What's better than winning the MVP?
Being compared to Bird and Russell.
"That guy," Jim Lynam said, speaking of Boston's Kevin Garnett, "it's easy to say you like him because his talent is that obvious. But he's got something else, something special about how he comes at you. Something almost Birdlike."
He said the last part quieter, as if it should be more solemn than the rest. It is not something the Sixers assistant coach says lightly, or often.
"No," Lynam agreed. "It is not."
And then they played the game. The Sixers came out with their four-game winning streak, and their improving roster, and their feisty personality, and their apparent joy at playing much better than people had thought they could.
The Celtics came out with their Kevin Garnett.
It isn't all him, of course. No team wins 50 of its first 62 games because of one player. But on most nights, there is no reasonable answer to what Garnett brings to the court. Last night, he brought 26 points and 12 rebounds, but those are just numbers. What he brought mostly was the promise that the rest of the Celtics would play as hard as he does. They better.
"The other night, I felt like we won by 1,000 points, and I was worried about this one," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "It's the kind of game that can be a trap against a team that plays as hard as Philly. But the reason I didn't have to worry was I knew Kevin would not let them let down."
Rivers was given the Bird analogy, for fierceness of play, for sheer competitiveness, and he nodded.
"Yes," Rivers said, "and Russell. He's got that demeanor. Bird and Russell."
Is there a higher compliment for a player, particularly one in a Boston uniform? For a player in any uniform?
"I don't think so," Rivers said, "but if there was, I'd give it to him, too."