A wholly subjective list of my favorite Celtics games of the year, not including the Bulls series, just because it would dominate the list too much.
10) Celtics 88, Hawks 85, 12/17/08 @ Atlanta
This was win number 16 in what would be team-record 19-game winning streak, and it came in yet another entertaining fight with the team that badly wants to be Boston’s new rivals. The C’s locked this one up when Joe Johnson, so clutch against Boston for most of their first-round series in ’08, missed a potential game-tying free throw with 2.7 seconds left.
Kevin Garnett scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. Said Rondo: “I told Kevin to take us home down the stretch. I said make something happen. He said no problem.” It was the C’s 10th straight road win. The team was starting to seem invincible.
9) Boston 80, Spurs 77. 3/20 @ San Antonio
The return of KG. After missing 13 games with a mysterious right knee injury, KG returned and scored ten points on 5-of-9 shooting to spark the C’s to a big road win that served notice that the champs were still around. Of course, the Spurs helped a lot by missing six straight foul shots in the last 2:30, including four consecutive misses from Tony Parker.
But the C’s stifling defense was back. The Spurs shot just 13-of-38 from the floor in the second half, including a 3-of-13 cold streak during KG’s stretch in the early third quarter. The C’s played a remarkably clean game on offense, turning the ball over just four times–a season low.
Here’s the NBA.com recap on Youtube. KG delivered the quote of the game when discussing his fourth-quarter cheerleading: “I thought I did a good job of that. I just didn’t have my pom-poms.” Ah, for the giddy optimism of that late March Friday night…
8. Boston 99, Dallas 92. 2/12/09 @ Dallas
A “we are the f’ing champs!” kind of game. The C’s were dead in the water, down 15 in the third quarter on in the second game of a back-to-back with their best defender, KG, on the bench with five fouls. Those five included three quick ones late in third quarter that were questionable enough to send Doc into a rage that earned him an ejection.
With the All-Star break starting after the game, the C’s could have mailed this one in. But they rallied behind the Captain, who scored 18 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter. Pierce nailed a jumper to give the C’s a 93-91 lead with 1:12 to go, drew an offensive foul on the other end and hit a patented step-back on the next possession to ice the game. Vintage Pierce.
Rondo recorded a monster triple-double (19 points, 15 board, 14 dimes), and Ray Allen scored 20 points after suffering a right thumb injury the night before.
Youtube highlights here.
7) Boston 124, Dallas 100. 1/25/09 in Boston
A reminder of what this team can be when it’s healthy and clicking. The C’s blew the doors off of Dallas in the first half, outscoring the Mavs 74-47 behind 65 percent shooting, including 10-of-13 from deep. Garnett embarrassed Dirk Nowitzki, scoring 23 points and holding Dirk to 4-of-17 shooting.
The Celtics defense was at its maniacal best in this game. I remember one sequence vividly. Josh Howard had beaten his man off the dribble, and KG darted down from the foul line to cut off penetration. He left Nowitzki open, and I remember thinking KG had made a mistake in over-helping. Howard tossed the ball back to Nowitzki for what appeared to be an easy jumper. But Garnett, somehow, was already three-quarters of the way back to Dirk by the time the ball got there. Dirk seemed surprised and juggled the ball before launching a jumper that drew only glass. Amazing stuff.
Eddie House hit seven threes, and the C’s won their eighth straight after that 2-7 blip that started with the loss to LA on Christmas.
NBA.com video highlights here.
6) Boston 105, Cleveland 94. 3/6/09 in Boston.
The ultimate “We will be the favorites when KG comes back” game. The C’s controlled this one from start to finish despite a 38-12 deficit in free throw attempts. The offense looked beautiful; the team turned the ball over just eight times and shot 54.5 percent against Cleveland. No opponent had shot better against the Cavs to that point, and nobody would until the Magic shot 55 percent against them in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Leon Powe scored 20 points and grabbed 11 boards, and the C’s needed all of that production after the refs tossed Glen Davis for his flagrant foul on Anderson Varejao.
A few other memorable moments from this one:
• LeBron’s missed tomahawk dunk.
• Paul Pierce ignoring the cute little fan wearing the LeBron jersey (video below). After watching that, click after the jump for my five favorite games of the year).
5) Boston 100, Philly 99. 2/3/09 @ Philly
How do you win a game in which you turn the ball over 20 teams and Kevin Garnett is out with the flu? Shoot 54 percent and have Ray Allen on your team. With the C’s down 97-94 and about 40 seconds left, Doc called for Walter Ray to set a screen for Pierce at the top of the key and drift to the left wing as Pierce dribbled right around the pick. It worked perfectly, as Ray sprung open and hit a three to tie the game.
Andre Iguodala hit a contested jumper with 6.8 seconds left to give Philly a 99-97 lead. Doc called timeout and designed another play for Ray. This one called for Pierce to drive to the foul line and draw the defense. Meanwhile, Allen would run to the left corner and Big Baby would set a screen to block any defender from rotating back to Ray. It worked perfectly and Ray nailed the game-winner with .5 seconds left.
Here’s the full finish:
4) Boston 100, Philly 98. 4/14/09 @ Philly
No KG, no Ray Allen (suspended for elbowing Anderson Varejao in the groin) and no playoff seeding to play for in the penultimate game of the season. The Celtics played lazy, disinterested basketball for 24 minutes, yielding 58 first half points and several easy transition buckets. They could have easily conceded the loss. But Pierce wouldn’t let it happen. He screamed at this teammates on the bench as the second quarter ended and carried the team on a second half run. Pierce scored 31 points on just 16 shots and made 7-of-9 from three-point range.
Pierce gave the C’s the lead, 99-97, on a jumper with 2:06 to play, and the Sixers never tied the game after that.
Tony Allen scored a season-high 18 points and slipped in a nice interior pass to set up Big Baby for a game-tying lay-in with about 3:30 to go.
In my recap, I wrote the following about TA: Bravo, Tony. You bring that game in the playoffs, and you might get yourself 18-20 minutes a night. Or more.
Video highlights here.
3) Boston 92, Orlando 88, Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in Boston
I think sportswriters and broadcasters around the country used at least a dozen variations of the “Boston will not die” theme after the C’s, thin and exhausted, rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to stun the Magic just as it seemed Boston would finally roll over. I am still not sure how the C’s pulled this off. They were dead. I was getting ready to write the obligatory, “Hey, it’s been a great season” recap. And then Stephon Marbury scored 12 fourth-quarter points in what was really (let’s be honest) his only impactful performance as a Celtic.
But those 12 points kept the C’s within ten with about 5:30 to go. From that point on, the C’s scored on five of seven possessions and Orlando came up empty on seven straight trips. Nearly perfect basketball. Toss in a 21-of-21 performance from the line and two last-minute offensive rebounds on shots that barely grazed the rim (or did they?), and it seemed that the Celtics might truly be a blessed team. Or at least blessed enough to squeeze by the Magic.
Video highlights here.
2) Boston 103, Atlanta 102, 11/12/08 in Boston.
I know it’s an early-season game, but boy was this a fun game to watch. And remember, Atlanta came into this game 6-0, drawing about the Hawks growing into an elite team ready to challenge Boston. They certainly challenged the C’s in this game, even without Josh Smith, who was out with a sprained ankle.
The Hawks ran out to a 44-28 lead in the second quarter, but the C’s responded with an 18-2 run to tie the game at halftime. After that, the game was a nail-biter, with a dozen lead changes in the third quarter alone. The stars shined in the last two minutes. Joe Johnson scored four straight points to tie the game at 99, and Pierce, who had 34 points, answered by drawing a foul and hitting two free throws to give the C’s a 101-99 lead with 21 seconds left.
After a timeout, Johnson drove into the lane and kicked to Marvin Williams for a back-breaking three-pointer to put Atlanta up 102-101 with just seven seconds left.
Except the Celtics have Pierce, and Pierce did this:
Ball game. Afterward, KG told the press about the strategy on the last play: “The last play was drawn up: Get the ball to Pierce; get the hell out the way. Superman’s in the booth. Let’s go home. That was the play, and if you don’t believe that ask Doc Rivers and he’ll say the same exact thing.”
Just a great, great game from two teams playing at a high level.
1) Celtics 95, Orlando 94. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals @ Orlando.
Not as clean a game as the Hawks-C’s game above, but considering the stakes and the excitement level, this has to be number one on the non-Bulls list. This was the first game in this series that was competitive from start to finish, and the finish was about as fun as it gets in the NBA: A buzzer-beater by an unheralded guy who temporarily loses control of his emotions and shoves a chubby Orlando child-fan while sprinting along the sidelines and basically terrifying everyone near him. (The video is below, of course).
It was Mother’s Day, so I was in the ‘burbs watching the game with my Dad. I jumped off the couch and pumped my fist while my Dad just sat there laughing and applauding the big shot. It was a moment of pure celebration. No forthcoming Orlando possession to fret over. The game was over, and the C’s were even up at 2-2. Time to go to sleep with a smile on your face.
Like I said, it wasn’t the cleanest game. The C’s were sloppy enough with the ball (13 turnovers) and on the defensive glass to need a buzzer-beater despite shooting 53 percent and holding the Magic to 40 percent from the floor. They also won even though they sunk just one three-pointer, a rarity in the NBA.
Enjoy the video. I’m sure the C’s will give us some more memories next year.