Over the Celtics’ first 23 games of the 2008 NBA playoffs, Eddie House made nine shots. That’s just a bit better than one made field goal every three games. He had played more than 10 minutes in just three of those games—all in blowouts—and got hit with the dreaded DND-CD six times.
In June 2008, Eddie House was as close to being out of the rotation as a fringe player can get without being benched completely. There was no reason to expect him to be a factor at all in the NBA Finals, or for the Celtics to re-sign House after their one-year flier on him ran out.
I love Game 4 of a competitive playoff series. Games 5, 6 and 7 are important in more obvious ways, but the importance of Game 4 sort of sneaks up on you. You feel like the series has just started, and yet here comes this game that will decide whether your team is in a 2-2 dogfight or on one end of a 3-1 potential laugher. Game 4, in a lot of ways, determines how a series feels—what the experience of it feels like for a fan.
And Game 4 of the NBA Finals, as you all surely remember, began as terribly as possible for the Celtics—and for Eddie House.
The Lakers were up 58-40 at halftime after Jordan Farmar hit a running three-pointer at the first half buzzer, and I was dreading how nervous I would feel during Game 6 if the C’s went home to Boston down 3-2 with no margin for error. House played 5:33 in the first half and scored two points on 1-of-4 shooting from the floor.
People think the C’s famous comeback in Game 4 started right away in the 3rd quarter, and that perception makes sense, considering it was such a huge comeback it feels like it must have taken the full 24 minutes of the second half to pull off. But the C’s were down 68-48 when Doc Rivers substituted Eddie House for Rajon Rondo with 7:05 left in the 3rd quarter. There were no signs of a brewing rally.
The C’s outscored the Lakers 23-5 to end the 3rd quarter, which means they played outstanding ball on both sides of the floor. The C’s shot 8-of-10 over the last 7:05 of the 3rd, and it helped the cause that three of those eight field goals were three-pointers. Eddie House made both three-pointers he attempted in that quarter; the first cut the deficit to 70-55 after the Lakers had weathered a brief C’s run and extended the lead back to 18 and 20. The second brought the Cs within 73-67 at the 1:23 mark.
I am a pessimist by nature. I expect the worst and hope for the best. I had spent the last hour or so mentally preparing myself for a Game 5 with the series knotted at 2-2. When Eddie hit that three-pointer, it was the first time I allowed myself to think, “Holy crap. The C’s might win this game.”
Before hitting those two three-pointers in the 3rd, Eddie House had shot 9-of-36 in the post-season.
House only made one shot in the 4th quarter, but it is one of the dozen or so non-buzzer beaters I will remember vividly for the rest of my life. I have a habit of watching big games either alone or, if we’re in the same town, with my Dad. I get nervous, I curse and I have very little tolerance for enemy fan taunting during big games, so I tend to avoid bars or parties if I really care about the outcome of a game. It’s antisocial, I know. Whatever.
So I was alone in my apartment, standing about five feet from my television for the entire 4th quarter of that game. And I was getting really, really worried. The Celtics got the ball over and over either down one or with the score tied, and they just could not make a shot. We’ve seen this game a hundred times. A team falls behind big, rallies with an incredible hot streak but can’t edge into the lead. They end up losing despite pouring out a huge, energy-sapping effort.
But this was the Finals, and the Celtics absolutely could not waste this chance to steal a game in Los Angeles. This was the championship right here, in these 12 minutes. That’s what it felt like at the time. And Boston could not get over the hump.
With 4:20 left and the C’s down 83-82, James Posey rebounded a Lamar Odom miss and Paul Pierce pushed the ball up the court. He drove right, drew the defense and kicked to Eddie House on the right wing. Eddie House launching an 18-footer on the move is not really your ideal shot with 4:07 to go in a pivotal Finals game. Not now, Eddie! These were precious possessions, not to be used up by role players with one foot out of the league.
Of course, Eddie shot the ball, because that’s what Eddie does. He has never cared that he isn’t a star player, a tall player, a guy who can create his own shot or the team’s first option. He believes he is the best shooter in the world, and he is going to shoot the ball if he’s in the game.
It went in, and I went freaking crazy. The Celtics were ahead! Actually ahead!
It’s a moment I will never forget. And it’s the kind of moment that made Eddie great. For better or worse—and if we’re being honest, it was “worse” as often as it was “better”—Eddie was never afraid to shoot. But there is value in that lack of fear. Hell, Rajon Rondo is still afraid to shoot in the 4th quarter sometimes. Chris Webber wouldn’t even look at the rim during the 4th quarter of an elimination playoff game. And yet this little journeyman is coming off screens and jacking rainbow 21-footers over the outstretched hand of the 6’5” guy guarding him?
He took some bad shots. Lots of them, and more this year than last year.
But those big games remind you that sometimes it’s nice to have a guy with the guts to say, “Hell, no one can score? Then I will. Or at least I’ll try.”
Eddie was 9-of-30 over the first six games of the Bulls series last season. He was 5-of-5 in Game 7.
That sums up Eddie’s tenure in Boston pretty well. He can only do one thing well, and by the nature of that thing, there will be lots of games when he doesn’t do it “well.” But you tend to forget about those “bad” games the moment he starts doing that thing well again—especially if it happens to be during Game 4 of the Finals or Game 7 of a playoff series.
Eddie House is nothing more than a marginal NBA player. But it’s fun to wonder: Would the C’s have won the 2008 title or the greatest first-round series ever without him?