There's no letup in Celtics during turnaround season
Posted: Thursday April 3, 2008 2:44PM; Updated: Thursday April 3, 2008 11:03PM
CHICAGO -- The Celtics' Kevin Garnett and James Posey were walking off the floor after a timeout late in Tuesday's win when they each got hit in the back of the leg with rolled-up T-shirts, apparently tossed by Benny the Bull.
"We turned around... and the Bull had a couple words," said Garnett, who genuinely appeared to be angry as he pointed at the furry mascot before taking a seat in the timeout huddle. "We had some words [back]."
So bulls can talk?
"Absolutely," Garnett said. "Absolutely. Bulls can talk."
The surreal incident was comical to say the least, and somewhat fitting. After all, "No Bull!" could be the Celtics' unofficial motto this season. Unlike the Pistons, they don't take a night off -- even if there is little to play for in terms of playoff seeding.
The Celtics showed it again Wednesday night, defeating the Pacers 92-77 in Boston. With the victory, Boston (60-15) tied the 1997-98 Spurs for the biggest single-season turnaround (36-win improvement) in NBA history -- with seven games yet to play. More important, they continued to keep the hammer down as they gear up for a run at the NBA title.
"We're trying to get some consistency going into playoffs," Garnett explained. "We're going to keep on keeping on, and try to win as many games as we can."
It's way too early to say the Celtics are going to be this year's champs. They have yet to play together for a full season. They still have to prove themselves in the playoffs.
But there's something about this Boston team that makes one think it just might be able to hang another banner in '08. The Celtics have not goofed around all season. They are 33-1 against teams currently with losing records (the Bobcats beat them in Boston). They have not let their focus stray. Can the Pistons, Hornets, Spurs, Lakers, Jazz or Suns say the same thing?
Also, Boston seems to have developed a certain swagger. Championship teams love to take on challenges, whether it's going on the road and silencing a hostile crowd or using slights, real or perceived, as bulletin-board material.
Case in point, Boston's recent three-game road swing through Texas.
In the days leading up to the so-called Texas triangle, some media pundits were wondering how the Celtics would hold up on the road against the better teams in the West. Boston not only won all three (becoming the first team to do so in six years) but it also took the first two (at San Antonio and Houston) without All-Star Ray Allen, who was nursing a sore ankle.
Then last week Boston avenged an earlier defeat to New Orleans by routing the Hornets by 20 points. The Celtics and Jazz, in fact, are the only teams to have defeated every other club at least once.
"They absolutely hear [the critics], and they like it and take it as a challenge," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I think that is a good trait on our team. The whole Texas trip it clearly got under [their skin] -- before we went out, there were lot of predictions. ... You could hear them on the plane, talking about it.
"I think it comes from our locker room. They don't like to lose. ... They take exception to being questioned. That's a good thing. I try to tell them the questions will never stop ... and that's a good thing. Even if you [win it all], they'll say, 'Can you do it again?' That's part of sports."
Celtics point guard Sam Cassell, who won two championship rings as a member of the Rockets, agrees. The 38-year-old Cassell signed with Boston last month after being waived by the Clippers in part because he felt the team had a legitimate chance to win the title. He said he senses a seriousness of purpose among his teammates.
"When we lose a game, it hurts every guy in the locker room," Cassell said. "When we leave the arena, it affects us. That's a great sign."
Who knows if swagger or cockiness or any such intangible will mean anything come the postseason. Maybe Boston will find that it's no match for Detroit's experience together or San Antonio's cool efficiency under pressure or some other team's quiet strengths.
But the Celtics definitely have an edge in that Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce all are hungry to win a ring after waiting so long in their careers. Garnett, in particular, just seems so focused and ready. He's the one behind Boston's resolute march down the stretch.
When the Bulls pulled within a point in the second quarter Tuesday, Garnett hit three straight buckets and swatted Joakim Noah's layup attempt to put Boston back in control. At one point, the 7-foot former MVP even got into a defensive crouch while picking up his man full court.
Last week against the Hornets, Garnett tried to stoke his team's defensive intensity by dropping to his knees with his hands over the floor while setting up to cover David West at the top of the key.
"Every night we try to come in, establish something early, play defense for 48 minutes and get out with a win," Garnett said. "That's our focus."
"From not being there [in the postseason], you gain even more appetite for it. I'm fortunate to have this opportunity. I'm going to take full advantage of it."
The Celtics have been sending a message all season that they mean business. They don't intend to let anybody -- even furry mascots -- get in their way.