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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lakers’ Kobe Bryant admires Celts’ heart

If you’ve ever wondered why NBA writers type so fast, it’s because sometimes the direct quotes they report start to lose their validity before the ink is dry on the website.

OK, so one night Doc Rivers is calling his team soft. And just two and a half weeks ago he is saying the Celtics may jettison some underperformers if they don’t get their acts in order. ...

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If you’ve ever wondered why NBA writers type so fast, it’s because sometimes the direct quotes they report start to lose their validity before the ink is dry on the website.

OK, so one night Doc Rivers is calling his team soft. And just two and a half weeks ago he is saying the Celtics may jettison some underperformers if they don’t get their acts in order.

Cut to Thursday night, and Kobe Bryant is casting an admiring eye toward a Shamrock AC that, in the wake of Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL, has won six consecutive games.

Got whiplash yet?

While Kobe’s Lakers have gone through a coaching change, several dozen mood swings and some verbal knives to the back, the Celtics now seem like a paragon of parquet virtue. The team that underachieved its way to a sub-.500 record is now an ascending 26-23 and amazing one and all with its will and guile, and a toughness conspicuously absent for the first many weeks of the season.

“It’s typical,” said Bryant. “Typical Celtics basketball. You know, they all just put their hard hats on and they go out and they play hard and they figure things out. It seems like whenever their backs are against the wall, you know, that’s when you really see the best from them.”

But wasn’t this the same team that, with an All-Star point guard, was neck and neck with the Lakers in the race to see who could fall shortest of their own expectations? Weren’t those the Celtics who got battered by double figures in three straight games out west between Christmas and New Year’s?

“Yeah,” said Kobe, “but then all of a sudden their backs are against the wall and then they perform and step up and play well, just like they did last year when they made that playoff run. That’s just what this team does. They kind of rope-a-dope you a little bit.

“You just figure things out. You just have guys step up and perform. You just have added responsibility, and you go from there.”

The Celtics didn’t spend much time on the edges of the ring. They had 58 points and a 14-point lead by halftime, and when Bryant tried to carry the Angelenos back in with a brilliant 13-point third quarter (4-of-4 from the floor, 5-of-5 from the line), Paul Pierce nearly matched him with 12 points. Then the latter’s friends leveled the Lakers.

While the rest of the guests were posting 12 points in the period, the Other Celtics supported Pierce with 25 to remove the drama from the game and put it right back into the Lakers dressing room.

Kobe wasn’t surprised the Celtics are doing all this without a short guy he so adores?

“No, I mean, honestly, that’s what they do,” he said. “We’ve seen them in the (final) series twice, and they’re just a tough group. They’re a tough group. You know, whether or not they can sustain it for the remainder of the season going into the playoffs obviously remains to be seen. Rajon is a really, really special player, and so you’re missing a lot, particularly in the postseason. But if anybody can figure it out, this group can.”

His point is one we’ve been making here – that the Celtics are playing better now because they’re playing the pass-ahead-instead-of-dribble transition game they should have been all along.

But it’s still hard to picture them playing in June without takeover artist Rondo. Then again, if the 35-year-old Pierce and the 36-year-old Kevin Garnett can make a drive down memory lane, well, let’s just say the 34-year-old Bryant wouldn’t be completely shocked.

He’s not caught off-guard at all by the work of the Celtic ancients.

“No, man, it’s a generational thing,” Kobe said. “I mean, that generation, you know, we all seem to hold on or have found the same fountain of youth somewhere.”