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April 04. 2012 11:44PM

Kevin Gray's 'Gray Matter': Bonner gets Garden star treatment


Spurs forward Matt Bonner of Concord reacts after hitting a shot with 46.5 seconds left in Wednesday night's game against the Celtics. The shot provided the winning points in the Spurs' 87-86 victory. (David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE)

BOSTON - Inside the visiting locker room at TD Garden, Matt Bonner is given the star treatment. There's a double-wide locker — alone, positioned near the entrance — that is usually reserved for the game's greats.

This is where Dwight Howard stashes his multiple phones, diamond earrings and tray of perfume (Axe body sprays?). It's where LeBron James and Kobe Bryant set up their off-court office and bless the media with sound bites that instantly buzz around the world.

For one night each season, though, a valedictorian from Concord High takes over The Locker.

Bonner, in his eighth NBA season, said he bribes the equipment manager with maple syrup on every trip to Boston. All joking aside, the island-like locker is the ultimate status symbol for visiting players. For the Red Rocket, who turns 32 today, it also means, “This is your town. Welcome home.”

Fittingly, Bonner registered a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) and sank a jumper with 46 seconds remaining that ultimately beat the Celtics, 87-86, to give the Spurs their ninth straight win. Moments earlier, he missed an open 3-pointer and had a turnover, but, fortunately, had a chance to redeem himself.

“It means a lot. I was in the right place at the right time. To have that opportunity in a place like this, with all my friends and family watching, it's pretty special,” he said.

We've seen it before. On the parquet is where Bonner torched the Celtics for 23 points, shooting over Kevin Garnett and leading the Spurs to a road win in 2009. It's where Bonner sank his first five shots as a visiting player in 2004, scoring 10 points for the Raptors before teammates forgot about him on the perimeter.

It's always a proud feeling to watch Bonner jog through layup lines, then start draining 3-pointers after coming off the bench. It was a two-point game until the forward from South Street in Concord drained consecutive triples and assisted Tim Duncan for a layup. Then Bonner's put-back made it 50-38 with six minutes remaining in the first half. At the end, he lived the dream of every New Hampshire kid/man/woman who loves basketball by hitting the game-winning shot.

Kosmas Smirnioudis, who grew up in Chichester, N.H., and graduated from Bishop Brady of Concord, watched Wednesday's game from high above the court, in Section 308, not far from the 17 championship Celtics banners. The 23-year-old shook Bonner's hand after the game.

“It's an honor to say we're from the same city,” Smirnioudis said. “Just seeing him tonight playing the Celtics, a team I grew up watching, is nothing but incredible. It's really something to be proud of. He shows kids that you can achieve anything.”

Bonner, the eldest child of Dave and Paula Bonner, grew up channeling Larry Bird while taking jumpers at the Concord Boys and Girls Club. Today there's a framed No. 15 jersey of Bonner at the club, inspiring kids to work hard and dream just as big.

Bonner's performance and game-winning basket justified The Locker treatment. The extra space also proves practical during interviews with the media. Duncan appeared to be crammed in the corner, and Manu Ginobili, wedged between Tiago Splitter and Tony Parker, barely had enough room to lace his sneakers. Bonner, meanwhile, could have hosted his own mini press conference.

Ginobili, one of Bonner's better friends on the team, said the Red Rocket better continue to play well or he'll be losing the coveted locker.

“I'm going to ask for that next year just to (tick) him off. Next year, you'll see me sitting there,” Ginobili said. “Today I'll let him enjoy it. He deserves it.”

When Bonner caught wind of his teammate's comments, he stood tall, looked across the room and said, “I think he's barking up the wrong tree with comments like that. Those are fightin' words. He's not only taking on me. He's going to have to take on the whole Granite State if he wants that locker.”

Staff writer Kevin Gray's email address is kgray@unionleader.com.


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