HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Both the Celtics and Spurs served notice Sunday, they will not exit the stage without a fight.
They won’t go quietly.
Not this season.
Both teams were impressive in upending the top seeds in their respective conferences. The Celtics held on to defeat the Cavaliers while the Spurs became the latest team to undress the reigning champion Lakers, this time on the champs home floor.
We’ve been pounding on the Celtics relentlessly around here, and mostly with good reason, as they appeared to be a team riding on Hall of Fame fumes for much of the season. But they showed the one critical element a big time team has to at this point in the season, and that’s an ability to attack when there is an opening.
They went after the Cavaliers from the start and certainly put on a convincing show, that is until LeBron James led his crew all the way back in the final seconds before missing a shot that could have made this a one-team passage.
The end of the game silliness that saw James stand in the middle of the Celtics’ huddle was just more gamesmanship from two teams that swear they hate each other (yawn).
There are always two sides to every NBA story, as Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe shows us here:
“In the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers win in Cavaliers win a month ago in Cleveland, James could be seen in replays referring to the Celtics with a pointed expletive after making the lay-up and getting the foul on one of several three-point plays as the Cavs buried the Celtics late.
Sunday afternoon was just a continuation.
“They don’t like us, we don’t like them,” James said. “So there’s a lot of things that go on on the court.”
Doc Rivers echoed the sentiment.
“It’s two teams that I don’t think love each other,” Rivers said. “I can say that, and there’s two teams that want to beat each other. And I think in Cleveland’s case early on, we were having our way, so they got frustrated. In our case late, they were having their way. And then we got frustrated.”
“Somewhere between Tony Allen trash-talking in his face and Kevin Garnett grabbing his crotch while issuing LeBron James a sort of invitation Sunday afternoon, James decided he did indeed want a rematch with the Celtics in the postseason.
He didn’t say it exactly in the locker room after the game but his point was clear. You could see it in his eyes and in his body language. In a way, LeBron may have even been OK that the Celtics won the game.
The Cavs certainly have some issues to deal with but it didn’t take the Celtics to remind him. It just gave something for Boston to chirp about and it seems LeBron is welcoming it.
“This game has lost a little bit of that over the years,” LeBron said, “All the talking and teams not liking one another. That is what I figured out last year when I walked off the court in Orlando. People were mad that I didn’t shake hands. Why should I be happy? I’m disgusted that I lost. That is what the game has lost.”
Translation I: “I look forward to seeing these gentlemen again and getting into it with them full bore.”
Translation II: “While I’m pounding my chest, I’m still not sorry about bolting the floor in Orlando.”
LeBron, it seems to me, has never felt in a better place with the Celtics than after this game. That may seem weird, the Cavs lost and free throws were a problem and so was poise. You know, the stuff that bites back in the playoffs? But LeBron didn’t care…at all.
The Cavs were just 2-2 against the Celtics this season after having a winning record against all the East contenders and most of the West ones.
But that doesn’t seem to concern LeBron in the least. Why? Because he averaged 36.5 points in the four games against the Celtics this season and he completely imposed his will on this game on an afternoon when he wasn’t even playing well. He knows he can beat Boston’s defense when he wants to and he knows that he’s got more help than he’s ever had.
He finds it comical that Garnett will run his mouth when LeBron scored over him routinely in the fourth quarter when Garnett was supposed to be defending the basket. He finds it reassuring that it took the Celtics have one of their best games in weeks to barely beat the Cavs at home without Shaquille O’Neal and Anderson Varejao. Varejao, by the way, is the hardest player for the Celtics to deal with after LeBron.
And LeBron, which he showed by his mood after the game, knows that any fear he had of TD Garden is gone after the two games here in the last month.”
You smell that? It’s the playoffs in the air.
We love that aroma around here. Love it!!!!!
Friends in different uniforms is overrated anyway, especially when a championship is on the line.
TURMOIL IN LAKER-LAND?
Lakers fans from here to Shanghai left nasty messages for the Hang Time staff last week after we questioned the Lakers toughness in the hours following a loss to the Hawks, which helped Kobe Bryant‘s crew finish a road trip with a 2-3 record.
Maybe we weren’t so crazy after all, huh?
Something is not right with the Lakers. And it didn’t take a nasty beating from Manu Ginobili and the Spurs for us to see it. The fire that fueled them this time a year ago is missing.
We are not making this stuff up. And neither is longtime observer Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times:
“Little as any Laker wanted to talk about it, that was a shocking 100-81 loss they suffered to San Antonio, the old rival they’d beaten in 10 of the last 15 meetings before Sunday when the Spurs turned the mismatch around.
In the really bad news for the Lakers, they approached it like a big game, as they have recently … while losing four of six … as they, quote, gear up for the playoffs.
This raises a question:
What happens if you dial it up, and you’re even worse than when you lacked urgency?
“Well, it doesn’t bode well for the playoffs or building momentum, but we can’t seem to put together a good game from one opponent to the next,” said Coach Phil Jackson.
“Maybe if we have one single opponent for seven games, we’ll be able to do that.”
Entertaining as Jackson is, there aren’t a lot of adherents to his Don’t Worry, Be Happy Theory left.
Actually, from the language Jackson used in the dressing room before coming out to reassure the media, I don’t think he’s so happy, or unworried, either.
Friday’s solid victory over Utah seemed to end the latest “crisis” that had prompted owner Jerry Buss to make a rare visit to practice, General Manager Mitch Kupchak to pronounce himself “very concerned,” and Jeanie Buss to plead for calm on talk radio.
Sunday was supposed to be the Lakers’ second step back against the gallant but recently overmatched Spurs, with a win locking up No. 1 in the West.
Before the game, Gregg Popovich, the free-wheeling Phil of San Antonio, acknowledged looking at the standings and wondering who they might play … like the Lakers in the first round if they fall to No. 8.
That, of course, made him the first coach ever to admit it.
“They’re full of it,” said Popovich, laughing.
“They’re the ones that say, ‘We don’t care who we play.’ They’re full of baloney too, because we’re all trying to hide from the Lakers in the first round. I mean, really, who do you want to play in the first round? ‘Oh, the Lakers.’ What an idiot you’d have to be.”
To that point, things seemed normal, with the Spurs acknowledging their underdog status.
Then the game started and they kicked the daylights out of the Lakers.”
That first round series pitting the Lakers and Spurs could be a thing of beauty if it actually happens.
Again, the playoff grill smoke floating through the air is almost as sweet as the action will be itself. And the party will be even better if the old heads show up ready to bust a move the way they did Sunday.
A TIP OF THE CAP TO NELLIE
We owe Warriors coach Don Nelson some love today. Yeah, we know his team has struggled the past two years.
But there’s something to be said for milestones, and Nellie is one win away from sitting atop the NBA career wins chart.
Now all he has to do is get another one in the next week.