With the season on the line in overtime, the Celtics, thinner than they’ve been all year long, simply threw out the playbook and let the two best players on the floor take them home with simple one-on-one plays. In the last two minutes of regulation and overtime, Boston shot 8-of-10 from the floor, and Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo combined to hit seven of those field goals, including an epic five straight from the Captain. They manufactured points when Perkins was too tired to score, Ray Allen had fouled out, Marbury was afraid to shoot, Tony Allen was a non-factor and Glen Davis was forced out of the game by the Bulls small line-up.
The last four Pierce baskets were jump shots, and the last three, including the game-winner with 3.6 seconds left, were simple pull-ups over John Salmons. I’m not sure where this ranks on the list of all-time clutch Pierce performances, but it’s up there.
Paul Pierce is gassed. We can all see it. Kevin Harlan called him slow. He took just six shots combined in the second and third quarters. John Salmons was beating Pierce off the dribble–a guy with a bad groin was coasting around the man who helped hold Kobe Bryant to 40 percent shooting in the Finals last season.
And yet Pierce found something inside of him to move a little quicker and jump a little higher when the Celtics needed him most.
As for Rondo, he didn’t do anything fancy late in the game. Twice in overtime he got the ball on the right wing and dribbled into Kirk Hinrich’s body. It was bold, improvisational basketball: I’m quicker than you, and I’m just going to put my head down and pull up for a shot at some location in the paint. I’ll figure it out when I get there. Once, with 2:42 left, he laid the ball in. On the next possession, he drew a foul on Hinrich and hit both free throws.
Combined, Pierce and Rondo shot 23-of-44, accounting for a smidge more than half of the C’s 86 field goal attempts. Throw in 24 more FGAs from Perkins and Davis, and that leaves just 18 shots for the rest of the team.
Before we got to the macro-level problems this game exposed, let’s take a minute to salute these four guys. They all played at least 41 minutes, shot 37-of-68, grabbed 40 of the C’s 44 rebounds and turned the ball over just eight times between them. They held Chicago to 40 percent shooting, compared to 49 percent for Boston; the Bulls were in this game because they hit nine threes, grabbed 14 offensive boards and were +11 in made free throws. All things to be addressed in prepping for Game 6.
For now, let’s thank those four players for basically winning the game by themselves. Those of us who know this team have been singing Perk’s praises all year, so it’s going to be nice when pundits across the NBA world take notice of his 16-19-7 line. The Celtics needed every one of those seven blocks, especially his rejection of a Derrick Rose put-back attempt with 3:02 left in OT and Boston up by one. Watch that clip carefully, and you see Perk barely got off the ground. He had nothing left.
Want more evidence those blocks mattered? According numbers from ESPN’s Stats and Information Group, Chicago players being guarded by Perkins shot 3-of-18 for the game and the Bulls hit on only 10-of-31 lay-up attempts. Call it the Beast Effect.
As for Davis, the genius of the Bulls small line-up wasn’t that it created mismatches for them when they had the ball–those disappeared once Doc went small himself and inserted Tony Allen. The line-up actually hurts Boston more on offense, because it removes Davis, a threat when his shot his falling, and forces Doc to either gamble with Marbury/House or insert a reluctant and unreliable TA.
But Doc did have one chance to get Davis in the game on offense: when Boston got the ball with 49 seconds left in regulation and the score tied 91-91 and called time out to set up a play. But Doc, enamored with the concept of having four “shooters” on the floor, kept Baby on the bench and inserted Marbury. And that’s when Pierce drove to the middle, drew the defense and dished to Marbury for a three-pointer so wide open the crowd groaned when he passed the ball to Rondo along the baseline.
The fact that Marbury was on the court at such a crucial time is symbolic of why this series is so competitive. The Celtics are paying the price for a year of endless changes–some the result of injuries and bad luck, others self-inflicted. You lose KG for 25 games, and suddenly Paul Pierce is playing the most minutes he’s played since ’05-06 and he’s exhausted in April. You try and fill the gaps by signing two mercurial players who aren’t familiar with your system, and you get to the playoffs and realize they aren’t ready to contribute. A couple of role players who are familiar with your system miss the last chunk of the regular season with injuries and aren’t as prepared as you’d like for the post-season.
As the playoffs approached, we all talked ourselves into the notion that this team was getting healthy for a run at the title. The reality was that the Celtics were thin and lacking in reliable players.
The Bulls are playing well, but the Celtics are a vulnerable team.
After the jump, some bullets on the officiating, TA’s foul and camera angles that apparently don’t exist.
• I’m not going to spend a lot of time criticizing the fouls on Ray Allen. At least three were questionable, but questionable calls are going to go against your team sometimes. On a related topic, I will say this: There isn’t a more inconsistently, haphazardly-officiated call in the league than the illegal/moving screen. What percentage of screens in the NBA are legal if we’re enforcing the letter of the law? Perkins has been getting nailed with illegal screen calls all season, but every big guy sets illegal picks several times per game. And if you’re going to allow that, it’s not fair to whistle defensive players for trying to get through those screens.
• The Tony Allen foul on Ben Gordon with 27 seconds left in overtime and the Celtics up 104-101 was obviously inexcusable and a nice microcosm for why Tony Allen has not yet reached his potential as a player. He’s the ultimate “everything but” player. His defense on Gordon was perfect for the entire possession–until the crucial moment when he actually had to finish the job.
That said, how in the world do we not have a sideline camera angle available immediately to see if Ben Gordon stepped out of bounds? How is this possible in 2009? That could have been the single biggest missed call of the playoffs, but I’m left to wonder about it as if it’s some unknowable mystery? Come on.
• On the Twitter last night (yes, we have a Twitter account. Follow us!), Henry Abbott wondered if Rajon Rondo hit Brad Miller in the face on purpose with two seconds left in overtime. I don’t think so. I think it was a moment of desperation, and Rondo was reaching for something, anything that would break up the sure lay-in. Luckily, it worked.
• To this day, I feel bad for guys–even Boston opponents–who miss big free throws at the end of games. Same way I feel bad for field goal kickers who miss clutch kicks in the NFL. The fact that athletes can shake that stuff off shocks me.
• We’ll have a lot more on this game tomorrow and we’ll prep you for Game 6. For now, I’m going to bed–if I can sleep.