Czar Co-stars in NBA 2K23

The Czar, Mike Fratello, joins NBA 2KTV to talk about his new role in NBA 2K23, Michael Jordan memories and more!

Czar Star: Kevin Garnett

The Celtics stole Game 5 in Miami and will return to Beantown with a chance to close out the ECF on Thursday. Their anchor, on the floor and emotionally, has been the 17th-year ‘Big Ticket’ Kevin Garnett. Through a rough, up-and-down regular season and 18 postseason games thus far, future HOF’er Garnett has provided increased production on both ends of the court as well as the leadership that few in the NBA posses.

36-year-old KG is averaging 19.9 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 1.6 apg in 37.3 grueling minutes of competition each night. His intensity and consistency allow him to affect the game on almost every play. On Sunday in Boston, Garnett had 17 points, 14 boards, 5 blocks, 3 dimes and 2 steals in a game that the Celtics had to win in order to avoid going down 3-1 before heading to Miami for Game 5. After helping his teammates tie the series, Garnett followed up with a 26-point performance and 11 rebounds in Tuesday’s thrilling 94–90 coup on the Heat’s home turf, giving the Celts a 3-2 lead.

Garnett has surpassed his regular season high of 25 points four times in he playoffs, and he only failed to score in double digits once. In addition, his rebounding, shot-blocking and steals have all increased in the postseason, and Garnett is shooting 80% from the line and 50% from the field. While playing out of position at the 5, KG has yet to foul out in the playoffs. This is especially impressive in the Miami series considering two of the games went to OT.

The Boston fandom felt that there was a three-year championship window when C’s GM Danny Ainge traded to get Garnett in 2007. Well, this is year 5 of the new ‘Big 3’ + Rondo era, and the Celtics are one victory away from reaching the Finals for the third time (2008, 2010) with KG in the Green & White. His mental toughness, savvy and amazing athleticism have Boston in a position that few hoopsheads predicted at the start of the 2011-2012 season or when the playoffs began. If this is Garnett’s last year with the C’s (his contract is up) then he’s determined to leave it all on the floor and to hang another banner from the rafters before the end of his legendary career as a Celtic.

Czar Star: Rajon Rondo

The Boston Celtics’ mercurial 6th-year PG Rajon Rondo has been the object of much debate and discussion throughout the 2011-2012 season. The former Kentucky Wildcat was the subject of multiple trade rumors (Chris Paul swap?) prior to the regular season and then again at the trade deadline in March.

Rondo played it cool as the talk and speculation swirled in sports-obsessed Boston. He can be aloof, and in this instance it served him well. GM Danny Ainge kept the veteran-laden Celtics team intact, and now they will attempt to make a third trip to the NBA Finals with Rondo at the 1.

The 3X All-Star has appeared in 78 postseason games in his brief career. Rondo excels in the playoffs both offensively and on the defensive end. In Boston’s first-round series victory over Atlanta, Rondo bettered his production in every significant stat when compared to the regular season. Rondo’s scoring output is up significantly from 11.9 ppg to 16.8 ppg, and his averages in FG%, 3pt FG% and rebounding all improved during the 16-squad test of toughness, endurance, nerves and will.

For all playoff teams, the core guys and stars spend more time on the court now that every minute of the 48 is critical. Rondo’s minutes are up 14%, but his turnovers and personal fouls are down. Rondo leads the NBA this postseason in dimes and swipes with 11.8 and 3.4 respectively. In the first round he had game highs of 20 points (twice), 16 dimes and 5 steals.

Rondo does sometimes make bad decisions in the heat of the moment. He was suspended for Game 2 for intentionally bumping a referee in Game 1 of the Hawks series. But when he came back for the third game, Rondo posted 17 points, 12 assists, 14 rebounds and 4 steals in the C’s win, bringing his career total of playoff triple-doubles to seven.

The Celtics have three future HOF’ers on their roster, but Rondo is the engine for their success and the catalyst in former PG Doc Rivers’ game plan. His penetration, distribution and clamp-down D give Boston a dynamic weapon against opponents of various styles and strengths. Look for him to elevate his already explosive game in the next round against historical foe Philly.

Czar Star: Ty Lawson

The Denver Nuggets’ third-year PG Ty Lawson might be the fastest player in the NBA with the ball in his hands. He is literally and figuratively the Nuggets’ on-court engine. Lawson can shoot the three, blow past defenders in the open court as well as half-court sets and dish the rock with few turnovers in coach George Karl’s speedy, high-scoring offense. The Nuggets lead the league in points per game at 103.5 in large part thanks to the former Tar Heel, 2009 ACC Player of the Year and 2009 NCAA champion.

Lawson leads Denver in points, assists and steals per game with averages of 15.6, 6.7 and 1.3 respectively. And even with his engine running in the red zone, Lawson is able to stay on the court and execute coach Karl’s game plan from the 1-spot. He also leads the Nuggets in minutes played with 35 and averages a mere 1.6 fouls per game.

With Denver perched perilously at the eighth spot in the tough Western Conference at 31-26, Lawson has stepped up his game. In the past eight contests for The Rocky Mountain Ballers, #3 has put up 18.4 ppg, 6.6 apg and 3.4 rpg. On March 26th against the NBA-leading Chicago Bulls, Lawson tied his season high with 27 points in the Nuggets’ 108-91 win.

In each of 24-year-old Lawson’s three seasons in the pros he’s bettered his stats and now competes with a comfort of ability that only the elite players posses. The Nuggets have nine games remaining in this shortened schedule, and each successive contest will increase in importance with regard to postseason participation. Lawson will be Denver’s most important player down the backstretch, and I expect him to rise to the occasion.

Czar Star: Kyrie Irving

First-year point guard Kyrie Irving is proving to be the antidote to the acute atrophy of the Cavaliers’ title hopes following LeBron’s departure. Irving was named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January. The former Dukie and first overall pick in the 2011 Draft leads his freshman class with 18.1 points per game and is shooting 51 percent from the floor.

After finishing at the bottom of the heap last season, Cleveland is currently ninth in the East and could challenge for one of the last playoff spots this go-around thanks to Irving’s leadership on the court. I spoke with Stepien Rules founder Brendan Bowers about the rising superstar before the Nets’ 99-96 road win over the Cavs last week.