Picked-up pieces while waiting for Kyrie . . .
▪ In the words of the great Kendrick Perkins, “This is about to be a first-round matchup that feels like the Finals.”
Amen. First round. Feels like the Finals. Imagine how boring this weekend would be if the Celtics were playing the Bulls or Cavaliers.
No. No friendly Bulls or Cavs.
The Celtics just played three great months of basketball — 28-7 — and their reward is a best-of-seven with an underachieving trick-or-treat team that features two of the best players of all time in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Some oddsmakers have the No. 7 seed (Nets) favored over the No. 2 seed (Celtics) — when have you ever seen that? We all know the Nets are capable of winning the NBA championship. They also are capable of getting swept by the Celtics.
Bring it on. The Kyrie Irving narrative needs no exaggeration. Irving is established as a classic Boston sports villain, up there with Ulf Samuelsson, Alex Rodriguez, Rick Pitino, and Bill Laimbeer. Folks will be watching him every second he’s on the Garden parquet, perhaps to make sure he doesn’t try stomping on Lucky the Leprechaun again.
Kyrie’s return is not the only great story line in this series.
Who remembers when Tom Brady helped the Celtics recruit Durant at the Hamptons in the summer of 2016? For a few hours, we actually thought KD might be bringing his talents to the West End of Boston. I mean, how could anyone say no to Brady and Kelly Olynyk? Alas, Durant went to the Warriors and got his two rings.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka coached with the Nets last year. He knows the unique chemistry of Durant, Irving, and the dysfunctional Nets. Ime was there when Brooklyn eliminated Boston in five last spring. One day after that abrupt ending to the Celtics season, Danny Ainge quit and Brad Stevens left the bench to replace Ainge.
Ainge, you may remember, drafted Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown because of a swindle he pulled off with the Nets when he broke up the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett Celtics.
And now it’s Celtics-Nets in a first-round series that feels like the Finals. With any luck, we might even get a glimpse of Robert Williams or Iron Horse Ben Simmons playing basketball.
We’ll never know exactly why the Celtics opted for this playoff path. They had control of their destiny last Sunday when they willfully beat a mail-it-in Memphis team to secure the No. 2 seed. Tanking that game would have put the Celtics into a first-round joust with Toronto, which would have potentially outed any Celtic anti-vaxxers. Instead, they went for the win and a chance to draw Kyrie and KD in the first round.
“Shoutout to all the teams at the Top of the Eastern Conference who dodged the Nets in a 1st round matchup,” Perkins tweeted Tuesday. “I’m not saying that the Celtics can’t or won’t win the series but my only question is . . . Why?”
It doesn’t matter now. We’re going to get the most star-powered NBA first-round playoff matchup of all time.
One final thought: Nitwit behavior is not necessary for those lucky enough to attend games at the Garden. Stay classy, Boston.
▪ Quiz: Name three pitchers who won World Series MVP awards in the 1980s, then went on to pitch for the Mets in the 1990s. Hint: Two had late-career stints with the Red Sox. (Answer below.)
▪ A report from a Scott Boras insider that the Red Sox lowballed Xander Bogaerts is not good for business on Jersey Street. It comes on the heels of another report that the Sox and Rafael Devers are “100 million” apart.
If these reports from veteran “insiders” are wildly inaccurate, Sam Kennedy should go Full Brian Cashman and tell us what Bogaerts and Devers turned down. Absent any pushback, we are left to assume this is a continuation of the Red Sox going the Tampa Bay Way.
Don’t be fooled by “sixth-highest payroll.” That’s due to Dave Dombrowski’s days (the Sox are still paying David Price). Chaim Bloom is here to get the house in order, and that means no more long-term deals for proven, homegrown players who become stars in Boston.
Jon Lester. Mookie Betts. Now Bogaerts. Next Devers?
▪ In case you missed it: There was an ultimate 2022 Baseball Diva moment when the Red Sox opened at Yankee Stadium. New York ace Gerrit Cole was lit up by the Sox in the first inning and blamed his woes on a four-minute delay before the game — a pause that resulted when Opening Day ceremonies spilled over.
Cole was seen in the dugout yelling, “Let’s go, let’s go!” while Billy Crystal was walking out to toss the ceremonial first pitch.
Taking the mound a whopping four minutes later than expected, Cole walked leadoff man Kiké Hernández on four pitches, then gave up three consecutive hard hits: a homer by Devers, a 110- m.p.h.-exit-velo single off the left-field wall by Bogaerts, and a double by J.D. Martinez.
After the game, Cole said, “That was an unforeseen challenge. The festivities got a little away from the schedule … You expect something and you don’t get it.”
Cole is in the third year of a nine-year, $324 million contract.
▪ Irving thinks he should have been named to the NBA’s 75th anniversary list of the top 75 players. He also thinks he originally was on the list but was erased for unexplained reasons.
“I think I’ll leave it to the conspiracy theorists,” said Irving. “I think I was on the list, but I guess I’m not . . . I think I’ll wait for that when my career is over, and maybe on the 100th anniversary, I’ll make that team.”
▪ About 15 years ago, I went to see Westford Academy play Newton South in a Dual County League varsity girls’ basketball game at the South gym. I don’t remember who won the game, but I will never forget the sight of a little girl practicing alone on one of the adjacent courts while all the parents watched the varsity game.
The kid could not have been more than 7 or 8 years old, but she was dribbling two basketballs — one with each hand — as she ran the length of the court. Up and back. Over and over.
I asked one of the Newton parents about this amazing little kid and was told, “That’s Veronica Burton, Steve and Ginni’s youngest girl.”
Burton was the seventh overall pick (Dallas Wings) in the WNBA draft Monday.
▪ Long Forgotten Dept.: In the summer of 1983, when Harry Mangurian was selling the Celtics, the affable owner was approached by young Donald Trump, owner of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals.
“Red Auerbach turned down Donald Trump,” remembers Jan Volk, who succeeded Auerbach as general manager of the Celtics. “Trump wanted to buy the club, but Red wouldn’t have anything to do with him.”
Mangurian wound up selling to Don Gaston, Alan Cohen, and Paul Dupee, and the 1983-84 Celtics won a championship in the first season of their stewardship.
▪ One of my great readers noted the amazing parallel (early) lives of former Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone and Beatle John Lennon.
Both men were born on Oct. 9, 1940, grew up in working-class neighborhoods, lost a parent at a young age, and found great professional success in the early/mid 1960s. Both wore their hair stylishly long and played in front of sellout crowds at New York baseball parks in 1964.
Both married young, then divorced in the 1960s. Both broke up with their original teams at the end of the ‘60s. Both were shot at close range in New York (Pepitone, who is still alive, was shot by a high school classmate when he was 17).
▪ Much-maligned baseball commissioner Rob Manfred gave Bose headphones to each big league player as an Opening Day gift, a peace offering after the 99-day lockout. It reminded us of Red Sox owners in 2011 issuing $300 headphones to Sox players after a scheduling quarrel that offended the players. The gift did not help matters. Those chicken-and-beer Sox tanked in September and got just about everybody fired.
▪ They don’t come any better than Boston College hockey coach Jerry York, who announced his retirement this past week.
▪ Congrats to Tim Weston, Colby’s longtime head athletic trainer, who is one of six trainers nationwide named to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Hall of Fame.
▪ Quiz answer: Bret Saberhagen, Frank Viola, Orel Hershiser.