Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald – “He cares not that the Lakers have had their stumbles this season, letting you know where they stand to him when asked if they’re still one of the teams to beat. ‘I see them as the team to beat,’ Pierce said. ‘I don’t see them as ‘one’; I see them as ‘the.’ I mean, they’ve proven it. I don’t really care what their record looks like. If you get them in a seven-game series, they’re going to be tough to beat.’”
A. Sherrod Blakely, CSNNE – “Despite the hype surrounding the Miami Heat and the blockbuster trade that bolstered the Orlando Magic’s title hopes, the Celtics have remained confident that they will be the last team standing at the end of the season. And they’re pretty confident the Lakers will be right there with them, even if they’re not the best team in the West right now. ‘They’re back-to-back champs,’ said C’s guard Rajon Rondo. ‘Whether they’re .500 right now, they’re still the team to beat. They pretty much went through the West last year. They’re the team to beat, regardless of their regular season record.’”
Chris Gasper, Boston Globe – “We are extremely lucky that these teams are in position to write another chapter in their storied rivalry. Few thought that would be the case after Game 7. It looked like it was time to roll the credits on the Big Three/Doc Rivers era on Causeway Street. Rivers, who got an ovation after he left the podium due to the presumption it was his final game as Celtics coach, said that night, ‘We’re not going to be the same team next year.’ But then Doc decided to return as Shamrock Shaman, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen followed suit, and the Celtics were back in business, with one very large addition in former Laker Shaquille O’Neal. The acrimony between O’Neal and his former running mate, Kobe Bryant, has been well-documented. As has the Celtics’ general disdain for Pau Gasol. But Boston doesn’t need personal vendettas for motivation. Game 7 says it all. The Celtics led by 13 early in the second half and were still up three with 6:29 to go. Rivers is fond of saying that the Celtics starting five has never lost a playoff series, and any player or coach who was in the tear-filled Celtics locker room after Game 7 will go to their grave believing the outcome would have been different with a healthy Kendrick Perkins.”
Julian Benbow, Boston Globe – “In the days leading up to today’s game, Rivers kept hearing the question: ‘What’s it going to be like to play in that building after Game 7?’ He didn’t have an answer. But he knew the Lakers had their own struggles coming back to TD Garden after losing Game 6 of the 2008 Finals. The visitors locker room felt haunted, Andrew Bynum said. The hotel rooms and restaurants brought back painful memories, Pau Gasol said. The city got darker and darker by the hour, Luke Walton said. The Lakers swept the season series in 2008-09, winning on the Garden floor despite the demons. They came back last year, stole another one on the parquet when Kobe Bryant drilled a winner over Ray Allen’s outstretched arm. ‘Hell, they have experience from that and they seem to do all right,’ Rivers said. ‘So let’s see if we can do all right in their building.’”
Mark Murphy, Boston Herald – “The Celtics resorted to a big-man arms race last summer, adding Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal to their frontcourt depth — the one area responsible for their collapse over the last six minutes of Game 7 against the Lakers. ‘I think it’s important,’ Lakers coach Phil Jackson said yesterday of the C’s offseason moves as the teams prepared to play today at Staples Center. ‘When you’re a team as good as Boston, you have to play to win it all. They know what the difference was last year.’”
Paul Flannery, WEEI – “This point can’t be stressed enough. The Celtics lost the NBA championship because they were a poor rebounding team and in Game 7 the Lakers grabbed 23 offensive rebounds. Maybe Kendrick Perkins would have made a difference, but this was a season-long issue for the Celtics and it caught up with them at the worst possible moment. Pay no attention when people say the Celtics are the worst rebounding team in the league this season. They are the worst offensive rebounding team in the NBA, but that is a very different thing. The number that matters is defensive rebounding percentage, and they rank a respectable ninth in that category. Again, this is a far better way to judge a team’s effectiveness on the glass than total number of boards because it accounts for the number of shots attempted. Defensive rebounding has been the constant theme for the Celtics this season and until Kevin Garnett missed nine games with a calf strain they were on their way to re-establishing themselves on the boards. Since Garnett has been out – and even since his return – the Celtics have slipped. Before Friday night’s ejection, Garnett was in the midst of his strongest night on the boards since his return. He had nine defensive rebounds and grabbed almost half of the available defensive boards when he was in the game. That’s the kind of effort the Celtics will need against Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.
Mark Heisler, LA Times – “When it ended unhappily, they took their broken hearts home, reloaded and came back, looking like a herd of buffalo with a bad attitude. Remember last Feb. 18 after they beat the Lakers here, when Doc docked everyone in the traveling party $100, hid the $2,600 in the ceiling tiles and challenged his players to return for it? (This time, we’re going over their dressing room with pickaxes and sensory gear as soon as they’re on the bus.) Whether they leave anything else here, on the floor or in the ceiling, even on crutches with their heads swathed in bandages, these people mean business.”
Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald – “The NBA is investigating Doc Rivers’ ejection from Friday night’s Celtics loss in Phoenix, with the possibility he could face a further fine. Rivers was hit with two technicals by referee Steve Javie during a timeout in the second quarter. The Celts coach was unhappy from the start of the process, but he became livid after the second tech. He repeatedly shouted, ‘It’s not about you. It’s about the game,’ at Javie as he paused twice before leaving for the dressing room. The failure to leave the court in a timely manner, a common basis for league action, is what might cost Rivers.”
Mark Murphy, Boston Herald – “‘Regardless of what anybody says, that duo of Kobe and (O’Neal) in LA was one of the best tandems of all time,’ [Brian] Shaw said. ‘Just looking back in retrospect myself, it’s a shame that they didn’t get along, because that team that was in place, instead of winning three championships should have won six or seven championships. Kobe has matured, and Shaq has matured, and Phil has gotten better with it, because his relationship with both of them was tumultuous at times. Looking back, if they could have it all back, I’m sure they’d all say they would have done it a little differently.’”
Dave McMenamin, ESPN – “‘They force you to play physical, otherwise they’re going to step on you,’ said Gasol, who battled hard against Boston since arriving in L.A., shedding his soft reputation. ‘The importance of having size and understanding that size helps you a lot, especially during playoffs. You need to have big bodies there to make sure to play hard, to rebound, to intimidate, to contest shots. I think that that’s why they went that direction.’ O’Neal, 38, is averaging 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds this season. He has had his turn-back-the-clock moments with 25 points and 11 rebounds against the Nets and 23, five and five blocks against the Bobcats. ‘I told him he can play till he’s 40,’ said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who had O’Neal under his watch from 1996 to 2004. ‘He’s a good enough athlete that he should be able to do that.’”
Ian Thomsen, Sports Illustrated – “‘We do a lot of skeleton stuff over and over again, which is extremely boring and monotonous,’ Rivers said after practice Monday. ‘We’ve done more skeleton work than we’ve ever done but we do it at full speed, game-like, because we don’t have enough guys to go up against each other. I’ll say this: Our veterans — Ray [Allen], Paul [Pierce], Kevin [Garnett], [Rajon] Rondo — have been terrific in understanding the situation we’re in. Like today, we had a good practice because of them and their focus. They knew we weren’t going to be here long, but they got through stuff.’”
Ramona Shelbourne, ESPN – “Why haven’t the Lakers been able to beat the best this year? Frank Hamblen’s first instinct was to reject the premise entirely. ‘We beat Denver,’ the Lakers assistant coach said. ‘On the road.’ The Denver Nuggets? Not much else needed saying. Hamblen understood as soon as he said it. ‘Yeah, I guess we haven’t beat a San Antonio, we haven’t beat a Boston, we haven’t beat a Miami; you’re exactly right,’ Hamblen said, conceding the point at the same time he racked his brain for an explanation. ‘But we obviously didn’t have Andrew [Bynum] and he’s a big part of our team, because we’re built for length, not speed. So missing him hurt a great deal.’ Reminded that the Lakers’ losses to Miami, San Antonio and Dallas all came after Bynum returned to the lineup, Hamblen could only shrug. ‘I wish I could say something more exciting,’ he said.”
Jackie McMullan, ESPN – “Kendrick Perkins is 26. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and his Wes Welker-like recovery is no doubt motivated, in part, by his uncertain future. Perkins wants to re-up with Boston; he’s convinced his learning curve is still pointing straight up. ‘You can always pick up new things,’ Perkins said. ‘About execution, mostly. I’ve been watching Ray Allen fight to get open, and I can see now how I can set a better screen, make it easier for him.’ Perkins logged 21 minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night and came up one shy of a double-double (10 pts, nine rebounds). He will be a work in progress as he regains his timing and re-establishes his confidence. ‘The only thing I’m worried about is my stamina,” Perkins said. “This leg has already taken some pretty big hits in practice. Do you see how Big Baby plays? It’s been tested, man.”
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