|Garnett sets pace for unbeaten Celtics after years of mediocrity|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 15 November 2007 13:10|
``I just wanted to see what was in it,'' Scalabrine pleaded.
Then he joked in a low voice, ``I let him down.''
From morning practices to post-victory pasta, Garnett quickly has established himself as the leader of the NBA's only unbeaten team that won just three playoff series the past 15 seasons. There is a lighthearted camaraderie but little time for jokes at practice where Garnett brings such intensity that teammates don't want to disappoint him.
Last season, the Celtics were the joke.
They had the second worst record in their 61 seasons, 24-58, and lost a franchise- high 18 straight games. Paul Pierce and a bunch of youngsters were going nowhere. Something had to be done, especially after Boston missed out on the chance to draft Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in the lottery.
So they scrapped the youth movement and traded for veteran all-stars Garnett and Ray Allen. Suddenly, there is hope that the future will be like the distant past.
The original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish won the franchise's 16th championship, still the NBA record, in 1985-86. The new Big Three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen are off to an even better start than any of the Bird-era teams.
Garnett is focused on the present.
``Not to disrespect the history of this great franchise,'' he said, ``but I think we're a lot more in tune to what we're not doing well versus the things that we are doing well.''
The last time the Celtics were 7-0 was in 1972-73 when they won their first 10 games and finished at 68-14, the best record in club history. But they lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the New York Knicks.
With each victory, the Celtics look more like another team in town.
The New England Patriots also are unbeaten, at 9-0. Tom Brady is their best player, with a strong work ethic and team approach that motivates his teammates - just like Garnett. If their best player isn't satisfied, why should the others be?
Both teams focus more on fixing problems than celebrating victories.
``People think you're almost repeating them,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of the need to improve. ``I hear it now on the news: `They sound like the Patriots.' But it's the truth.''
He'd like to see the Celtics take fewer risks on defense and finish quarters stronger.
There's another similarity with the NFL team. Both teams are winning by huge margins. The Patriots have won eight games by at least 17 points; the Celtics have won five by at least 11.
Garnett's group wants to do better.
``I don't think you guys are going to see us play a perfect game,'' he said at his news conference after Wednesday night's 91-69 win over New Jersey. ``We have flaws and we know it.''
The Celtics had 10 turnovers in the first half against the Nets but only four in the second. They trailed 23-17 after one quarter then outscored New Jersey 74-46 in the final three.
``I'm pleased with our record, but we've not played well the last two games,'' Rivers said an hour before that victory. ``It's going to just take time for us every day, every second on the floor, to feel comfortable with each other all the time.''
The improvement over last season is remarkable.
The Celtics play scrappy defense, move the ball quickly to the open man and have gotten good contributions from their substitutes. It all starts with Garnett - an outstanding scorer, rebounder, defender and passer.
To Rivers, though, ``his enthusiasm'' is his most surprising asset.
``I think it's infectious to everyone and it's good. Energy is a talent,'' he said. ``It's rare to see a great player with it.''
The Celtics try to remain unbeaten Friday night at home against struggling Miami. The Heat are 1-7 and lost Wednesday night to Seattle, which had been winless.
There'll be a much tougher test Sunday night at Orlando. The Magic's 7-2 record is second only to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference.
``We always say, defense wins championships and offense fills the building up,'' Allen said. ``We don't feel we've been great offensively, but defensively is where we've won games.''
Scalabrine, in his third season with Boston after four with New Jersey, has played well as a backup. Last season, he was lost in the mix as Rivers struggled to find a consistent player rotation.
So what's the difference between the two teams?
Scalabrine didn't have enough time to discuss all of it.
``You want a book? I can give you a book. I could sum it up in three words - we have accountability,'' he said. ``Kevin demands a high level of perfection out there. When we're tied, he's upset. That's how it is. The bar is set so high and that's where it needs to be set.''
It didn't take long for it to get there.
``Anything is possible,'' Garnett said of the 7-0 start. ``You never have a detailed kind of vision like that. You want to jell as a team. You want to make sure that you're having fun. But, at the same time, as a team, you're accomplishing something.
``So far so good.''