Two months from the start of the NBA regular season, and we already have a fight between the Celtics and the Lakers.
A war of words, if you will, between Doc Rivers and Ron Artest.
The Celtics coach pointed out after their Game 7 loss in June that the champion Lakers still hadn't beaten Boston's starting five. Kendrick Perkins, after all, missed that final tilt with torn ligaments in his knee.
"I told our guys this, the starting lineup still hasn't lost," Rivers said after the defeat. "It was a shame we didn't have that starting lineup tonight. But I told them, you're still yet to have a true chance to defend your title because Perk wasn't there. But listen, give the Lakers credit. They were terrific."
Artest apparently missed those comments in June — or chose to ignore them.
But Doc opened the can again this week, telling ESPN's John Thompson in a radio interview, "Our starting five against the Lakers' starting five has a ring. Tell him [a hypothetical Lakers fan] don't forget that. We will be back strong and Perk will be there next year if there's a Game 7."
Artest responded Wednesday with a flurry of Twitter comments (I'll leave the grammar as is).
"Doc got one million excuses.. Just come back this season a take what you want…."
"Boston lost to lakers because of Kendrick Perkins injury. What about in 08 when [Andrew] Bynum was injured. What about this year Bynum was injured .."
"What about Kobe [Bryant] played with a broke finger …. What about Ron artest defense When the Boston staff said Ron artest was too slow."
Aside from the broken English and third-person references, Artest (kind of) has a point.
Bynum, who had been the Lakers' starting center, missed the NBA Finals in 2008, in which Boston trounced Los Angeles for their still NBA-leading 17th title. Defensive stopper Trevor Ariza, moreover, played just nine minutes in Game 6 because of injury.
It has the L.A. bloggers in a tizzy, one saying Doc "just provide excuses," another calling his comments "inflammatory and grotesquely ill-informed."
But here's the thing: It's brilliant.
Doc, as he has always done, is padding his team's confidence. What he said is, after all, true — the Celtics' starting five of Perk, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo have never lost a playoff series when healthy.
No one (certainly not the fans and sports pundits in Boston) believes more in this team than Doc Rivers. And despite that heart-breaking loss in June, his yell-at-the-refs, blame-injury mentality has provided results.
Doc trusts the guys. They, in turn, trust themselves. And the wins mount — it's a happy cycle. If he occasionally rubs Ron Artest or the L.A. blogosphere wrong in the process, so be it. NBA championships don't come without a fight.
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