No one likes going on cross-country road trips for business reasons. Whether you’re a politician, a businessman or a multimillionaire NBA superstar, it’s never fun. The long flights, the jetlag, the living out of a suitcase … it can be a little much.
But the Celtics made the 3,000-mile hike out West last week, and since then they’ve been able to take care of business. With a pair of solid wins over playoff teams in Portland and Los Angeles, the C’s can be forgiven for slipping up in Phoenix. Two out of three ain’t bad, especially when you’re on the road against solid competition.
The C’s are chugging along, continuing to look like the class of the Eastern Conference, and with a win over the Lakers, the titans of the West, you can make the argument that they’ve emerged as favorites to take home the big prize in June.
Here are seven thoughts on the C’s progress over the last week.
1. By winning two games out of three to open their West Coast trip, the Celtics have boosted their resume as road warriors, showing some mettle in unfamiliar territory. On the road, they’re now 14-8 this season, with a .636 winning percentage bested only by San Antonio, Dallas, Miami and the Lakers. They’ve also got a 10-5 record against Western Conference teams; only the Spurs, Mavs and Bulls are better in that department. Not too shabby.
2. Paul Pierce says he’s not concerned anymore with individual scoring numbers at this point in his career. On Sunday afternoon against the Lakers, though? Coulda fooled me. The Celtics’ captain dueled with Kobe Bryant shot-for-shot down the stretch, and his monster scoring performance made the difference. It was a remarkably efficient afternoon — The Truth finished 11-of-18 from the field, 3-of-5 from 3-point rnage, and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line for 32 points total. It was his fourth game this season with 30-plus and his 25th of the Big Three era in Boston. The guy can still score a little bit when he wants to.
3. Meanwhile, Pierce’s counterpart left a little to be desired. Sure, Kobe was dominant with 41 points, but when you have to take 29 shots to get there, it’s not a fair fight. Kobe’s insistence upon taking over big games like this one can be a problem; it makes the Lakers’ offensive game stale, predictable and easy to defend. It almost killed them in Game 7 of the Finals last spring, and it arguably hurt them Sunday as well. Will Kobe ever change? That depends on who’s really in charge in that locker room. Is it Kobe, or is it Phil Jackson? Your guess is as good as mine.
4. No offense to Doc Rivers, but he’s a liar. The Celtics’ coach said last week he’d keep Kendrick Perkins on a short leash, with the big fella just getting back from knee surgery and unable to handle serious minutes. The original plan was between 12 and 16 minutes a night; Perk played over 17 in his first game back, followed by 20, 20 and finally 27 in the big showdown in L.A. Perk said he wanted to play more, that he felt ready; apparently he won that argument. To his credit, he looks great, and there’s ostensibly no reason to keep him off the floor.
5. Kevin Garnett might be the luckiest man alive. Considering what he did to the Suns’ Channing Frye on Friday night (if you haven’t already seen the video, you must be living in a cave with no YouTube access), it’s really shocking he wasn’t suspended for instigating the little fourth-quarter fracas. It makes you wonder why the league went easy on KG last time, whereas a hard elbow to Quentin Richardson got him barred from a playoff game last spring. Did the league offices bend the rules to rig a fully loaded Celtics-Lakers showdown on Sunday? What if the Celtics were playing the Kings next, would things have turned out differently? Quite possibly so.
6. Delonte West is working hard on a recovery, and things are going well. The C’s backup guard broke his wrist before Thanksgiving, and there’s a chance he’ll be back by Valentine’s Day. West’s cast is off, his brace is off, and he’s working now to strengthen the arm so he can apply more pressure to the area. He’ll probably be back in game action within a couple of weeks, which will be good news for the Celtics. Easing Ray Allen’s minutes and giving Nate Robinson some backcourt help will both be huge developments.
7. If you know your history, you might remember that this won’t be the Celtics’ first time hosting the Magic on Super Bowl Sunday. In fact, they did it just last year. The Celtics lost an ugly one to the visitors from Orlando on Feb. 7, 2010 — they shot just 42.2 percent as a team, Rajon Rondo led the way with a mere 17 points, and they scored only 11 in the third quarter en route to falling 96-89. Maybe the C’s were more focused on “the” big game than on their own. They’d better come out focused this Sunday, with bragging rights in the Eastern Conference up for grabs at the TD Garden.
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