With thirty-six seconds to go and the game in hand, the Celtics gave away their shot at banner 18 this year. It was 97-105 when Ben Gordon came down and hit a bomb to make it a five point game. Then on the Rondo inbound, Hinrich pulled a Havlicek and tossed the ball back to Ben Gordon who hit another three to cut the lead to two with twenty-five seconds left….
At least, that’s how every Celtic fan felt in Boston when Rondo’s inbounds pass ended up in Hinrich’s hands. The one Laker fan in the room sat calmly and reiterated that the game was over at halftime, that no one comes back from fourteen down at the half because they expend all their energy trying to get back. Tell that to the Bulls when they were down nine in the fourth quarter of Game Six and then ask why the Celtics weren’t home resting up and preparing for Orlando tonight. Then Ben Gordon missed the his second three and the Laker fan smiled and said, “Okay, that was scary.”
He was right. It was scary. Scary for every Celtics fan who watched the Bulls come back to tie it in Game 6 when they were down 9 in the fourth quarter. The truth was, no lead was safe in this series. Unlike the Lakers vs. Jazz, there were no guarantees, save for game three, which felt like months ago. This was a battle of will, a battle of determination, and a battle of endurance; qualities of which many believed the Celtics could not muster enough.
In a lot of ways, they couldn’t. By the fourth quarter, many of the Celtics starters looked really gassed, and their offense looked stagnant. They squandered a fourteen point lead at half time and let the Bulls within five for what seemed like most of the fourth quarter.
The lack of a standout member of the “Big Three” made matters much worse for Celtics fans in the waning minutes. Rondo, despite having eleven assists, was no where close to the triple-double we’ve become accustomed to seeing and seemed relatively unsuccessful on his drives to the basket. Ray seemed poised to revert back to game five after coming in with five minutes left only to pick up two quick fouls. Paul’s shot seemed a little off after missing two wide open three’s from the same spot on the right wing in the first quarter.
So how did the Celtics win this game? And despite most of our collective worry about the early back-and-forth of the score and the late runs by the Bulls, the win ended up being pretty convincing. Three reasons: Strong bench play, defense, and game management.
Strong Bench Play:
People, Eddie House has entered the building. The exciting spark plug off the bench, that during the regular season came up with big shot after big shot- or extended leads with his amazing outside shooting- or provided Mike Gorman with laryngitis after many “Eddie House for three!”- was back. House was the most effective offensive player for the Celtics going 5-5 from the field and 4-4 from deep. He hustled, he played hard, and most surprisingly, he played great defense- on Ben Gordon, no less. He played so well, that Doc was able to leave him in for 22 minutes. In the post game interview, when asked what specifically won the game for the Celtics, he didn’t flinch when he said defense and strong bench play- citing meaningful minutes from Mikki Moore and Scalabrine.
Defense (clap clap) Defense:
This game was truly a microcosm of the Celtics as team. Through the adversity of losing heartbreaking games, losing regular contributors, and playing huge minutes on tired legs, when the game, no, the season, is on the line, they come up big.
Many topics of message boards, game analysis, and bar room banter regarded the Celtics age and the number of minutes played, but in the end, it didn’t matter. The defending champs came out on top and did so by doing what made them champions last season and a winner of 62 games this season: defense, strong bench play, and composure.
Perk, rest that shoulder up, because you’re going to have your hands full. Next stop, Orlando.
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