24 hours with the Celtics

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By Ken Levinsky

Monday, April 20 10:45 a.m.

I’m sitting with Boston Celtics Comcast sideline reporter Greg Dickerson, Marc Spears of the Boston Globe and Larry Ridley from Boston’s NBC affiliate (WHDH channel 7) in the Hall of Fame Room at the team’s training facility in Waltham, Mass.

The room is filled with photos and memorabilia of Celtic greats, respected opponents (Jerry West, Doctor J, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley) and fan favorites (Hank Finkel’s #29 jersey, Dee Brown’s Reebok pumps).

Officially called the Sports Authority Training Center at Healthpoint, the building also contains a health and fitness center and medical offices (Contrary to popular belief, the facility is not at Brandeis University, but at a very scenic and modern office park).

Jeff Twiss, Celtics vice president of media relations, enters the room and invites us to attend the final minutes of the day’s shoot-around. Most of the players have left the court, but Rajon Rondo is still practicing his shot and Leon Powe is working with coach Clifford Ray. Tonight, the Celtics are playing the Chicago Bulls in the must-win Game Two of their best-of-seven series. I watch Rondo hit nearly every shot he takes within the 3-point line. Beyond the arc he is less accurate. At the foul line, he always bounces the ball three times and then bends his knees before shooting.

Coach Doc Rivers, looking fit and relaxed in shorts and a T-shirt, approaches our group. The cameras light up and the questions begin. Asked about the Bulls, Rivers spoke with respect for their coach, Vinny Del Negro, who was his teammate in San Antonio for two years.

After multiple queries about the status of Kevin Garnett, Doc jokes that my question about the new Maine Red Claws Developmental-League team is the best of the day. He is pleased that his staff will be able to “sneak out” and keep a close eye on their developing players and that those players would become more involved with the team in Boston. Rivers also noted beneficial reductions in travel time and expense.

After Rivers leaves, Rondo meets with the media group. Asked repeatedly about which way he would bet on Garnett returning during the playoffs, Rondo ends the questioning by saying, “Don’t bet!”. He speaks quietly and with conviction when asked about his matchup with Rookie of the Year Derek Rose. Rondo feels there is a lot on his shoulders.

Kevin Garnett (wearing workout clothes) and Paul Pierce enter the gym engaging in a jocular argument about which of two team trainers would win a one-on-one game. Garnett tells us “no cameras” and Comcast complies. The WHDH crew however, not being directly affiliated with the Celtics, furtively films the scene. After all have left, the reporters review the tape and conclude that Garnett has a noticeable limp. Ridley confides that he will air the tape at 5 p.m.

Later, I’m waiting with a throng of excited Celtics fans for the TD Banknorth Garden gates to open. There is great concern. The team has lost its home court advantage, Garnett is out and Derek Rose was unstoppable in Game One.

Once the game begins, Rondo takes things into his own hands. He relentlessly attacks the Bulls defense and gets Rose out of the game early with two quick fouls. The 6-foot-1-inch Rondo ends the game with 16 assists, 12 rebounds and 19 points. The Celtics win and I wonder if this 23-year old is the best Celtics point guard ever.

The press sit in the Garden’s Promenade section, the highest level in the arena. The section also houses a video crew of at least ten people who have a lot of fun projecting spirited (or sometimes oblivious) fans on the giant scoreboard screen for all to see.

If media demand is not great, spectators are allowed to purchase seats in the Promenade. I recommend it as a comfortable, uncrowded area with a unique view of the game.

Watching the post-game wrap-up on TV, I see my new acquaintance Dickerson interviewing my other new acquaintance Spears. Both have stepped it up fashion-wise. Dickerson is the Rondo of reporters, his questions are rapid fire and consistently good.

Tuesday 12:45 p.m.

Back at the training facility the next morning, the media group is much larger. New England Cable News sports videographer Glenn Gleason, formerly at Portland’s WPXT, is among them. Doc Rivers, Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Clinton “Mikki” Moore speak with the press.

Rivers reports that Leon Powe has sustained a serious injury and is done for the year. With big men Powe and Garnett now unavailable, the 7-foot Moore will be called upon more often. The 11-year veteran, who signed with Boston in February and averaged 4.4 points and four fouls a game in 24 contests for the Celtics, gets the biggest laugh of the day. He accuses the referees of charging him with a foul when he awakens in the morning and another at breakfast. Nicknamed Mikki (My-Key) because he loved to eat “Life” cereal as a kid (remember little Mikey in the vintage TV commercial?), Moore’s career field goal percentage ranks seventh among active NBA players.

I am one of the last to leave the training facility. Walking past the players’ parking lot, I speculate that the big Tahoe with the Texas plates must belong to Kendrick Perkins. I also speculate on how the Celtics will do in games three and four in Chicago. Questions asked. Questions answered. More to follow. It has been an eventful 24 hours for the Celtics and their followers.

(Ed. Note: The Celtics split in Chicago, winning Game Three 107-86 before dropping a heartbreaker, 121-118, in double-overtime, in Game Four. Game Five was scheduled for Tuesday night back in Boston, but was played too late for this edition).

PNMS-sportsCeltics1-042909.JPGThe view from the Promenade/press area of the TD Banknorth Garden during Game Two of the Celtics-Bulls playoff series. (Ken Levinsky photo)
PNMS-sportsCeltics2-042909.JPGBoston’s Mikki Moore took questions during a media session. (Ken Levinsky photo)