about you!’”

Less than 24 hours after the game, Horford’s emotions had cooled down considerably.

“It was an emotional game,” he told CSN following a short practice at the Q Arena on Monday. “Just, having to hear … since the blowout, everybody counting us out. Everybody really believing that it was over.”

The Celtics came into Game 3 having lost both Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 57 points which includes the worst playoff loss (Game 2, 130-86) in franchise history.

So with that as the backdrop, knowing full well that no one outside of their locker room gave them an ice cube in hell’s chance at winning Game 3, the victory brought about a level of satisfaction that Celtics players had seldom experienced before if at all.

“The emotions at that time were high for our group,” Horford admitted. “And it shows what we’ve been talking about all year, a resilient group that has a lot of fight in them. We were hit with some adversity with Isaiah being down but our group responded.”

Thomas re-aggravated a right hip injury in Game 2, and was later ruled out for the rest of the playoffs. 

After falling behind 77-56 in the third quarter, the Celtics closed out the third with a 26-10 run to come within 87-82 going into the fourth quarter. During the run, Marcus Smart had 11 points which turned out to be equal to LeBron James’ scoring output … for the entire game.

This is Horford's 10th NBA season, all of which have included a trip to the postseason.

That, combined with having won a pair of national championships when he played at the University of Florida, serves as a reminder that the 30-year-old has been on the winning ledger of big games before.

But even he acknowledged Sunday’s Game 3 win was … different.

“I have had plenty of moments like this,” Horford said. “But this was definitely emotional. This was very emotional, exciting, on the road, no one really giving us any chance. To be able to come through like that, it just felt great. I’ve been part of emotional wins, but this one was a special one.”

That was evident in Horford’s energy-charged, post-game comments.

“Heart! Heart! This team got heart!” he yelled. “We got beat bad (in Game 2), but it’s all about how you rebound!”

And we get that message, loud and clear!

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.

Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.

“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah.  He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”

He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.

“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”

Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.

And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.

Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.

“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”

Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.

“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”