Suddenly, Milt Palacio was trending. There were Twitter tributes. Reflections from Celtics fans and former teammates. Kind words and condolences. There were calls to his family offering solace and encouragement during this difficult time.
Only, Palacio was still very much alive. The former Celtic and now assistant coach of the G League’s Long Island Nets was the victim of a fake death story in November. A website called CBTV.com reported on Nov. 22 that Palacio was the victim of a pedestrian hit-and-run accident at the Toronto Mall. The story even reported that he was hit by a Honda Civic.
The story said the US Consulate of Canada identified the 41-year-old Palacio’s body and that he was visiting Canada. The only catch was Palacio was in Canton, Ohio, for his team’s game against the Canton Charge.
Suddenly, during the afternoon of Nov. 22, Palacio’s phone began blowing up. “My phone was ringing all day and I was like, ‘I’m OK, I’m fine,’ ” he said. “I didn’t want to put anything out on social media because I don’t really care for all that stuff. As long as the people closest to me already knew. People were texting me and I told them I was all good.”
Palacio said he had no idea about the Twitter tributes. Fans who remember his string of big shots during his 99-game stint with the Celtics were offering reflections. It was like a Stephen King thriller in which Palacio was reading his obituary while alive.
“First and foremost, I didn’t know where that came from,” he told the Globe. “My wife was trying to get down to the bottom of it. It was a little messed up that my family and friends were really, really concerned.”
Former teammate Mike Bibby called Palacio and said he was about to post a moving Instagram tribute before he decided to place a call first to double-check the story. Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool told Palacio he couldn’t even drive home from practice after he heard the news.
“I said one thing is I felt good that at least my funeral wasn’t going to be empty,” Palacio joked. “I saw the other side of things. I just felt bad for the people closest to me to call me and really be torn up about it. That right there really felt good knowing you’ve got some people who really look out for you and love you.”
What still mystifies Palacio is why him. He played 470 games over six seasons and retired from the NBA 14 years ago. Why would anyone go as far as to create a fake death story about Milt Palacio? “What’s crazy is that the first five stories on the site had different names of different people [dying] and then my name popped up,” he said. “It was just crazy, but I’m glad to still be here.”
Palacio’s post-career path has taken him to coaching in the NBA’s minor league. He enjoys working with younger players, many of whom remind him of himself. Palacio was undrafted in 1999 out of Colorado State and played with six teams in seven seasons. He played 58 games for the 2001-02 Celtics and 41 games the following season before being included in the Joe Johnson trade to Phoenix.
Palacio is best remembered for his Miracle at the Meadowlands shot on Dec. 28, 2000, when he intercepted a Lucious Harris inbounds pass with the Celtics down 2 and launched an off-balance 3-pointer to win it, 112-111.
Palacio was waived a few days later and then signed by the Celtics to two 1o-day contracts and then for the rest of the season. “People ask me where my favorite place to play was — playing-wise and just the fans and the atmosphere was hands down Boston,” he said. “Hands down. As much as I hated Boston as a kid [growing up a Lakers fan in Los Angeles] and I said I would never play for the Celtics and I would never wear that ugly green, I had the best time there.
“And playing with a childhood friend in Paul Pierce. We had a really close-knit team, it was unfortunate that I got traded from there. But I loved my time in Boston. People around my age always tell me, ‘Man, I remember you in Boston. I remember how hard you played out there.’ So it was good.”
CHANGING ON THE FLY
76ers adjusting without Embiid
The Philadelphia 76ers looked plenty good enough in their win over the Celtics on Thursday without All-Star center Joel Embiid, who will miss a few weeks after having surgery to repair a torn finger ligament in his left hand. But that was the team’s first game without its star and the Celtics didn’t have much time to prepare for the Embiid-less 76ers. Other clubs will, and coach Brett Brown knows it’s going to be a challenge to move forward without Embiid.
Brown promises a faster and more up-tempo pace focused around Al Horford, who has been seemingly lost in the Philadelphia offense with Embiid the central figure. Horford scored 17 points in the victory over the Celtics and looked more comfortable without Embiid’s huge presence in the paint.
Embiid is the league’s most dominant center, an old-school type of big man who also has the ability to score from midrange and the 3-point line.
“To think we can replicate what we used to do with Joel now with Al so we make the perimeter people’s world more seamless and comfortable, it can’t happen,” Brown said. “There’s adjustments now as a team we have to make, as I believe we should.”
“To feature him more, I feel like more, I don’t pay much attention but I feel like the questions I get asked, I think people have to understand in that old world, like 24 hours ago, with Joel, [Horford] is not featured as much.”
Horford’s offensive numbers are down in comparison to last season, and he has intimated it has been difficult to find an offensive role.
“It’s just part of being on a good team. He accepts it,” Brown said. “To now play him and feature him more and things we know he’s quite capable at, just in a more frequent environment, I think positives can come out of this. And when we do get Joel back in the mix, hopefully we got some good things to look at Al Horford in the rearview mirror.”
Horford has special skills that the 76ers haven’t exploited, but with Embiid gone, they will. His pick-and-roll skills are exceptional and he canned two key 3-pointers in Thursday’s win.
“To me, the thing that made Al special was when he rolled and you weren’t too sure if he was going to pop or roll. Do you simply put him in more pick-and-rolls? Of course. Now he’s more of a feature guy. He’s more part of it,” Brown said. “We understand the punishment Al has put on us enough to better recognize where he should be placed a year removed from his Celtics days.”
Brown scoffed at the assertion that Embiid’s injury is real adversity. Remember, Brown endured “The Process” that included a 72-loss season. He’s seen real team adversity.
“We have been through a lot. Things like this are easy. You just move on,” he said. “I don’t see things like that and I wouldn’t have been here very long had I seen the things we all live through like that. My world is about how can he get his health where he’s back and feeling cocky and comfortable and ready to go where he’s healthy, not just for this playoffs but for many playoffs.
“I care for Joel and his future and I’m wired . . . to look at things like what’s best for him and his future. Usually I think when you look at it like that, you see the world a little bit clearer. For me, I gain greater perspective. He’s injured and we move on. I like the team. I believe good things will be found out.”
Embiid said while he was in Boston last month that he wanted to be fresh for the playoffs, that he played last year beat up and exhausted from the regular season. So, could this injury respite provide the 250-pound center a chance to save his body and reenergize himself for a long playoff run?
Uh, Brown doesn’t see it that way. He’d rather have Embiid here, and here now. “If all things we’re equal, I’d want him playing basketball,” said Brown. “I think our load management plan does what we need to achieve what you just said. To manufacture or to have an injury happen and for me to think, oh this is great, he’s going to have some time off, I can’t go there.
“This team as it sits, we will do some different things that we’re all going to learn about. The rhythm to playing basketball matters and I feel the responsibility and the plan we have in place already, if he were healthy, would achieve [being 100 percent in the playoffs].”
Popovich, Spurs get back on track
At age 70, Gregg Popovich is the league’s oldest, most successful, and longest-tenured NBA coach. And after a difficult early stretch that included an eight-game losing streak, Popovich has turned the Spurs back in the right direction. They should continue their unprecedented streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances.
One major change the Spurs have incorporated is bringing center LaMarcus Aldridge out on the perimeter and encouraging him to become more of a 3-point threat. Aldridge has attempted 79 3-pointers in his first 34 games, compared with 42 all of last season and 105 in his highest previous season in 2014-15.
That has opened San Antonio’s offense, although the Spurs peppered the Celtics with 2-pointers in their win this past week at TD Garden.
“I think he is buying in finally,” Popovich said about Aldridge embracing the 3-pointer. “It’s the world we live in and we weren’t really constituted for that. So we’re trying to figure it out with the personnel that we have. We’re built a little bit different than everybody else for a variety of reasons.”
The Spurs attempted 18.5 3-pointers per game four seasons ago. That number has jumped to 27.4 this season, the most of the Popovich era. The coach said it’s not hard to convince post players to shoot threes since it’s an easier path to scoring than getting pounded in the paint for a mere 2 points.
“When people have played in the league for 10 or 12 years, it’s kind of hard to change somebody overnight,” Popovich said. “I think he’s been spectacular in stepping back and spreading the floor in different sets that we have in different situations.
“He’s also figured out you’re allowed to beat the [heck] out of each other on the blocks and there’s not going to be many calls. First of all, it’s a 2-point shot and secondly, a lot of them are contested and not great shots because you’re getting pounded and you’re not going to get a call and get rewarded for it. So, it’s a lose-lose down there most of the time.”
Popovich offered his thoughts on other topics, such as the NBA’s allowance of players — i.e. James Harden — to essentially travel on their most customary moves.
“I’m still trying to figure out the new gathering rule — it’s not traveling until you gather and you take four steps initially and if you gather then they start counting,” Popovich said. “I’m not sure. It’s something like that. I’m not smart enough to figure it out. Very talented, clever people have taken advantage of that really well and have become almost impossible to guard, unless there’s a crowd.”
Popovich said he is convinced the NBA wants a more offensive league and has instituted rules making it more difficult to defend players while also allowing them to make moves that weren’t legal in previous generations, such as the gather step.
“I think this is the way they want it, whoever they might be,” he said. “More open, less free throws. Less calls on the block means less free throws, and the games are quicker. I make the same joke all the time. Let’s have a 4-point play. Let’s have a 4-point line and a 5-point line and make it a real circus. So that there’s no nuance to the game whatsoever.”
And on the subject of load management, the resting procedure for which Popovich is credited as the godfather, he said he didn’t believe it would become a league-wide phenomenon and source of controversy.
“It’s become kind of silly actually. I didn’t do any kind of load management,” he said. “If there’s credit in that, I don’t deserve it. If there’s the opposite, I don’t deserve that either. I did it because I wanted those guys to have longer careers. I never did load management, we never took out a sheet of paper and said he’s going to do this.
“Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker played more minutes than anybody in the world when you count what they did in the summers and when they started playing pro ball. It was just logical to try to watch their minutes. Tim Duncan, the second year, he hurt his knee, I kept him out of the playoffs. He could have probably played but I kept him out, and from that day on I wanted to make sure he could be healthy so whenever I could, I gave him some rest. If that’s load management, so be it. Load management today is kind of farcical to some degree.”
The situation with Kevin Love in Cleveland has reached a point where he needs to be traded, but it’s not as easy as dealing a former All-Star for a fresh start. Love has three years and $90 million remaining on his deal, meaning the only way Cavaliers general manager Koby Altmancould move Love is by taking an equally unwanted contract back. Or Altman could wait for a title-contending team to come forward that envisions Love as its final piece and that is willing to trade perhaps an expiring contract. Of course, if a team is going to take on Love’s contract, it is going to want more from the Cavaliers, such as a young prospect or draft picks. Cleveland, in total rebuild mode, wants to give up neither. Also, the tenure of new coach John Beilein has gotten off to a rocky start, to say the least. Not only is the 66-year-old having trouble relating to his players — some of whom are young enough to be his grandsons — he reportedly made a regrettable mistake by calling his players “thugs” instead of “slugs” when referring to their defense. Although he has apologized, it will be interesting to see how his players react for the remainder of the season. The post-LeBron James Cavaliers are in a bad place and it could take years for the franchise to recover . . . Kyrie Irving finally spoke with the media after two months and acknowledged that his shoulder injury is more severe than expected and that he could undergo season-ending surgery if cortisone shots do not work. Irving has bursitis and a shoulder impingement and revealed the pain made it difficult to raise his arm above his head. If Irving is unable to return, it will be a lost first season for the former Celtic in the four-year deal he signed with Brooklyn. The Nets did welcome back emerging shooting guard Caris LeVert but there is no guarantee they will claim a playoff spot this season. The Nets have slipped to eighth in the Eastern Conference, behind rising Orlando, and entering Saturday lead Charlotte and Detroit by just four games for the final playoff spot.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.