Friday, May 06, 2005

Pluck of the Irish

Scribblings on the notepad from the Celtics' 92-89 overtime victory over the Pacers tonight, an entertainingly bizarre affair Doc Rivers called, "The craziest freakin' game I've ever seen in my life" . . .

As I'm sure you know, the craziest freakin' plot twist was Paul Pierce's ejection for elbowing Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley with 12 seconds left in regulation and the Celtics clinging to a 1-point lead. Since the various details are too much for my chick pea of a brain to comprehend at this wee hour, here's the AP synoposis:

Tinsley hit Pierce in the neck while fouling him, and Pierce appeared to swing his elbow in anger. Referee Steve Javie did not immediately make a call. But after huddling with the other two officials, Pierce was assessed his second technical foul of the game - an automatic ejection.

Reggie Miller hit the technical foul shot to tie the game, and the Pacers got to choose which Celtics player would replace Pierce at the foul line. They selected Kendrick Perkins, a 64 percent foul shooter, and he missed both attempts. The Pacers then had a chance to win, but Miller shot an airball from well behind the 3-point line, sending the game to overtime.

My take on the whole thing? Well, as we all know, the only time it's technically acceptable for a Celtic to physically assault an opponent is when Bill Laimbeer is on the other end of the fist/elbow/knee/pistol. So Pierce was definitely in the wrong.

All right, in all seriousness, it was a reckless, inexplicable, undisciplined, colossally stupid brain cramp by the Celtics' alleged captain. He could have cost the Celtics the season, as I'm sure Ordway and his no-talent toadies will remind us for four excruciating hours today. Hell, even Tommy Heinsohn could not justify Pierce's antics, though he did nearly have a triple grand mal seizure when Pierce was belatedly ejected. ("Ohhh . . . they are not going to do this, are they? . . . THEY ARE NOT GOING TO DO THIS, ARE THEY?")

After the game, Pierce was embarrassed and apologetic, calling it a "bonehead play" and saying it will never happen again. He was wearing what looked to be a jockstrap on his face as he did so, but still, the apology is is good enough for me. Those who will attempt to make it into The Downfall of Sport As We Know It will conveniently ignore one key fact: the Celtics got their captain off the hook by winning this game. It was idiotic, but it was ultimately harmless to everything but Pierce's reputation. Let it go. There's so much more about this ridiculously entertaining/bizarro game to discuss.

. . . and besides, Tinsley kinda/sorta had it coming. He's the worst kind of opponent, a slippery little cheap-shot artist, a flopper, the Claude Lemieux of the NBA. Which I suppose makes Reggie Miller the hoops version of Ulf Samuelsson in this analogy. Maybe Pierce can whip him Neely-style in Game 7.

Upon leaving the court, Pierce ripped off his jersey, revealing a huge tattoo sprawling across most of his back. The whole scene was positively Rodmanesque, which I guess shouldn't be that surprising. Pierce seems so - I don't know, off-kilter? - these days, his demeanor reminiscent of The Last Days of Nomah. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Pierce showed up for Game 7 with platinum blonde hair and wearing a wedding dress.

Great quote by Rivers on the enigma formerly known as CyberToine: "He's just got a quirky game, to be honest. He'll be missing layups and hitting threes, then hitting layups and missing threes. I told him after the first half to keep putting it up because the odds are on your side. We finally got him to at least laugh. I mean, we might as well keep firing the thing up there. It's what we do."

Walker had one of his classic Bad Antoine/Good Antoine games. In the first half, Bad Antoine was a menace to his own team, forcing bad shots, clanging easy ones, shooting 2 for 10 and reminding his detractors why they were happy to see him depart last season. But Good Antoine arrived just in time, scoring 13 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including go-ahead three-pointer as well as the clinching bucket. In a sense, his performance tonight was a microcosm of the 'Toine Experience. Just when his erratic ways have you ready to wish him well in his next life as Charlotte Bobcat, he does something to make you proud he's on your side. If only he could always control that impulse to try and do too much. God love him, but we've been saying that for eight years now, haven't we?

Leave it Heinsohn to succintly pinpoint the unsung star of the game: "Without Big Al tonight, we're done." That's no hyperbole. Al Jefferson, the precocious 19-year-old rookie power forward, had the game of his young career tonight, scoring 11 points and grabbing 14 boards while ruling the low post like a cross between Elton Brand and the ABA incarnation of Moses Malone . . .

. . . You bet that's elite company. But is impossible to overstate how impressive Jefferson was tonight. I mean, he schooled shrewd NBA vets Jermaine O'Neal and Dale Davis with a variety of post moves that looked both instinctive and honed by hard work. I am giddy with the thought of watching Jefferson develop over the next few years - and he took a giant leap forward in that development tonight.

This seems like an appropriate place to list some of the players selected ahead of Jefferson in the 2004 NBA Draft. Devin Harris. Josh Childress. Luke Jackson. Rafael Araujo. Andris Biedins. (Andris Biedins?) Robert Swift. Kris Humphries. Sam Bowie. LaRue Martin. Rebecca Lobo. Mr. Ed. Stephen Hawking. Stevie Wonder. The kid from "Webster." You get the point.

Eighty-eight games into the season, and this one-man jury is still deliberating Rivers's abilities as a tactician. But even his detractors admit it's impossible not to like the guy. Few coaches in any sport are as candid and articulate when talking about the game in detail. His forthrightness and obvious intelligence always seems to restore my wavering faith in his abilities, though even he might admit he's the underdog when he goes clipboard-to-clipboard with Rick Carlisle.

Seriously, how many assistant coaches does Rivers have? Eight? 16? 64? I just found out former Bucks swingman Paul Pressey is on the Celtics staff. If you knew that, you are a better fan than I. Or on the staff.

Tell me again. Is rapper/actor DMX really Gary Payton's evil twin? Or vice versa?

The one thing you notice watching an NBA game up close is just how physical the play is around the hoop. It's basically football for tall guys, which makes what O'Neal is doing all the more impressive. His shoulder has gone the way of Mel Gibson's in "Lethal Weapon 2," yet there he was again last night, scoring 26 points and damn near tying up the game at the end of overtime. He can play for my team anytime. Which reminds me . . . he almost did. Back when Rick Pitino was doing his Napoleon-in-Armani routine in Boston, he reportedly offered the Celtics' three first-round picks in the 2001 draft to the Portland Trail Blazers for O'Neal, who was languishing on the bench. I don't recall why the deal fell through, but something tells me Pitino backed out of it. You know, since it would have made sense and all.

If the Pacers lose Game 7, then this will have been Reggie Miller's final home game. Knowing his history and flair for the dramatic, I was surprised when he airballed a potential game-winning three at the end of regulation, Maybe he is aging after all. He sure hides it well.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: No one calls a better game than Mike Gorman. And to think he does it while having the additional duty of electroshocking Heinsohn every time a referee dares wander within an arm's length.

When the Celtics are desperate for a hoop, I want the ball in Ricky Davis's hands. And there you have it: 16 words I'd never have imagined writing a year ago. Davis had a personal playoff-high 22 points tonight, and along with Jefferson, he hoisted his teammates up by their high tops after they fell behind 19-8 early, taking command of the stagnant offense in the second quarter and carrying the Celtics into the break with a 49-43 lead. Say what you will about his flakiness, but he has rare talent, and he put it to good use tonight.

With 2:16 left in overtime, the FoxSportsNet camera spied a fan in the crowd wearing a No. 30 Celtics jersey - the number currently worn by Mark Blount. I'm seriously hoping he was either paying homage to a No. 30 of the past (M.L. Carr, perhaps) or he was wearing Blount's actual jersey, given to him by the overpaid stiff center as he slipped out of the building unnoticed at halftime. Otherwise, that fan is no fan at all.

Bring on Game 7. And if you know what's going to happen, your crystal ball is a hell of a lot more effective than mine.

Update, 3:06 p.m., Monday: Reader Gary suggests that the fan in the No. 30 Celtics jersey was paying homage to Len Bias. Makes sense to me. Hell, the Celtics are liable to get more out of Bias in this series than they will from Blount. - CF