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Wayne Rooney, England's raging bull at Euro 2004: 'His movement, his speed… he was not human'

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Wayne Rooney, England's raging bull at Euro 2004: 'His movement, his speed… he was not human'

“Their average age is 26. They’re in the prime of their footballing lives,” Clive Tyldesley, the ITV commentator, said into his microphone as England prepared to kick off against France at Euro 2004.

David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Michael Owen, Sol Campbell… this was England’s golden generation at their peak.

Yet it was the baby-faced assassin among them, or the assassin-faced baby as some liked to call him, who played as though he was ready to take over the world.

This summer marks 20 years since Wayne Rooney, aged 18, went on the rampage at Euro 2004.

“Like a raging bull,” Emile Heskey, the former England striker, says. “The youthful enthusiasm, plus the fearlessness. He was phenomenal.”

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Raw, volatile and prodigiously talented, Rooney scored four goals in three-and-a-bit games (England will forever wonder what might have been but for that metatarsal injury in the early stages of the quarter-final against Portugal), and lit up the group stage.

“I don’t remember anyone making such an impact on a tournament since Pele in the 1958 World Cup,” Sven-Goran Eriksson, England’s manager, said. “He’s a complete footballer.”


(Michael Mayhew/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images)

Straight outta Croxteth, Rooney’s ability was a product of where he grew up in Liverpool rather than how he had been coached.

“Nobody can take credit for Wayne’s development,” David Moyes, Rooney’s manager when he broke through at Everton, reflected many years later. “He is probably the last of those street players that used to be the rage when you go back to all the greats.”

That was how Rooney played in Portugal – as if he had just walked out of his old house on Armill Road, on the council estate that shaped and defined his upbringing, with a ball tucked under his arm, ready to take on anyone and everyone who fancied their chances.

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“Football arrogance, in that he just didn’t care,” says Jamie Carragher, who was part of the England squad at Euro 2004.

“He was playing the highest level of football that you could play anywhere in the world that summer and he treated it like he was training with Everton’s youth team. He was running around, knocking people out the way and just doing what he wanted.”

The France game was astonishing. Rooney nutmegged Robert Pires, went toe-to-toe with Claude Makelele, pirouetted away from Zinedine Zidane with a roulette turn, won a penalty with a breathtaking run that started from inside his own half, and revelled in the fear that he saw in the eyes of Lilian Thuram and Mikael Silvestre.

“I think you could see their centre-backs were scared to go near me,” Rooney said on the Amazon documentary about his life that was released two years ago.

Whether you were watching at home from the comfort of your sofa, high up in the stands in the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, or even pitchside on the England substitutes’ bench, Rooney’s emergence as an international star made for compelling viewing.

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“I remember everyone was just looking at each other open-mouthed,” Carragher says.

“I picture that scene with (Paul) Merson laughing after Owen’s goal against Argentina in 1998 – we were like that on the bench (against France). We were like, ‘Oh my God. Is he really doing that to those players?’”

Looking back, it was a watershed moment for Rooney, who moved to Old Trafford from Everton for more than £25million (then $45m) later that summer.

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“I don’t think he was stitched on for Manchester United before Euro 2004,” says Tyldesley, who delivered his famous ‘Remember the name’ commentary line almost two years earlier, after Rooney had scored that goal against Arsenal for Everton.

“I think there was a big shout for Newcastle at the time and maybe Chelsea. But there was speculation about his future rather than an inevitability that he would start the new season in different colours.

“So this, really, is your story: this was the making of Wayne Rooney, this was when he came to the world’s attention.”


“I doubt how much Rooney can give to England. He is very young – too young for such a hard competition like this. He lacks international experience, so for England to depend on him to score their goals is dangerous. Rooney is not Michael Owen – he was a far better player on his debut for the England team.”

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Thuram poked the bear with those pre-match comments.

Rooney later admitted that he made a mental note of them – and, Rooney being Rooney, he was never going to let it rest there.

In the second half against France, in an uncharacteristically untidy passage of play from him on the night, Rooney stumbled over the ball twice in quick succession. What happened next was more calculated. Thuram stepped in to make a challenge but Rooney, holding out his right arm, saw the defender coming.

“I just banged right into his jaw and then I looked back at him as if to say: ‘Now you know who I am.’”


(PAUL BARKER/AFP via Getty Images)

Thuram was 14 years his senior and one of the most distinguished defenders in the world at the time. But Rooney didn’t care one bit about that.

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When he recalled the incident in 2022, half a lifetime later, Rooney said that he could still see the expression on Thuram’s face. “The fear of thinking: ‘What am I going to do here?’”

Little more than 10 minutes later, David Beckham hooked a long ball towards the left flank, where Rooney was stationed close to the halfway line. With Thuram closing in on him, Rooney nonchalantly lifted the ball over the centre-back’s head and accelerated away, leaving him in his wake. As Rooney bore down on goal, Silvestre came across and scythed him down for a stonewall penalty. It was incredible to watch. Rooney was single-handedly tormenting France.


(Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The assumption has always been that Thuram was disrespectful towards Rooney before the game, displaying an ignorance bordering on arrogance with those dismissive remarks about him, but Olivier Dacourt insists that was not the case.

According to Dacourt, Thuram had the same mindset as Benoit Assou-Ekotto, the ex-Tottenham Hotspur full-back who paid little attention to anything to do with football apart from when he was running around with a pair of boots on.

“If you know Lilian, Lilian doesn’t follow football, he doesn’t care,” Dacourt says. “He’s following football now with his children (Thuram’s two sons are professionals), but at the time he didn’t even have a television at home.

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“I remember the first time he met Jean-Alain Boumsong (the former Rangers and Newcastle defender), he didn’t know who he was!”

Dacourt, who came on as a late substitute for France in the England game, breaks into laughter.

“Lilian said, ‘Who is this guy?’ I had to introduce the two of them – it was with the national team. Can you imagine that?

“So Lilian wasn’t being disrespectful (towards Rooney). It was just that he didn’t know.”

Either way, Rooney was in the mood to leave an indelible mark on anyone who crossed his path at Euro 2004. He had fire in those iconic Nike Total 90 boots and welcomed confrontation.

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(Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

“There’s a famous Elbow song, ‘Lippy Kids’, and Wayne was that lippy kid,” Tyldesley says. “I’m sure that’s what the opponents saw. He had that mischief in his eyes where he wanted you to remember him beyond the game.”

Crucially, Rooney also had the talent and the physicality to back it up.

“At 16, Wayne Rooney was in a man’s body, and he knew how to put that body around,” Heskey adds. “You wouldn’t have believed his age. He was like that darts player.”

Luke Littler, who reached the World Darts Championship final in January at the age of 16, may well appreciate that comparison more than Rooney, but you get the point that Heskey is trying to make. Sir Alex Ferguson wrote in his autobiography that all Manchester United’s “intelligence about Wayne Rooney as an Evertonian schoolboy could be condensed into a single phrase. This was a man playing in under-age football.”

Tyldesley nods. “You almost need to look back at footage from that era to remember what Wayne Rooney looked like at 18. He was battle-ready when he was first enlisted because not only was he a gifted street footballer, but he was streetwise with a bullish physicality.

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“And having lived on Merseyside for 15 years and got a little insight – and I stress a little – into how different that city is from most in the UK, I’ve always been of the conclusion that the idea of facing (Patrick) Vieira and Thuram in the opening game of a major championship was something that he could take in his stride because he’d probably seen more scary things on his way home from school in Croxteth. And I hope that doesn’t sound dismissive towards Merseyside, because (his upbringing) was the making of him.”

Ultimately, Rooney’s efforts against France were in vain. Beckham’s spot kick was saved and England, who had been leading through Frank Lampard’s first-half header, pressed the self-destruct button in added time, when Zidane scored twice, first with an exquisite free kick and then with a penalty following Gerrard’s blind backpass.

At least England didn’t need to look too far for a silver lining in defeat – everyone was talking about Rooney, including the French.

“A sort of new Paul Gascoigne,” L’Equipe said in their player ratings. “The irascible 18-year-old showed enormous fighting spirit.”

Naturally, the French sports paper still only gave Rooney 6.5 out of 10.

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Bruno Berner shakes his head. “I still can’t believe that those guys didn’t achieve anything,” the former Switzerland international says.

“Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham… it seems impossible. It was a world-class English team and now you have a young lad coming through the ranks with unbelievable hunger. This is what I remember with Rooney.

“We all saw him in his first Premier League games. So we, as the Swiss national team, did not for one minute underestimate an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney.”

Switzerland were up next for England and Rooney carried on where he left off against France, only this time he added goals to his game too. The first was a header that created history as he became the youngest goalscorer in the European Championship finals, and the second was a shot that hit the post and went in off the back of the head of the Switzerland keeper Jorg Stiel.


(Mark Leech/Offside via Getty Images)

In a team of A-listers, Rooney was running the show and playing with extraordinary self-belief. “I remember in that tournament, at 18, thinking to myself, ‘I’m the best player in the world, there’s no one better than me.’ And I believe at that time I was.”

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Berner smiles. “I can well imagine he would say that. He was just full of confidence and he delivered.

“He didn’t care who was in front of him on the pitch, he took the shortest way to the goal. This is what we spotted, or I spotted, at that time. But you can only do that when you are absolutely fearless. Not arrogant. Fearless.”

Rooney’s second goal against Croatia, in England’s third group game, was a case in point. He played a one-two with Owen, sprinted clear from just inside the Croatia half and you knew – you just knew – that he would score. Direct and deadly, he glanced towards one corner and swept the ball into the other.

By that stage, Rooney had already drilled in a shot from outside the box and set up a goal for Paul Scholes.

“His movement, his speed… he was not human,” Dario Simic, the Croatia right-back, says. “He was a beast – like out of a film where you see someone who’s just naturally so strong without going to the gym.”

England were through to the quarter-finals and Roo-mania was now sweeping across the country. “HEROO”, yelled the Daily Mirror front page.

A Portugal side featuring a core of players from the Porto team that had just won the Champions League, as well as Luis Figo and a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo, were up next.

The host nation would be difficult opponents but England were buoyant after scoring seven goals in their previous two matches. On top of that, they had the standout player in the tournament so far.

What could possibly go wrong?

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A fractured metatarsal, that’s what.

Running for a ball alongside Jorge Andrade, Rooney lost his boot after the Portugal defender accidentally trod on his foot. Rooney tried to carry on but winced as soon as he started running and dropped to the floor moments later. He had heard a crack.


(Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Gary Lewin, England’s physio, feared the worst straight away. “I remember there’s a picture of him on the floor and I’m talking to Sven and I said to Sven: ‘This could be his metatarsal. I’m concerned.’ I think he tried it… you know what Wazza is like, ‘Let me get on with it.’ But he knew himself,” Lewin says.

The game was less than half an hour old and Rooney’s Euro 2004 was over. He was devastated and so were England’s players. “It was one of those moments that breaks your concentration, breaks your rhythm, breaks everything in a game – seeing your talisman walking off the pitch,” Owen told the BBC in their World at His Feet documentary.

Not surprisingly, it galvanised Portugal. “We were relieved, of course. I’m not going to lie,” says Costinha, the former Portuguese midfielder. “Rooney was a tremendous player.

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“At the same time, when you play for the national team and play in the biggest competitions, you always want to play against the best players because that’s the way you improve.

“But it was better for us that he was out of the game. He gave us a little bit of rest in defence when he went off.

“When you have other players like (Darius) Vassell and Heskey in the attack, you know their strengths. But when you have an 18-year-old like Rooney, who is an absolute talent, sometimes those players are unpredictable. He was very difficult to mark and control.”

Rooney watched the rest of the game, which Portugal won on penalties, from a hospital bed, thinking about what might have been.

Fifteen years later, as his playing career came to a close, his view hadn’t changed. “The form I was in, the confidence I had, if I stayed fit I believe we would have won,” Rooney told Gary Neville, his former England and Manchester United team-mate, in an interview on Sky Sports.

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What we didn’t know then – and what we couldn’t have believed then – is that Rooney would never come close to reprising that form for England at a major tournament again.

Instead, there were badly-timed injuries, a red card, arguments with England fans, humiliating exits and, perhaps more than anything, inconsistent performances – from Rooney as well as his team-mates.

So does that mean that Euro 2004 was prime Rooney?

“No, I would say that was Rooney given freedom,” Heskey replies. “It was off the cuff – you’re just playing. When you’re older you tend to play within a strategy and the tactics of the team. But when he was younger it was just: ‘Give me the ball and let me do what I do.’”

Carragher agrees. “I don’t think that was Rooney at his peak. There’s no doubt he became a better player – he had a couple of seasons at Manchester United where he was the best player in the Premier League. But there’s also no doubt it was his best tournament and his standout moment in an England shirt.

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“I think Euro 2004 was Rooney with the world not knowing too much about him, and him not thinking too much about football. As he got older and got more mature, he would have thought about the game more, he would have thought about what a big game means, the expectation level. But I think this was a player who, as you said before, didn’t give a f*** basically, and that was a street footballer.”

(Photos: Getty Images/Design: Eamonn Dalton)

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Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz confirmed as Olympic doubles pair for Spain

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Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz confirmed as Olympic doubles pair for Spain

Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz will represent Spain as a tennis doubles pairing at the Paris Olympics, which begins on July 26.

David Ferrer, the former world No 3 and current national selector for Spain, announced at a Royal Spanish Tennis Federation (RFET) press conference on Wednesday that Spain’s men’s team will include Nadal, the 22-time Grand Slam champion, Alcaraz, the three-time Grand Slam champion, Pablo Carreno Busta, and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Marcel Granollers, a doubles specialist whose partnership with Argentinian Horacio Zeballos is currently the best in the world by combined ranking, is also included.

Ferrer said that he believes Nadal and Alcaraz “have the capacity to win a medal in doubles” after the team announcement.

This will be Alcaraz’s first Olympics, coming after his title defence at Wimbledon, which begins on July 1, and his recent victory over Alexander Zverev in the Roland Garros final last Sunday. Nadal is currently on the entry list for Wimbledon, using his protected injury ranking of 10, but said after exiting Roland Garros that playing “wouldn’t be a good idea.”

Nadal, who already holds a singles gold medal from Beijing 2008 and a doubles gold medal from Rio de Janeiro 2016 with Marc Lopez, will compete in his last Games. Although he has not announced his retirement date, he has not ruled out a return to the French Open in 2025 after losing to Zverev in the first round this year.

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Paula Badosa, meanwhile, will not feature due to WTA rules. Badosa has chosen to use her protected injury ranking to enter the next two Grand Slam tournaments, at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, which begins in late August; the former world No 2 was not permitted to use that ranking for both tournaments and the Olympics. Sara Sorribes Tormo and Cristina Bucsa will be Spain’s representatives on the women’s side.

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100 days until the Olympic Games – is Paris ready?

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Ricciardo’s Montreal upgrade hinged on 'self-therapy' — not Jacques Villeneuve

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Ricciardo’s Montreal upgrade hinged on 'self-therapy' — not Jacques Villeneuve

There was a point towards the end of last year when there was a genuine feeling that Daniel Ricciardo was lining up to take Sergio Pérez’s Formula One seat at Red Bull for 2025.

Ricciardo made clear upon his mid-season return to the grid with AlphaTauri (now RB) that getting back in the Red Bull, the same seat he vacated back in 2018, was his ultimate target. As Pérez struggled through the second half of the season, suggestions of that happening only grew.

But, Ricciardo did very little to press his case in the early part of 2024. He frequently trailing teammate Yuki Tsunoda and, besides his run to P4 in the Miami sprint qualifying and race, had not delivered a points finish ahead of Canada and sat 14th in the driver standings. Meanwhile, Pérez performed well enough to secure a contract extension through 2026, ending Ricciardo’s hopes of moving up anytime in the near future.

Off the back of Pérez’s confirmation, Ricciardo acknowledged he had to “hold myself probably accountable for not doing anything too spectacular” this season. “When you’re trying to fight for a top seat, you need to be doing some pretty awesome things,” he said.

By the Canadian Grand Prix, Ricciardo’s tough start to the season had changed his aim from fighting for a top seat to fighting for his current seat.

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No one went further in questioning Ricciardo’s future than Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 F1 world champion who was part of Sky Sports’ broadcast team for his home race in Montreal.


Jacques Villeneuve leveled harsh criticism at Daniel Ricciardo in Montreal. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“Why is he still here?” Villeneuve said of Ricciardo, asking why he continued to struggle with his cars and declaring that “his image has kept him in F1 more than his actual results.” A brutal takedown, one that quickly went viral given how rare it is for a pundit to be so outspoken on an English-language F1 broadcast.

Villeneuve was harsh — perhaps too harsh — but few would dispute the element of truth in what he said. Ricciardo has been clear throughout this year he knows he’s not been doing a good enough job, and has plenty more performance to find.

Just 24 hours later, he found it. In tricky, windy conditions, Ricciardo not only made it through to Q3 for just the second time this season, but he stuck his RB car fifth on the grid, within two-tenths of pole position. Perfect timing, particularly off the back of Tsunoda’s confirmation at RB for 2025 only 90 minutes earlier.

It meant Ricciardo entered the media pen after qualifying with some of his old swagger and sparkle. He knew the questions that were about to come, that Villeneuve’s name would come up. Ricciardo hadn’t fully listened to what had been said about him, he said, only that he “heard he’s been talking s—.”

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“But he always does,” Ricciardo continued. “I think he’s hit his head a few too many times, I don’t know if he plays ice hockey or something. But yeah. Anyway. I won’t give him the time of day.” Then came a “but…” and a lean in close to the microphones: “All those people can suck it! I want to say more, but it’s alright. We’ll leave him behind.”

It was only qualifying, after all. We’d seen this kind of flash from Ricciardo in Miami in the sprint, only for it to disappear when it mattered in the grand prix sessions. This was nevertheless a perfectly timed clapback to Villeneuve’s criticism.

But to directly link the two would do Ricciardo a disservice. He revealed that after Monaco, he made a concerted effort to try to understand why things weren’t working, going beyond his on-track performance and data such as braking points or corner speeds. It required calling on not only the team’s management and engineers, but also his inner-circle off the track, and asking them to be open books with their feedback.

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 09: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Visa Cash App RB VCARB 01 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 09, 2024 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Ricciardo qualified P5 and finished P8 over a rainy weekend in Montreal. (Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

“It was like, OK, what are maybe some other things that are affecting my performances?” Ricciardo said. “Am I coming into a race weekend not feeling energized or not feeling this or that?

“I think I just had a little bit of good self-therapy after Monaco, and just sat back and had a look at maybe the things I’m doing wrong away from the track. Or giving too much of my time to people and by the time I get to race day or something, I’m a little bit more flat.

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“Deep down, I know what I can do, and it’s just making sure I’m in this spot to be able to do it more often.”

And making sure that those flashes of pace turn into something valuable when it matters on Sunday. Ricciardo’s Canadian Grand Prix was far from straightforward, with a creeping car on the start line — which Ricciardo suspected was due to a clutch issue — triggering a jump start and a five-second penalty. He managed to survive the chaos and benefit from some late incidents to grab four points for P8, nearly doubling his total for the season. That alone in the high-pressure conditions felt like a success to Ricciardo.

“All in all, (I’m) happy,” he said. “These races, it’s hard to be perfect. I made mistakes, obviously we were just trying to survive at times. So (I’m) just happy we got there in the end.”

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 09: 8th placed Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB celebrates with fans after the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 09, 2024 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Canada marked the first points-scoring grand prix for Ricciardo. (Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

The greater takeaway for Ricciardo from the Montreal weekend was that it went well from the moment he turned his first laps in FP1 right to the race. For the first time this season, every single session felt positive.

“It’s nice just to be competitive from Friday through to Sunday,” Ricciardo said. “I’m happy. (I’ve) just got to keep it rolling.”

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Ricciardo has time on his side when it comes to proving to Red Bull what he can do and securing an extension with RB. If it wants to make a change, then reserve driver Liam Lawson is ready to step up, as the young Kiwi proved through his five-race stand-in when Ricciardo was injured last year. But there’s no reason for the team to rush into making that call yet.

Ricciardo will hope Montreal serves as a turning point in his season, a breakthrough after the earlier lifts to better understand where he was going wrong. Importantly, he also wants to ensure he keeps the feeling he brought to last weekend.

“That little energy, that little bit of a chip on my shoulder I brought into the weekend, I’ve got to make sure that stays there, and just keep that level of intensity,” Ricciardo said.

“Sometimes being a little bit… I don’t know if I need to be a bit angry or just get my testosterone up. But I think it helps me.”

(Lead photo of Daniel Ricciardo: Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

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Will the best Celtics player please rise? There's a long list of nominees after Game 2 win

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Will the best Celtics player please rise? There's a long list of nominees after Game 2 win

BOSTON — Considering his 26-point, 11-rebound effort in the Celtics’ 105-98 victory in Game 2 of the NBA Finals Sunday night, does that now make Jrue Holiday Boston’s best player?

Or, with Derrick White meeting P.J. Washington at the rim and making a stunning block of a would-be running dunk with 50.5 seconds remaining to keep the Mavericks from closing to within three points, does that transform White into Boston’s finest?

We are, after all, living in an NBA postseason in which recency bias has become a thing. For that, stick tap to Mavericks coach Jason Kidd, who is playing head games while everybody else is just trying to play basketball. His twice-said Saturday comment that Jaylen Brown is the Celtics’ best player created quite a stir but also opened up a runway for the recency bias crowd to put it out there that, well, Brown did emerge as MVP of the Eastern Conference finals. And that, went the goofy logic, meant Brown, and not Jayson Tatum, is Boston’s “best” player.

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And now, while mulling all that, consider what happened after Game 2 Sunday night when Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla arrived in the interview room for his postgame news conference. The first question had something to do with Tatum, but Mazzulla instead pivoted to what happened on the last possession of the third quarter when Payton Pritchard, who had just entered the game in place of Holiday, raced up the court and delivered a 34-foot buzzer-beating bank shot to give the Celtics an 83-74 lead.

Proclaiming it “the play of the game,” Mazzulla noted that “you see guys around the league pass up on that shot or fake like they want to take it, so that their numbers don’t get messed up. He takes pride in taking that, and that’s winning basketball.”

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Mazzulla didn’t stop there. “That first and foremost should have been the first question,” he said. “The ability of everybody on our team to do different things that lead to winning.”

Mazzulla then went here: “I’m really tired of hearing about one guy or this guy or that guy and everybody trying to make it out to be anything other than Celtic basketball. Everybody that stepped on that court today made winning plays on both ends of the floor, (and that’s) the most important thing.”

What an exchange. It began with a question about Tatum that tuned into an answer about a 3-pointer by Pritchard, and it ended with Journalism Joe explaining which question should have been batting leadoff. It was goofy, sure, but it was absolutely brilliant in that it had the effect of turning Kidd’s comment about Jaylen Brown into an exploding cigar.


Jrue Holiday’s 26-point, 11-rebound effort in Game 2 was foremost among many great performances for the Celtics. (Peter Casey / USA Today)

Such was the Celtics’ across-the-board effort in Game 2 that it became folly to proclaim this or that player Boston’s top performer. You could have gone with Holiday because of the 26 points. You could have gone with White because of the block. But wait! If Mazzulla had had his way, Pritchard would have been extra, extra, read all about it. And as if anyone needed yet more evidence that Kidd really stepped in it with his attempt to bring a little discord to the Celtics locker room, consider how Holiday conducted his affairs at his postgame conference.

With Mazzulla, it was all about telling the media people what the first question should have been. With Holiday, it was all but providing an answer before a question had even been asked.

First, some background. On Saturday, Holiday was asked if he had any thoughts on Kidd’s remark about Brown and replied, “I don’t think he’s lying.” Which was taken to mean he agreed with Kidd’s remark.

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When he arrived in the interview room after Game 2, Holiday got right down to business.

“If I could say something before we jump in, I want to address the comment that was made yesterday,” he began. “I feel like people kind of took that out of context. I’ve been hearing that I prefer JB over JT, and that’s not what that was. I like to praise my teammates. I like to praise my teammates when they’re playing well, and I feel like that’s what I did my best to do.”

He went on to say that “… to compare them is something that I would never do because they’re two completely different players as well as being on the same team, and the things that they have done in this organization and the things that they have done against me as an opponent, I say, like, how they play together and how they work together is something that is sacred and something that can’t be broken.”

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Jason Kidd’s challenge to ‘sacred’ Brown-Tatum partnership fuels Celtics’ Game 2 win

What’s interesting about all this — no, make that what’s amazing about all this — is that last season ended with Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens practically being delivered a mandate to build a better team and not rely on the dazzling talents of Tatum and Brown to deliver a championship. And by trading Marcus Smart and bringing in Kristaps Porzingis and Holiday, it’s safe to say Stevens did indeed build a better team. The Celtics’ best-of-show 64-18 regular-season record will attest to that.

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But if you want to talk team, and not just from the perspective of how the roster looks but also from the perspective of its character and soul, consider how the Celtics countered Kidd.

Brown and Tatum essentially stayed out of it. Holiday submitted a scrapbook playoff performance and then opened his postgame presser with Holiday’s Soliloquy, during which he spoke emotionally about his feelings for Tatum and Brown, and the camaraderie that’s taking place in the room.

And then there was Joe Mazzulla in the role of Perry White, editor of the Metropolis Daily Planet, deciding what’s news and what isn’t.

Never in the Tatum-Brown/Brown-Tatum era have the Celtics been more of a team than they were Sunday night.

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(Top photo of Jaylen Brown: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

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